On this first anniversary after the odious Capitol Building riot, the question being posed is whether the US heads toward civil war? And the answer is no because America never finished its first one. In April 1865, the Deep South surrendered to the North, but African Americans continued to be landless and treated like slaves. It took nearly a century before effective civil rights legislation was signed into law in July 1964 and that same year the Republican Party (the so-called “Party of Abraham Lincoln”) merged with George Wallace’s Dixiecrats and the Klu Klux Klan’s poisonous beliefs went national. Today, thanks to the weaponization of unbridled social media harnessed by a highly functioning sociopath named Donald Trump, the Republican Party is a powerful coalition of disgruntled Americans that is stoking and tapping into the nation’s underlying fascist, anarchist, and racist pathologies.
Brigades of bigots proliferate and their ranks are swollen by tens of millions outside the Deep South who are variously anti-government, anti-federalist, and anti-immigrant or religious zealots and conspiracy lunatics. This disparate cohort of disgruntled whites with grievances found common cause with Trump. He became the Rodney Dangerfield of politics, a tough guy who spoke for those who believed they “don’t-get-no-respect”.
America’s civil war builds because the Democrats are too left-wing, and advocate “stupid ideas” and attitudes, said James Carville, a southern Democrat, and former Bill Clinton chief advisor. He excoriated, for instance, a “smug” New York Times writer for “patronizing” US citizens in the South and middle of the country by making 'snarky' comments about Louisiana State University. “We can’t win by looking down on people.”
Carville also criticized Bernie Sanders’ agenda – a Scandinavian playbook of huge social benefits for the disadvantaged -- which has driven down President Joe Biden’s popularity. This is because what works in Sweden or Canada, doesn’t fly in America — not because Americans are stupid but because they simply don’t trust governments, unlike Euros or Canadians.
Last year’s insurrection in Washington occurred because of America’s proclivity for violence. Now forty percent of Republicans believe that violence against the government is sometimes justified, a view shared by 23 percent of Democrats and 41 percent of independents. About 68 percent believe that the events of Jan. 6 represent an increasing danger of political violence, compared with 32 percent who regard it as an isolated incident. Finally, 62 percent expect violence to occur by the losing side in a future presidential election.
A gaping divide afflicts the body politic and never the twain shall meet. At one extreme are Progressives who want open borders, hearing aids for grandpa, specs for grandma, free university and daycare for all, subsidies for yuppies in California who want to drive electric vehicles, and exorbitant taxes on millionaires and billionaires. “What I can tell you is that people all over this country worked their way through school, sent their kids to school, paid off student loans. They don't want to hear this s**t,” said Carville.
At the other extreme are right-wing home-rulers, who believe individual liberty is paramount and fiercely guard state’s rights, to keep Washington off their backs and out of their pockets and schools and laws. Their Republican Party has been busily gerrymandering and passing legislation to impede Democrats from voting and to take over Washington again.
The divide has become so vast that the country’s two solitudes now have different facts and definitions of truth, treason, and ethics. This makes reconciliation increasingly impossible. America’s aggrieved disrupt school boards, emergency rooms, city halls, legislatures, churches, mask mandates, vaccination initiatives, union halls, workplaces, military barracks, police forces, airports, and polling stations.
In America, dissent — the lifeblood of democracy — is morphing into domestic terrorism because the nation is armed to the teeth. Consider this: If Washington DC’s gun control laws had not been strictly enforced, the Capitol Building insurrection would have turned into a bloodbath and hostage-taking exercise. Mike Pence would have been captured and forced at gunpoint to discredit the federal election. The country and its economy would have been paralyzed and Trump would have continued to govern under martial law.
Despite such a near-miss, one year later Congress still investigates and 700 arrests have been made of the foot soldiers. But terrorist groups now hide in the shadows preparing for more onslaughts. A worrisome study by former military and FBI expert Clint Watts says they will re-surface locally, not nationally, and published two charts of their status and social media networks in his substack this week:
Watts concludes: “Extremist activity has moved from the nation’s capital to state capitals, from the National Mall to local vaccine distribution centers, and from Congressional meetings to school board meetings. attorneys general, sheriffs, and thousands of electoral adjudicators —- from those who serve on election commissions to lower-level officials who supervise polling operations such as voter identification procedures, balloting processes, appeals, and recounts. This is in preparation for the 2022 mid-terms and beyond. The next coup will be local, not national.”
Nobody knows exactly how big America’s anti-democracy coalition is, but Trump got 74 million votes in 2020 and there are more guns in the United States than people. Fortunately, polls show that a large majority of Americans hold Trump responsible for the January 6 attack; only 23 percent of Americans believe he actually won the presidency, but one-third approve of the use of violence to achieve political goals.
Most Americans now believe that the current system doesn’t work for ordinary people. That in itself is a crisis, no matter the party affiliation. To blame is the fact that America is becoming an oligarchy and undemocratic because dark money and George Wallace’s Deep South are in charge. Politicians are corrupted by campaign contributions and the South controls 32 Senate seats while California, a state larger in population than Canada, has only two. The South controls the Republican Party: roughly 38.3 percent of America’s population resides in its 16 Southern states but Southern Republicans control 57 percent of the Republican vote in the House and 52 percent of the Republican vote in the Senate. Not all are fascist and racist and opponents of programs designed to benefit ordinary people, but most are. And money still talks. These are the tails that wag the American dog and alienate the rest.
The danger of outright civil warfare is minimal unless the armed right escalates the violence and the left retaliates. That’s unlikely, but already American police must dress like special forces combatants. Congress is gridlocked and politicians disdained. Dark money controls the political agenda. The Russians meddle. The Fourth Estate has been virtually dismantled, with traditional outlets biased towards the left and the rest uncurated and spewing hate, conspiracies, and lies. Little wonder that American pride ebbs, along with the American Dream, and technology, remote work, and social isolation will simply continue to exaggerate divisions.
There are ways out of this predicament. Tighten up laws, clean up campaign contributions, protect the vote, regulate social media and make it liable for publishing damaging or hateful material, establish a counter-terrorism force, and ensure that America’s well-respected military remains apolitical. If not, the future rests on whether or not Trump ends up in jail or atop the garbage heap of history. His takeover and weaponization of a weak Republican Party are why the Republic is endangered and he still pulls the strings.
That’s the bad news. But the good news is that, as one commentator said, there is only one Trump and he won’t be around forever. “And I wouldn’t follow Ted Cruz into an elevator”.
Hallelujah for that.
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