Will Trump Leave Quietly?

On October 23, about two dozen unhappy Republican congress members stormed a closed hearing that was part of the impeachment inquiry, determined to show their loyalty to Trump (who knew of and inspired the action) and their distaste for the House intelligence panel led by Rep. Adam Schiff. To some observers, like Mieke Eoyang, vice president of the Third Way think tank and a specialist on intelligence, “storming the [secure meeting room] without respecting the security protocols that require people to leave their electronic devices outside the space, is actually compromising our national security.” But I think there is an even more important reason for concern.

The Republicans’ attempt to disrupt a hearing was the kind of violent response to adversity that Donald Trump encourages. We are likely to see more such sanctioned disruptions as Trump’s political fortunes wane. He has called any Republican who does not support him in the impeachment fight “scum,” and he has weighed in with invective against every State Department officer who has told the truth about Trump’s quid pro quo in Ukraine. Hard-core Trumpites respond to such cues. Ever since Trump began his campaign for the presidency, we have been aware that he condones violence against political opponents. Bullying is a signature Trump tactic that he has carried over from his business days, and using enablers to threaten and where necessary carry out violent acts on his behalf is an essential part of his game. That’s what cowards do.

From time to time Trump has mentioned staying on as president beyond a second term or even if defeated in 2020. He clearly admires dictators for life like Putin, Xi, Orban, and Erdogan, and he considers himself indispensable, beloved, a great leader. He has also said that if he were to want to remain in office, he would have support from the military, police forces, bikers, gun carriers, white supremacists, and evangelicals. Remember that in the 2016 election Trump set himself up as victim by declaring in advance that defeat could only happen if the election was “rigged.” Count on him to say the same next year, with Fox News fully on board. Would he accept defeat, since he says impeachment is equivalent to a coup, a stolen election? Would he call on supporters to take to the streets to block the inauguration of the (illegitimate) winner? Would Trump back a coup?

Such questions were inconceivable at any previous time in our history. But today, as quite a few historians are saying, we can’t be sure Trump will concede defeat and quietly step down. His ego is enormous, he thinks the media, the bureaucracy, and the liberals are out to get him, and he has no moral compunctions about doing whatever is necessary to win. That includes violence, and this draft dodger is very good at getting others to do his dirty work. Let’s face it: There are plenty of folks who seem ready to do anything Trump asks to demonstrate their loyalty. Democrats and freedom-loving people everywhere must be alert; a cornered animal is capable of lashing out in most any direction.

Mel Gurtov is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University, Editor-in-Chief of Asian Perspective, an international affairs quarterly and blogs at In the Human Interest.