In our more innocent pre-2016 days, politicians often accused each other of being “divisive,” which often meant little more than, “You’re advocating policies I don’t like” or, “You’re criticizing me and I don’t like that, either.” Donald Trump showed us what divisiveness really is, with two campaigns and a presidency devoted to fomenting hatred and resentment, all based on his belief that if Americans were at war with one another then he could profit from the conflict.

As he closes out his term, President Trump is leaning ever harder on division, and other Republicans are enthusiastic participants in his project. But what if he loses? Will they decide that their path back to power might be found somewhere other than telling some Americans to focus their anger on other Americans?

The sad answer is no. This is driven home by a new report that you may have to read two or three times to actually believe:

The White House is considering slashing millions of dollars for coronavirus relief, HIV treatment, screenings for newborns and other programs in Democratic-led cities that President Donald Trump has deemed “anarchist jurisdictions,” according to documents obtained by POLITICO.
New York, Portland, Ore., Washington, D.C., and Seattle could lose funding for a wide swath of programs that serve their poorest, sickest residents after the president moved last month to restrict funding, escalating his political battle against liberal cities he’s sought to use as a campaign foil.

If the administration went ahead with this it would be subject to legal challenge, and would probably not be implemented. But this is now how the Republican Party operates and what it thinks is perfectly appropriate. Places where there are lots of Democrats should be not just demonized but also punished with the tools of government power. Unless you and your neighbors start voting Republican, you can go to hell.

This isn’t just Trump’s loathsome whims being carried out by the lackeys and sycophants who surround him. It pervades the entire Republican Party.

Consider the current negotiations over another coronavirus relief bill. “If it includes blue state bailout money then I’d say that’s probably a hard no,” Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri recently said, echoing many GOP colleagues. “That’s probably a red line for this caucus including for me.”

When he says “blue state bailout,” he’s referring to funds for state and local governments to help them deal with the pandemic and keep from having to fire hundreds of thousands of workers, from teachers to firefighters to maintenance workers and many more.

Those funds would, of course, go to every state, Hawley’s included. But Republicans decided calling it a “blue state bailout” would be an effective way to convince their own constituents to turn against state and local funding. It’s a way of saying, “Forget about the fact that not approving these funds will hurt you; you should oppose it because it might help other Americans. You know, the ones we keep telling you to hate.”

For his part, Joe Biden thinks wavering voters would prefer to see a united country, even if it seems like something of a fantasy right now. Which is why he aired this ad during the World Series, and why unity is one of his core closing messages:

This is a familiar message; when narrator Sam Elliott says, “There is only one America. No Democratic rivers. No Republican mountains,” you can hear the echoes of Barack Obama telling the 2004 Democratic convention, “There is not a liberal America and a conservative America — there is the United States of America.” It’s both something we want to hear and believe, and an aspiration we cannot seem to realize.

If Biden is elected and Democrats control Congress, where will the GOP see its political renewal lying? Republicans will again find it in telling their constituents that Those Other People hate them and are trying to annihilate them.

It plays well even when Republicans are the ones holding power; it’s even more potent when they’re in the minority and conservatives can be told they’re history’s victims, and only candidates promising resentment and revanchism can deliver them back what they lost.

And what role will Trump himself play? If he loses, he might spend his days at Mar-a-Lago trying to save his crumbling business in between rounds of golf. But more likely, he’ll be on Twitter, still seeking adulation and validation. He’ll be complaining that the 2020 election was rigged against him. He’ll be dropping hints that he might run in 2024, to convince everyone he’s still relevant.

And he’ll continue stoking the coals of anger and hatred, because that’s just who he is.

Other Republicans, particularly those looking to win the party’s presidential nomination, will see it and understand that they too need to sail on the ocean of bile in which their party swims. They’ll know that a message of unity won’t fly with their base; instead, they’ll have to play on those same resentments, insisting that every policy change implemented by Democrats is an attack on red states and “real” Americans.

We’re already seeing violence and lunacy emerging from the deranged and deluded on the right. The GOP is still in charge, and Democratic governors are the target of kidnapping plots while half of all Republicans think top Democrats are involved in an international pedophile ring. Can you imagine what it will be like when Democrats are the ones holding power?

It’s probably an exaggeration to say we’re headed for a civil war, but there can be little doubt that it will be as ugly as anything we’ve seen in our lifetimes. And Republicans will be doing everything they can to make it worse, every step of the way.

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