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Thursday, October 11, 2018

The inevitable second civil war (or, Je suis un angry mob)

Columnist Tom Friedman thinks we are headed for another civil war.  He writes:

I began my journalism career covering a civil war in Lebanon. I never thought I’d end my career covering a civil war in America.

He explains what brings him to this point:

Sure, we’ve experienced bouts of intense social strife since the American Civil War of 1861. I grew up with the assassination of Martin Luther King and raging street battles over civil rights and Vietnam. And yet this moment feels worse — much less violent, blessedly, but much more broadly divisive. There is a deep breakdown happening between us, between us and our institutions and between us and our president.
We can’t find common ground on which to respectfully disagree; the other side is “the enemy.” We shout at each other on television, unfollow each other on Facebook and fire verbal mortars at each other on Twitter — and now everyone is on the digital battlefield, not just politicians. 
Across the land, before dinner parties or block parties, the refrain “I hope none of them will be there is uttered with increasing frequency, referring no longer to people of another race or religion — bad enough — but to people from a different political party. 
When he talks of the refrain  I hope none of them will be there,I recognize something I have thought and said and heard others say many times over recent years.   When I see a Trump sign or someone wearing a MAGA hat, I take it as a signal that they have declared themselves as enemies of democracy and benevolence.  They have chosen to pursue self-induced stupidity and malice as their way of life. They endorse and support corruption and fraud as long as it benefits them, and despite claims to be patriots, they actively undermine liberty, equality, and justice for all.  They have declared their aversion to democracy. by supporting one of the most malicious, vile persons to attain the leadership of a country.  His record of corruption, insidious dealings, and constant dishonesty is a matter of open record to which he adds more everyday.  Still, people choose him as the emblem of their principles.  These are people who, like Trump, can speak only in terms of insult and abuse and malicious falsehood.  One can expect only incivility from them.That is why I, like many, hope none of them will be at places where I wish to go.  And if they are likely to be there, I simply don't go.  You know they will use every opportunity to be insulting and obnoxious.

When the the political divide between the people in America is discussed, it usually contains a suggestion that we need to be respectful and open to hearing other viewpoints.  Those suggestions are made without examining the nature of the personal encounters that motivate the divide.  When people choose to be intractably disagreeable, they may insist they are merely using their right to free speech, but forget that other people have the right to take offense when they are disrespected, insulted, and abused and to assert their own rights.  Intelligent people understand the futility of trying to communicate with a dedicated abuser.  Rather than engage, they avoid.  And that is why the divide between Americans is reconcilable.

The principle involved is stated in our oldest wisdom literature:
Proverbs 26:3-12 (ESV) A whip for the horse, a bridle for the donkey, and a rod for the back of fools. Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes. Whoever sends a message by the hand of a fool cuts off his own feet and drinks violence. Like a lame man's legs, which hang useless, is a proverb in the mouth of fools. 
Social scientists have yet to explore the effects of the social divide outside of politics.  There has been a change in the social and civic organizations, churches, and society in general.  Fraternal organizations, civic clubs,  veterans organizations, country clubs have sold off once-commodious facilities or closed all together.   Their leaders complain that people just don't want to belong to such organizations.  When pressed, they admit that people find no advantage to such organizations because they would be associating with people they have no use for.  The pastor  of a church said that membership in his congregation has remained stable, but attendance in church events has fallen so that some activities have been dropped.  He explained that his congregation comes for formal services, but avoid anything where they have to talk to each other.  

Studies have marked the decline in social interaction, and discuss the displacement of face-to-face encounters by technology and the social media, but these do not account for underlying causes.  The pastor says that politics is the wedge.  In talking with his parishioners he finds a stark difference in values, and the people do not want to deal with opposing values.  They dislike each other, and the idea of Christian fellowship is a travesty to them.  Young people drift away from the organized church because the hypocrisy is most evident to them, the pastor said.  

While she was widely criticized for it, Hillary Clinton stated the situation:  "You cannot be civil with a political party that wants to destroy what you stand for, what you care about," she said.  And another perspective is when you find civility an absurd response to malice, dishonesty, insult, and abuse that is the standard fare in the Trump world, you avoid it. 

The resistance to Trump and his band of churls has been civil and non-violent.   So far.  The protests have been constant from the day of Trump's inauguration.  They have extended to accosting politicians in the street, in restaurants, on elevators, and interrupting Congressional meetings.  But the protests have not extended beyond "the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."   So far.  But Trump and the GOP have chosen to portray the protests as rule by an angry mob.  And that characterization sends a strong message to the protesters that they are dismissed and demeaned and portrayed as the enemy.  The thought is circulating that Trump and the GOP need to see what an angry mob is like, and old battle plans from the late 1960s and early 1970s are beginning to be reviewed.

The conservatives have often said that they are prepared to launch a "second amendment response" to the liberal protests.  They have ignored what a major gun dealer said during one of those spikes in gun sales after a mass shooting after which gun control was proposed.  He said as many liberals were arming and stocking up on ammunition as were the "Second Amendment crowd."  They just weren't as noisy about what they were doing and why they were doing.  Both sides were preparing for potential battle.

A Washington Post analysis recounted the many people on both sides who see the U.S. as on the brink of civil war.  They see no possibility or any reason for reconciliation.  To many, the democratic principles that enable differences to be resolved through dialogue and the ballot box have been destroyed or have failed.

As the man who pretends to the presidency keeps saying,  we'll see what happens.  The election may be a declaration of war.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States