We Have Reached Our Tipping Point–Where Do We Go From Here?

Historian Ken Burns is one of the foremost documentary filmmakers in America, renowned for marathon features about myriad subjects from the Vietnam War, the Roosevelts, World War II, prohibition, jazz, the Central Park Five, Mark Twain, Thomas Jefferson, Ernest Hemingway, and, most recently, Muhammad Ali.

The work for which he is probably most recognized, though, is 1990’s The Civil War.

In a recent appearance on the Smartless podcast, Burns warned conditions in the United States today are as serious as they were before the Civil War, and during the Depression and World War II.

Referring to the internal divisions threatening to divide the nation, Burns quoted Abraham Lincoln:

“If destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of free men, we will live forever or die by suicide.”

Former foreign policy adviser to the late Arizona Sen. and 2008 republican presidential nominee John McCain, Robert Kagan, concurs.

In a Washington Post op-ed titled “Our constitutional crisis is already here,” he wrote:

“The United States is heading into its greatest political and constitutional crisis since the Civil War, with a reasonable chance over the next three to four years of incidents of mass violence, a breakdown of federal authority, and the division of the country into warring red and blue enclaves. The warning signs may be obscured by the distractions of politics, the pandemic, the economy and global crises, and by wishful thinking and denial.”

He added:

“Trump and his Republican allies are actively preparing to ensure his victory by whatever means necessary. Trump’s charges of fraud in the 2020 election are now primarily aimed at establishing the predicate to challenge future election results that do not go his way. Some Republican candidates have already begun preparing to declare fraud in 2022, just as Larry Elder tried meekly to do in the California recall contest.”

Based on republicans’ new standard complaint of “fraudulent elections” whenever they don’t win, Kagan predicts republicans will attempt to nullify any election results they don’t agree with in 2024.

He explained:

“The amateurish ‘stop the steal’ efforts of 2020 have given way to an organized nationwide campaign to ensure that Trump and his supporters will have the control over state and local election officials that they lacked in 2020. Those recalcitrant Republican state officials who effectively saved the country from calamity by refusing to falsely declare fraud or to ‘find’ more votes for Trump are being systematically removed or hounded from office. Republican legislatures are giving themselves greater control over the election certification process.”

Positing a dystopian aftermath, he said:

“Imagine weeks of competing mass protests across multiple states as lawmakers from both parties claim victory and charge the other with unconstitutional efforts to take power. Partisans on both sides are likely to be better armed and more willing to inflict harm than they were in 2020. Would governors call out the National Guard? Would President Biden nationalize the Guard and place it under his control, invoke the Insurrection Act, and send troops into Pennsylvania or Texas or Wisconsin to quell violent protests? Deploying federal power in the states would be decried as tyranny. Biden would find himself where other presidents have been—where Andrew Jackson was during the nullification crisis, or where Abraham Lincoln was after the South seceded—navigating without rules or precedents, making his own judgments about what constitutional powers he does and doesn’t have.”

The United States came dangerously close to losing democracy January 6 when thousands of armed Donald Trump supporters descended on the Capitol to do the failed president’s bidding to “stop the steal” of votes he still to this day claims are his.

Although this act of “domestic terrorism,” as FBI Director Christopher Wray defined the attack, did not elicit the outcome Donald Trump and his sycophants intended, it successfully demonstrated how fragile our republic is.

Right-wing chatter online has continued to concern the intelligence community and law enforcement.

As another election nears, threats to poll workers and other elections officials increase.

What’s another term for a “failed coup”?


January 6 was not a surprise.

Trump loyalists all over the country had been planning insurrections for months, acting on Trump’s insistence either he win or the election is rigged.

Police agencies all over the country were preparing for unrest for months.

There was even some in D.C. in December.

Two days before the Jan. 6 melee, The Hill ran the headline “DC braces for pro-Trump protests amid Electoral College challenge.

Back in June, the Transition Integrity Project (TIP) helped organize a bipartisan group of Democratic and Republican officials to simulate the day after a possibly contested election, for which every scenario resulted in “street-level violence.”

Yet it wasn’t all the fault of people asleep at the tiller.

January 6 was an inside job.

We now know in the week leading up to the insurrection that killed several people, including police officers, top Trump campaign fundraiser Caroline Wren contacted “constitutional conservative” Cindy Chafian via text message about managing operations, logistics, budgeting, funding, and messaging for the Trump rally that culminated in violence.

As ProPublica reports:

“On Dec. 29, after receiving the budget, Wren instructed Chafian, via text, to hold off on printing event-related slogans ‘until we decide what the messaging is and we have no clue on timing because it all depends on the votes that day so we won’t know timing for a few more days.’ The ‘timing’ appears to be a reference to Congress’ Jan. 6 vote to certify the election results.”

That brings us to Jan. 5, the night before the “event.”

Trump family members, administration officials, campaign advisers, “January 6” organizers, and at least one United States Senator met at the Washington, D.C. Trump International Hotel.

According to attendee Republican Charles W. Herbster, then Trump administration National Chairman of the Agriculture and Rural Advisory Committeeguests included the president’s sons, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric; former and disgraced National Security Advisor Michael Flynn; director of Trade and Manufacturing Policy and National Defense Production Act Policy Coordinator, Peter Navarro; 2016 Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski; 2016 Trump deputy campaign manager David Bossie; Republican Attorneys General Association executive director Adam Piper; and newly elected Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville.

Also in attendance, according to political strategist Cheri Jacobus, were Txtwire CEO Daniel Beck, Rudy Giuliani, Kimberly Guilfoyle, and “MyPillow” CEO and Trump donor Michael Lindell.

A Jan. 4 memo from former acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller lists very restrictive requirements for D.C. National Guard should they obtain “personal authorization” to be deployed to the scene, which they eventually were much too late.

The day Capitol police were aware of a “strong potential” for violence against Congress, Miller released the following:

Could this just be the “new normal” in America?

Is every election from now on going to be followed by predictable outrage about “voter fraud” and “rigged elections” when republicans lose?

While it might seem facile, increasing voter turnout is a major step to combat this.

The fewer of us that show up to cast our ballots, the smaller the margin our victory, making it easier to contest.

Mail-in voting has been proven to increase voter participation because it does not require voters to leave their homes, thereby make voter suppression efforts like those in Florida and Georgia harder to enforce.

Another approach is to urge our state and federal lawmakers to pass legislation tightening up voter security measures, such as those delineated in the “For the People Act” and the “John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.”

But what about all those trolls disseminating misinformation on social media?

Companies like Facebook and YouTube are beginning to clamp down, but the best arbiter is ourselves.

Outlets like Factcheck.orgPolitifact.comSnopes, and The Washington Post Fact-checker are places we can go to verify what we’re being fed.

Also, maybe social media sites aren’t the best sources for news.

They are independent corporations making money from ad revenue and pushing content.

They do not have an allegiance to facts like reputable journalistic outfits, albeit imperfect those outfits may be.

These aren’t panaceas.

Obviously the problems confronting us are legion.

Money in politics, voter suppression laws, cuts to education funding, a for-profit media structure, the Electoral College, distrust of government, all make it harder to uphold the values we like to believe we still espouse.

The political winds shift and will continue to do so.

But January 6 was warning, and next time we may not avert it so successfully.

Image credit: Wiktionary

Ted Millar is writer and teacher. His work has been featured in myriad literary journals, including Better Than Starbucks, The Broke Bohemian, Straight Forward Poetry, Caesura, Circle Show, Cactus Heart, Third Wednesday, and The Voices Project. He is also a contributor to The Left Place blog on Substack, and Medium.