The cultural cold civil war, heading toward a shooting war

Francis Wilkinson starts with a liberal view of recent political history:

It seems, maybe, that President Donald Trump has abandoned his policy of separating children from their immigrant parents and warehousing them in detention facilities. But the conflict over the policy has been, among other things, starkly clarifying.

“I think we’re at the beginning of a soft civil war,” political scientist Thomas Schaller said in a telephone interview. “I don’t know if the country gets out of it whole.”

The heightened conflict of recent weeks led to more ominous rhetoric— anyone else notice the abundance of Nazi references from sane people? — and more definitive, unequivocal acts. Former Republican strategist Steve Schmidt renounced his party of 29 years this week and pledged to vote for Democrats until decency returns to the GOP.

Law professor and blogger Orin Kerr, perhaps sensing the ugly turn in the air, tweeted: “Few things are more corrosive in politics than the conviction that you have been wronged so much that you’re justified in breaking all the rules to get even.” …

And what if Democrats fall short in November? Especially if Democratic candidates get more votes than Republicans but fail to gain control of at least one side of Congress?

Here’s an easy prediction. Democrats will then experience rage — at Tea-Party levels or worse. …

Democrats won’t give up on democracy. It’s too central to their identity, and their commitment to democratic norms and processes is also their point of greatest contrast with Trumpism.

Instead, Democrats will give up on conservatives. They will give up on Alabama and Mississippi, on Kansas and Nebraska. They will explore ways to divorce their culture, politics and economy from Trumpism and from their fellow Americans who support it.

I don’t know exactly what that would look like. But liberals have a great deal of cultural, academic and economic heft, stretching from Hollywood to Harvard. Just this week, some Hollywood powerhouses flirted with leveraging their clout against the Trumpist Fox News. There are endless variations on such a power play. If Democrats opt to use their power more aggressively — breaking rules —Schaller’s soft civil war hardly seems unlikely.

“Democrats won’t give up on democracy”? That’s hilarious. Ask Wisconsin Republicans how often Democrats consulted the GOP when the former were in the minority in 2009 and 2010. Ask Congressional Republicans how often Barack Obama and his sycophants considered the GOP’s opinion when Democrats had total control of the federal government in 2009 and 2010. Former U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin (D–Iowa) used the word “bullshit” frequently during his brief presidential campaign, and that’s a perfect word for the view through Wilkinson’s left eye.

Wilkinson prompted Glenn Harlan Reynolds to write:

The column by Francis Wilkinson presents a catalog of things Democrats are mad about — from the existence of the electoral college to Trump’s “propaganda apparatus” — and predicts that if Democrats lose the midterm elections, there will be hell to pay. (And Republicans, you know, could make a similar list of their own complaints.)

“I don’t know exactly what that would look like,” Wilkinson writes. “But liberals have a great deal of cultural, academic and economic heft, stretching from Hollywood to Harvard. Just this week, someHollywood powerhouses flirted with leveraging their cloutagainst the Trumpist Fox News. There are endless variations on such a power play. If Democrats opt to use their power more aggressively — breaking rules — Schaller’s soft civil war hardly seems unlikely.”

Well, actually this sort of thing seems to be well underway. Hollywood has basically turned its products, and its award shows, into showcases for “the resistance.” Americans are already sorting themselves into communities that are predominantly red or blue. And in heavily blue Washington, D.C., Trump staffers find that a lot of people don’t want to date them because of their politics.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was even kicked out of the Red Hen restaurant in Lexington, Virginia, because the owner and employees disliked her politics. This seems like a small thing, but it would have been largely unthinkable a generation ago.

And, in a somewhat less “soft” manifestation, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was bullied out of a restaurant by an angry anti-Trump mob, and a similar mob also showed up outside of her home.

We interrupt with James Wigderson:

This probably sounds familiar to Wisconsinites who have seen leftist boycotts of everything from pizza to bratwurst because of politics. Penzey’s Spices, a company in Wauwatosa, has now made it a business model to call its Republican customers racist because President Donald Trump won, and before him Governor Scott Walker. Protesters even attempted to disrupt a Special Olympics event and the opening of State Fair one year because of their hatred of Walker.

Apparently the “coexist” bumper stickers are meant to be ironic.

But the disintegration of politics at the national level is particularly worrisome. We’re just a year removed since a Bernie Sanders supporter attempted a mass assassination of Republican Congressmen who were warming up for a intramural softball game against the Democrats. We’re not that far removed in time from violent riots at Berkeley and other college campuses.

Historian Michael Beschloss, not exactly an alarmist, is warning that he has seen this kind of behavior before. “It is almost beginning to sound like some of the things that happened before the Civil War,” Beschloss told Politico.

I’m not saying that denying someone a table at a restaurant should be compared to “Bleeding Kansas.” Nor am I even suggesting that the restaurants should be forced to serve Trump Administration officials.

But we’re to a point where civil discourse is becoming impossible. We’re no longer arguing at Thanksgiving Dinner like President Barack Obama encouraged us to do. The Left is just sputtering rage and attempting to bully everyone into thinking like they do.

Back to Reynolds:

Will it get worse? Probably. To have a civil war, soft or otherwise, takes two sides. But as pseudonymous tweeter Thomas H. Crown notes, it’s childishly easy in these days to identify people in mobs, and then to dispatch similar mobs to their homes and workplaces. Eventually, he notes, it becomes “protesters all the way down, and if we haven’t yet figured out that can lead to political violence, we’re dumb.”

Apparently, some of us are dumb or else want violence. As Crown warns, “We carefully erected civil peace to avoid this sort of devolution-to-a-mob. It is a great civilizational achievement and it is intensely fragile.” Yes, it is indeed fragile, and many people will miss it when it’s entirely gone.

Marriage counselors say that when a couple view one another with contempt, it’s a top indicator that the relationship is likely to fail. Americans, who used to know how to disagree with one another without being mutually contemptuous, seem to be forgetting this. And the news media, which promote shrieking outrage in pursuit of ratings and page views, are making the problem worse.

What would make things better? It would be nice if people felt social ties that transcend politics. Americans’ lives used to involve a lot more intermediating institutions — churches, fraternal organizations, neighborhoods — that crossed political lines. Those have shrunk and decayed, and in fact, for many people politics seems to have become a substitute for religion or fraternal organizations. If you find your identity in your politics, you’re not going to identify with people who don’t share them.

The rules of bourgeois civility also helped keep things in check, but of course those rules have been shredded for years. We may come to miss them.

America had one disastrous civil war, and those who fought it did a surprisingly good job of coming together afterward, realizing how awful it was to have a political divide that set brother against brother. Let us hope that we will not have to learn that lesson again in a similar fashion.

 

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