About 150 years ago, as Congress prepared to impeach President Andrew Johnson, someone discovered two bottles of what seemed like nitroglycerin in a Senate passageway. Hysterical politicians fled the building—until some bold newspaperman swigged the liquid. It was just bourbon.

The incident provided a powerful metaphor for the way impeachment turned a substance politicians could usually handle into something highly explosive. After months of drama, Lincoln’s former secretary John Hay concluded: “Impeachment is demonstrated not to be an easy thing. The lesson may be a good one some day.” The lesson, as good in 2017 as it was in 1868, is that removing a president is an ugly process, which can dangerously inflame tensions in an already divided nation.

There were, in the late 1860s, real fears that impeachment could spark a second Civil War. That rebellion was barely over, and posed a number of unanswered questions. What did the nation owe to millions of freed slaves? How should the federal government treat Confederate leaders and seceded states? What should northerners do about the atrocious outbreaks of racist violence unfolding in cities like New Orleans and Memphis?

Things were little calmer in Washington. A victorious, sometimes-cocky, Republican Party controlled more than three-quarters of both houses of Congress. Yet in the White House sat Andrew Johnson, put into power not by a popular vote, but by Lincoln’s assassination. And Johnson, it was painfully clear, was hostile to blacks, lenient with rebels, and hell-bent on fighting Congress.

Johnson was, possibly, the worst man to lead the country at such a tense moment. Racist, crude, and grumpy, Johnson nursed an incredible persecution complex. At best, he was a formerly illiterate tailor who had worked his way up from poverty to the most powerful position in the nation, like his fellow Tennessean and personal hero, Andrew Jackson. At worst, he was paranoid, resentful, narcissistic. Washington politicos described a man who “always hated somebody,” “always defeats himself,” and was “always worse than you expect.”

There were, still, millions who sided with Johnson. White Democrats, especially in the lower north and the south, felt overwhelmed by Republicans. To them, Republicans were social-justice warriors intent on revolutionizing race relations and centralizing Federal power; most Democrats just wanted to return to the old union and old Constitution. Such Democrats launched the most bitterly racist campaigns in American history, rallying behind Andrew Johnson as a symbol of their struggle against change.

Johnson put his presidency on a collision course with Congress. He referred, constantly, to his unfair treatment and to his many enemies, at whom he spat bold, baseless claims. After white police officers slaughtered dozens of black activists in New Orleans, Johnson ridiculously blamed “the radical Congress” for the massacre. On a disastrous speaking tour across the Midwest—in which he drank heavily and compared himself to Jesus—Johnson called for the lynching of his most hated congressional rival, Thaddeus Stevens. Even relatively neutral observers like Senator John Sherman eventually concluded that he was beyond help, sighing: “The truth is, he is a slave to his passions and resentments.”

Johnson’s enemies were nearly as intent on conflict. They set a trap for the president, making it illegal for him to fire certain officials. Of course, Johnson promptly fired them. His nemesis, Stevens, was heard hollering in Congress: “Didn’t I tell you so? If you don’t kill the beast, it will kill you.” Congress moved in, voting for impeachment in March 1868.

–Jon Grinspan, The High Price of Presidential Impeachment

Steve Bannon Is Not The President; Mike Pence Might Be

As the tug-of-war over the value of other human lives continues, leaks (or are they streams?) about the chaotic first days of Donald Trump continue to flow out of the West Wing. The report that’s drawing the biggest attention today is The New York Times’ Trump and Staff Rethink Tactics After Stumbles. It’s the opinion of some of the Lizard People that Trump calling out critical news reports on Twitter is his “tell”. By this reckoning, the more he protests, the greater the likelihood the report in question is 90 to 100 percent accurate. With that in mind…

What got under Cheeto Mussolini’s skin this time? Was it more embarrassing details about his television and junk food addictions? The revelation that even Don Lemon’s criticism can sting? His Oval Office drape snafu? The spooky story about him haunting the White House at night like a forlorn specter? The fact that his father’s middle name was Christ? Or was it the number of anonymous sources willing to talk to the Times?

This account of the early days of the Trump White House is based on interviews with dozens of government officials, congressional aides, former staff members and other observers of the new administration, many of whom requested anonymity. At the center of the story, according to these sources, is a president determined to go big but increasingly frustrated by the efforts of his small team to contain the backlash.

In a spectacular case of burying the lede, the Times waits 23 paragraphs to divulge:

Mr. Bannon remains the president’s dominant adviser, despite Mr. Trump’s anger that he was not fully briefed on details of the executive order he signed giving his chief strategist a seat on the National Security Council, a greater source of frustration to the president than the fallout from the travel ban.

The tidbit follows on the heels of a story by The Washington Post that Steve Bannon had to be forcefully reminded by Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly that he was not in fact the President of the United States. The Trump administration has denied that the incident took place, but it’s their natural inclination to deny everything. That the story, whatever its veracity, saw the light of day could be charitably viewed as factions within the federal government doing their best to limit the influence of extremist elements who have the president’s ear. This however ignores the reality that Trump is himself an extremist, and anonymous intragovermental leaks are useful for careerist power jockeying.

There may be good reason for the aggressive jockeying. Former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich claims a former Republican member of Congress told him that most Republicans don’t view Trump as one of them. Trump, like many fascists, built a cult of personality-driven movement, then hijacked the RNC against the wishes of the establishment. Per Reich’s source, the GOP will “play along for a while … They’ll get as much as they want – tax cuts galore, deregulation, military buildup, slash all those poverty programs, and then get to work on Social Security and Medicare – and blame him. And he’s such a fool he’ll want to take credit for everything.” Then, when he inevitably trips up, they’ll move to impeach.

Chris Hedges, author of American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America (2008), maintains modern evangelicals are a dangerous mass movement, fascism in religious guise (For an earlier manifestation of this phenomenon in America, see Father Charles Coughlin). If the purge works and Mike Pence replaces Trump, the country will not have been spared from the authoritarian menace – it will have a more competent and polished authoritarian in Trump’s place. Keep that in the back of your head when you come across items like TIME’s just-published op-ed Why We’re Calling For Congress To Impeach Donald Trump.

(Year Zero/Day Eighteen)