By now, Americans have grown accustomed to incendiary rhetoric from the raging right. Nevertheless, the past week witnessed some truly explosive eruptions from some of the leading lights of the conservative movement. Last Sunday, Donald Trump warned that his impeachment and removal from office could trigger a second civil war. Three days later, frequent Fox News flame-thrower Todd Starnes lost his longtime gig with the network after an episode of his radio show that advanced the theory that Democrats worship the Old Testament pagan god Moloch, who allowed for child sacrifice.
But in neither case were the slanders and threats original. The savage sound bites Trump and Starnes circulated to the world weren’t the handiwork of press secretaries or the focus group-tested talking points of a Karl Rove or Frank Luntz. No, these abominations were the dirty work of a supposed man of God, Pastor Robert Jeffress. Jeffress isn’t merely the pastor of the 13,000-member First Baptist Church in Dallas. As it turns out, the radio show host, Fox News contributor, and White House regular may well now be the President’s go-to culture warrior. When it comes to the people and policies the MAGA crowd detests the most, Robert Jeffress is Donald Trump’s minister of hate.
So it was a week ago when the president of the United States deployed Jeffress against the voices of impeachment rapidly growing to a crescendo after the revelations of his Ukrainian skullduggery:
If the Democrats are successful in removing the President from office (which they will never be), it will cause a Civil War like fracture in this Nation from which our Country will never heal.” Pastor Robert Jeffress, @FoxNews
To be sure, Trump’s borrowed bellicosity was music to the ears of the Oath Keepers and other armed right-wing militias seemingly so eager to turn to violence to enforce their political preferences against the United States Constitution. But Dinesh D’Souza’s mythmaking notwithstanding, the warmongering of today’s Party of Lincoln is a far cry from the stance of its forebears. As President Lincoln, on March 4, 1861, put it in his First Inaugural Address, delivered after most Southern states had greeted his election with secession, “In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow-countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The Government will not assail you. You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors. You have no oath registered in heaven to destroy the Government, while I shall have the most solemn one to ‘preserve, protect, and defend it.’”
One might think Jeffress himself would hesitate to traffic in such dangerous civil war rhetoric, given that his Southern Baptist Convention split from northern Baptists in 1845 precisely to protect the institution of slavery. It took until 1995—a full 150 years later—for the SBC to issue an apology for it.