The least violent solution

One of my longstanding critiques of the U.S. republican system is that it is intended to preserve the power of wealthy white males[1] against—let’s take the shine off—a populist mob that, in an actual democracy, might deprive the wealthy of their property. Class warfare is right there in Federalist No. 10, as James Madison warns against factionalism between the haves and have-nots, and trusts with power those who are allegedly most able to set aside their own interests in favor of those of the republic.[2]

Madison, like many of the “founding fathers,” was from Virginia—in Colin Woodard’s scheme, the Tidewater sociocultural “nation.” Tidewater is, in my scheme,[3] functionalist conservative. Everyone else exists to preserve the elite in their power and privileges over, well, everyone else.[4]

Tidewater is also right next to, in Woodard’s scheme, “Greater Appalachia,”[5] which in my scheme, is authoritarian populist,[6] that is, the larger part of Donald Trump’s base, also known as the “Tea Party” during Barack Obama’s presidency, and a portion of the electorate functionalist conservative Republicans had sought to entice on social issues while delivering little of substance, nurturing an authoritarian populist sense of grievance.[7]

Part of the latter scheme is inherently that authoritarian populists could never actually come to power. And while we don’t know for sure, one might even suspect that, whether you call them Greater Appalachian people, Tea Partiers, or authoritarian populists, these are at least some of the folks Madison meant to keep out of power.

That plan obviously falls to pieces when someone like Donald Trump gets elected. Because authoritarian populists, nursing millennium-old (yes, really, that old) grievances, are now in power and still absolutely furious.[8] And now Trump is almost certainly getting impeached.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told Fox News Thursday night that he will coordinate the defense of President Trump in any impeachment trial with White House lawyers, and proclaimed that there was “zero chance” the president would be removed from office.[9]

Which prompts a columnist at the Arizona Republic, E. J. Montini, to explain,

Prior to an impeachment trial, according to Article I, section 3, clause 6 of the Constitution, says the senators serving as a jury “shall be on Oath or Affirmation.”

According to the Senate Rules in Impeachment Trials that oath is:

”I solemnly swear (or affirm) that in all things appertaining to the trial of ____, now pending, I will do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws, so help me God.”

Senate President McConnell (and, according to him, every other Republican senator) has broken that oath even before taking it.[10]

As if to confirm,

Sen. Lindsey Graham said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” Sunday that he’s ready to vote against removing President Trump from office in a Senate trial, even before the House has held a full-body vote on articles of impeachment.[11]

I won’t belabor the entirely predictable reaction. Montini, above, pretty much has that covered. And yeah, it’s amazing and shocking.

I think it fair to say that Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham are speaking to authoritarian populists. It is this segment of the Republican electorate they are concerned about mollifying, not the Constitutional sensibilities of anyone else.

What’s a bit surprising here is how authoritarian populists—not just, as I had earlier thought, Trump[12] have seemingly utterly captured the Republican Party. They are just one, an important one, but only one of seven tendencies of conservatism that align with that party.[13] But in truth, whether its a wider-than-I-realized overlap between authoritarian populism and social conservatism,[14] often on issues where traditionalist conservatives agree, deregulation and tax cuts for capitalist libertarians and neoliberals, a fear of “Trump’s base” for functionalist conservatives, a hawkish policy on Iran for neoconservatives (for whom neoliberalism is a moral imperative), or racist rhetoric that tantalizes paleoconservatives and affirms an authoritarian populist resentment against “political correctness,” Trump has managed to appeal to many more conservatives than just authoritarian populists.

I object to the present proceedings because I suspect they would not be occurring at all had Trump targeted anyone other than the neoliberals’ preferred candidate for the neoliberal (Democratic) party presidential nomination[15] and because I think there are stronger grounds for impeachment that would not enable Trump’s bigotry against migrants on the U.S.-Mexican border.[16] I have also worried about the possibility that Trump’s base might resort to violence and it very much appears to me that I now live in an area[17] where some of that violence might occur.[18]

In that millennium of Greater Appalachians people’s history, the folks I call authoritarian populists endured centuries of violence. This violence was an impetus for their migration to what is now the U.S. but they have never renounced it,[19] which I think is the real reason we see so much gun nuttery on the right.[20]

I’ll completely agree that it’s a constitutional outrage that Republican senators are disregarding their constitutional duties. But it might be the least violent solution.

  1. [1]David Benfell, “Why I do not vote,” Not Housebroken, February 23, 2016,
  2. [2]James Madison, “Federalist No. 10,” in The Federalist Papers, ed. Garry Wills (New York: Bantam, 2003), 50-58.
  3. [3]David Benfell, “Conservative Views on Undocumented Migration” (doctoral dissertation, Saybrook, 2016). ProQuest (1765416126).
  4. [4]Colin Woodard, American Nations (New York: Penguin, 2012).
  5. [5]Colin Woodard, American Nations (New York: Penguin, 2012).
  6. [6]David Benfell, “Conservative Views on Undocumented Migration” (doctoral dissertation, Saybrook, 2016). ProQuest (1765416126).
  7. [7]Thomas Frank, What’s the Matter with Kansas? (New York: Henry Holt, 2005).
  8. [8]David Benfell, “ Barack Obama asks, ‘Why is it that the folks that won the last election are so mad all the time?’” Not Housebroken, November 4, 2018,
  9. [9]Victor Garcia, “Hannity exclusive: McConnell says ‘zero chance’ Trump is removed, ‘one or two Democrats’ could vote to acquit,” Fox News, December 13, 2019,
  10. [10]E. J. Montini, “Sen. Mitch McConnell breaks impeachment oath before taking it,” Arizona Republic, December 13, 2019,
  11. [11]Jacob Knutson, “Lindsey Graham says he’s not trying to be a ‘fair juror’ in impeachment trial,” Axios, December 15, 2019,
  12. [12]David Benfell, “How Donald Trump captured the Republican Party,” Not Housebroken, July 1, 2018,
  13. [13]David Benfell, “Conservative Views on Undocumented Migration” (doctoral dissertation, Saybrook, 2016). ProQuest (1765416126).
  14. [14]Colin Woodard, American Nations (New York: Penguin, 2012).
  15. [15]David Benfell, “It’s still a smoke-filled room,” December 6, 2019,; David Benfell, “How the neoliberal (usually known as Democratic) party may well lose in 2020,” Not Housebroken, December 7, 2019,
  16. [16]David Benfell, “The whiteness of impeachment,” Not Housebroken, December 15, 2019,
  17. [17]Colin P. Clarke, “One Year After Tree of Life, We Still Aren’t Talking Enough About Violent White Supremacy,” Rand, October 27, 2019,; Letrell Deshan Crittenden, “The Pittsburgh problem: race, media and everyday life in the Steel City,” Columbia Journalism Review, October 25, 2019,; Eric Heyl, “Neo-Nazi, White Supremacist, Islamic Hate Groups Active In Pittsburgh,” Patch, August 16, 2017,; Moriah Ella Mason, “Pittsburgh Doesn’t Need More Guns — We Need Less White Supremacy,” Forward, October 29, 2018,; Charles Thompson, “Pennsylvania housed 36 active hate groups last year, ranking 8th in the country: report,” Penn Live, February 21, 2019,
  18. [18]David Benfell, “Militia territory,” Not Housebroken, November 22, 2019,
  19. [19]Colin Woodard, American Nations (New York: Penguin, 2012).
  20. [20]David Benfell, “Militia territory,” Not Housebroken, November 22, 2019,

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