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June 1, 2024

Thursday, May 30th, 2024, was a profound shock to the American legal and political systems when former President Donald Trump was found guilty of something - but exactly what remains something of a mystery. Writing in Spectator, the eminent political scientist Charles Lipson headlined his analysis, “Trump has been found guilty of an unknown felony” More specifically:

“The indictment and trial on a thin, jerry-built charge, the gagging of a presidential candidate in the midst of a campaign and the judge’s consistently biased rules amount to deliberate judicial interference in the 2024 election.”

Of course, District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who notoriously ran on a promise to Get Trump, argued in a press conference that the only voice that mattered was that of the jury. However, only six hours later, he was contradicted by donors who shelled out almost $35 million in new contributions to the Trump campaign. Or as Trump himself pointed out only moments after being found guilty, “This was a rigged, disgraceful trial…The real verdict is going to be Nov. 5 by the people, and they know what happened here. Everyone knows what happened here.”

Political correctness has long since dulled history’s bright lines but Americans should remember this marker: Our Civil War began when the generations-long divisions over slavery collided with the hard facts of Abraham Lincoln’s election as President in 1860. The resulting explosion between North and South lasted four years, remains the most destructive war in our history and provides cautionary tales that still resonate today, sometimes eerily so.

I am currently reading Erik Larson’s latest historical recreation, The Demon of Unrest: …Hubris, Heartbreak and Heroism at the Dawn of the Civil War. While skillfully navigating the tensions which eventually produced the attack on Fort Sumter, it is fascinating that Larson took his inspiration for the book while watching the events unfolding during the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol. “I had the eerie feeling that present and past had merged…I was appalled by the attack but also riveted, I realized that the anxiety, anger and astonishment I felt would certainly have been experienced in 1860-1861 by vast numbers of Americans.”

Those same anxieties are probably playing out all across this country today as people wonder what’s next. Will Trump continue his campaign, cashing in on the higher ratings that seem to accompany his every judicial reverse? Or will New York authorities, buoyed by yesterday’s victory, seek to harass and limit the movements of the presumptive Republican nominee? So far, everyone seems to rely on the usual cliches. EG: The answer to any court reversal is simply another court and the process just needs to play itself out.

Really? If your inclination tends toward political conspiracies, then what makes you believe that those who indicted and convicted Donald Trump are somehow incapable of rigging the November elections? With less than five months before early voting begins, there is a lot of time for those “demons of unrest” to stir things up. Even worse is serendipity, when events seemingly conspire to produce outcomes that neither side anticipates. Larson writes persuasively about how two serendipitous events – John Brown’s rebellion and the publication of Uncle Tom’s Cabin – served mostly to inflame passions in both North and South, all making secession seem like a viable alternative.

Speaking of serendipity. Former vice president Mike Pence writes today, “Our border is wide open, our law enforcement personnel are overrun, and America has never been more vulnerable than it is at this very moment. That is the urgent message I heard directly from Border Patrol agents and local sheriffs…in Texas and New Mexico.”

There has been a steady drumbeat of warnings from responsible officials from the border to Washington – all suggesting the growing likelihood of another 911-scale terrorist attack. Should that dread eventuality occur, then all bets are off, including the sanctity of our elected and unelected elites; indeed, some parts of our southwestern border are already free-fire zones where ranchers and farmers routinely go about their business only when well-armed.

I still recall my first day in Bosnia, peering out the open door of an Army helicopter at a land that would have resembled Switzerland – except for the smashed houses, the downed power lines and the ruined places of worship. The devastation was not the work of hurricanes but instead the brother-on-brother destructiveness of an 800-year-old society that had suddenly come apart at the seams.

And the root cause? I prefer the even-handed diagnosis found in the Message version of Proverbs 16:18: “First pride, then the crash – the bigger the ego, the harder the fall.”

COL (Ret.) Ken Allard is a former West Point professor, Dean of the National War College and NBC News military analyst. His Bosnia service was with the US First Armored Division.

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