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When will Trump’s walls of support come down?


Donald Trump has two demographic walls currently in his favor: About one-third of voters insist they’ll never stop supporting him, no matter what. These diehards are represented symbolically by Roger Stone

The second wall going for Trump is that more than 50 percent of the public at this time does not support impeachment.

Together, these two bulwarks account for Trump’s brazenness, and that of his allies, in the face of mounting evidence that he and his family engaged in a conspiracy with the Russians to steal the 2016 election, in exchange for the dropping of U.S. sanctions.

The first wall—the always-Trumpers-no-matter-what—does appear solid. These people are so around-the-bend that they might not desert Trump even if he gave up his wall (despite Ann Coulter’s claim that that would be the straw that breaks the camel’s back). But the second wall—impeachment–is considerably more apt to be breached. How and when? A look back in history yields suggestions.

We’ve had political walls that came tumbling down before. Perhaps the most famous of modern times was the isolationism that permeated American politics in the 1930s and, until the day of Pearl Harbor, the early 1940s. Lots of people don’t realize it, but Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected on an isolationist platform; and until the bombs fell on U.S. battleships on Dec. 7, 1941, a majority of Americans were insistent that no U.S. troops ever engage in a foreign war.

That was a wall, a huge, formidable, insurmountable one. By late 1939, at the latest, F.D.R. had changed his mind and wanted to get in to the European war, to help Great Britain but more generally to protect the U.S. and the greater Latin American continent from German penetration. But as astute and powerful a president as was F.D.R., then well into his third term, he couldn’t figure out a way over that wall, until the Japanese did it for him. The wall of isolationism came crashing down overnight; the next day, Dec. 8, 1941, the U.S. declared war on Japan, and American isolationism was dead.

There was a second great wall, not as looming as the first but big enough to have permanent impacts on America; and that was, of course, concerning the Vietnam War. At first (which is to say from the early 1960s until the late 1960s), a solid majority of Americans were in support. The Cold War was at its height; Lyndon B. Johnson still maintained the power and prestige of the American presidency, and Americans remained as afraid of Communism as ever.

By the 1968 presidential election, however, the tide of opinion had turned against the war enough for Richard M. Nixon, the ultimate Cold Warrior, to run on a “peace with honor” platform. This was capitulation to the dynamics of public opinion, although of course, it was a lie on Nixon’s part: after he was elected, the war went on for another 5-1/2 years, and more American soldiers, flyers and Marines died in Vietnam after Nixon was sworn in than in all the years before. All that is tragedy, but the fact is that the pro-Vietnam wall that had allowed Johnson to escalate the war for so many years had all but crumbled by 1969.

Why did that wall fall? The short answer is because the American people, one by one, realized that the Vietnam War was folly. The “domino theory” was a lie; Vietnam threatened no American interests. What began as a youth movement spread to adults, to the suburbs, to African-Americans and farmers and factory workers, to everyone but the most diehard anti-Communists.

So there were the two Great Walls of modern history that fell: isolationism, and the Vietnam War. What both have in common, on the surface, is the simple truth that even Great Walls of public opinion can fall. It can be done. That is one thing to keep in mind when looking at the Trump situation. It’s true that he has these two bastions behind which he may protect himself. But it’s also true, as history proves, that bastions can fall, and sometimes, overnight.

In a more detailed sense, the fall of the two Great Walls was due to the American people having access to more information than they had previously received. In the case of isolationism, the new information came suddenly: via radio and newspapers, the public learned that America’s Pacific Fleet had been decimated in a surprise attack by Japan. In the case of the Vietnam War, the information filtered in much more slowly, but it did filter in. The irony was that Johnson’s policy in Vietnam had been to win the “hearts and minds” of the Vietnamese people. In the end, the anti-Vietnam peace activists won the hearts and minds of the American people.

My point concerning Trump is that this country is now in a situation more closely resembling that of Vietnam than that of isolationism. We need more information before public opinion can be decisively swayed. I believe that information is out there and will be forthcoming. Mueller has more indictments up his sleeve. The Big Ones are yet to arrive: Jared Kushner and Donald Trump, Jr., as well as overt conspiracy indictments for Roger Stone and perhaps others. I have no way of knowing if Mueller or anyone else will indict Trump, but I absolutely believe that the Mueller Report—which will be issued to the public; House Democrats will make sure of it—will outline in shocking, precise detail the range of crimes committed by Trump. That’s when the Trump Walls will come tumbling down.

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