Politics, Security, Top Stories

Is America Heading for a Civil War?

The National Rifle Association’s latest advertisement has been described as a “whisper shy of a call for full civil war“. Dana Loesch, NRA spokesperson, paints a Manichaean picture for U.S. citizens that can only be resolved through the “clenched fist of truth”. If you haven’t seen it, watch it now.

Join the National Rifle Association

Join NRA Here: http://bit.ly/2q5pp0L

Posted by National Rifle Association of America on Monday, June 12, 2017

 

This advertisement comes less than three weeks after an assassination attempt at the Republican Congressional baseball team, carried out by a Bernie Sanders supporter, which some of the Left seemed to tacitly support.

The escalating political rhetoric on both sides has led Pat Buchanan to ask openly what some on the American Right have been pondering privately for a while: Is American system broken beyond repair? John Podhoretz agrees there’s a sense that America is descending into chaos. Kevin Williamson blames it on the acceptance of political violence by the Left. This concern isn’t new. A year ago, Ross Douthat also wondered whether American society was unravelling. Is America heading for a civil war, and what would be the global implications of such an event? Only ten years ago, such a question would have been laughed at, but it is now all too common. What has led to this crisis?

To those of us raised in the Anglican schooling system, America has always seemed to be a highly opinionated society, not especially given to stoicism or the “stiff upper lip.” That’s not necessarily bad, of course, but the current feverish political climate feels unusually alarming all the same. My Republican friends and colleagues in the DC area are worried about a possible backlash. A backlash some of my Democrat friends welcome so that the battle lines may be drawn more firmly.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, most of the people unconcerned by escalating tensions are well off, urban professionals. None of them seem to understand that further polarization won’t produce any winners. They do not seem to understand that throughout human history, organised political violence has been the norm, not the exception, and only some societies have managed to break this destructive cycle and broker a precarious peace based upon the rule of law. Once that peace is gone and the social contract is broken, there’s no way to prevent the tension from snowballing. From there, it’s a fairly straightforward descent into conflict.

Consider another insane episode in the ongoing American culture war, in which “Alt-Right” protestors rushed the stage and tried to shut down a play in which Trump was depicted as Julius Caesar. For believers in free speech, there can be no justification for this reprehensible act. It should not be coming as a surprise, however. As I pointed out during the Berkeley riots that shut down a talk by Milo Yiannopoulos, it would only be a matter of time before ‘SJW’ tactics were adopted by the Right and turned on the Left. Once dialogue and discussion are superseded by continuous marches, censorship, no-platforming, and direct action, chaos and anarchy risk replacing the rule of law with the law of the jungle. The nastier and more vicious an actor is, the greater the chance of bullying an opponent into silence. That is not, to put it mildly, healthy in any democracy.

The cause of this unwelcome development appears rather simple. In 2016, no one expected Trump to win and when he did the Left’s culture warriors collectively lost their heads. Resistance and social anarchy and even calls for violence became the order of the day. The Chinese internet has defined this phenomenon using the term baizuo (白左), literally translated as ‘the White Left‘: perpetually offended activists, more worried about minority rights and immigration than more basic needs like food security and infrastructure. These mostly college educated coastal and city dwelling activists have been on the forefront of the culture wars since the mid-nineties, and those wars were thought to have been largely won by the liberal Left.

However, it seems that history has a sense of irony. Around 77.5 percent of the US population is white, the majority of them working or lower middle class, and they are less interested in transgender bathrooms than in rising living costs, a lack of jobs, and meaningless foreign interventions. With Trump’s win, the political situation has become polarized and toxic, there are daily White House leaks to the media, and pundits and journalists are stoking unrest against what they perceive to be the tyranny and fascism of the Trump administration.

Imagine for a moment if the shoe were on the other foot. A Democratic administration is in power and Republican bureaucrats are “resisting” by leaking to a sympathetic right-wing press. There are marches and protests and calls for violence, but in this scenario, it is the Democrats who are the “fascists”. (To paraphrase Lencioni, when everyone is fascist, no one is). That is what is happening. It should be no surprise that this has led to actual violence and treason. And while it is a good idea to resist tyranny, the problem is that people define tyranny differently. “Punch a Nazi” might mean “Punch whomever I disagree with.” A peaceful transition of power is a civil system that relies upon adherence to law. Once the rules are discarded, only arbitrary action remains.

This is not to say that Trump is a competent leader, or that he does not deserve very close scrutiny at every step. But there is a difference between scrutiny and sabotage. The point that needs to be made here is that tensions on both sides need to be de-escalated, the daily outrages must stop—for the health of the country—and to prevent an atmosphere of rhetorical extremism from spilling into violence.

I was born in India, a country that has seen its fair share of organized political violence, and I can assure you that if you look for violence, then violence will find you, your family, and the people you care about. The urban college-educated “protesters” now seeking to delegitimize the peaceful transition of democratic power, will be the first to suffer in an escalating spiral of disorder. The NRA’s latest call to arms underscores this. For all their online bravado, they are not vicious enough for sustained societal bloodshed. This is the time for policymakers, journalists, and politicians to reflect. Is this what they want? As Auden wrote almost a century ago:

I and the public know,
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done,
Do evil in return.

The political science literature suggests that chances of an actual “civil war” are low. Civil wars usually happen in “grief or grievance” scenarios, when either the elite is divided, or there’s significant outside support to an already defined movement with a defined leadership. In the U.S., for all its faults, the elites are still significantly bipartisan and centrist. There isn’t that much daylight between the Republicans and Democrats with regards to either economic and foreign policy. Movements need leaders, and if the leaders are sane, the chances of bloodshed remains low.

That said, no one knows these days. The record of predictions since the 2010 Arab Spring is mixed, to say the least. It is therefore only prudent to prepare for all contingencies and try to calm things down on all sides. If there’s sanity in the United States, now is the time for cooler heads to reflect the direction in which they wish to lead their country. Perhaps the young radicals on both sides and the pundits fanning the flames should read a bit more Auden. And be more careful about what they wish for.

Sumantra Maitra

Sumantra Maitra

Sumantra Maitra is Doctoral Researcher on Great power politics and Neo-Realism, with a special focus on Russia at the University of Nottingham, UK. He writes for War on the Rocks, The National Interest, and is a regular analyst for The Centre for Land Warfare Studies, India. He holds a Masters of Journalism and Mass Communication, and a Masters of International Studies, both with distinctions.
Sumantra Maitra

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Sumantra Maitra is Doctoral Researcher on Great power politics and Neo-Realism, with a special focus on Russia at the University of Nottingham, UK. He writes for War on the Rocks, The National Interest, and is a regular analyst for The Centre for Land Warfare Studies, India. He holds a Masters of Journalism and Mass Communication, and a Masters of International Studies, both with distinctions.

25 Comments

  1. Jim T says

    So Rightwingers

    Called for Citizen Grand Juries to lock up liberal politicians
    Ted Nugent’s comments on Obama and Clinton
    Sarah Palin, Rand Paul and many others talk of Second Amendment solutions to the Obama
    adminstration
    Burning Obama in effigy
    Gabby Gifford shooting

    So it is all left’s fault now?

    • Spencer Case says

      The Republicans had nothing to do with the Gabby Gifford shooting. The media keeps trying to insinuate a connection.

    • Gary Foster says

      Giffords was shot by a democrat. Yes its the lefts fault for trying to take our nation into crazy land where the people don’t want to go.

      • palatial regalia says

        The man that shot Gabby Giffords was neither you piece of shit. He was a paranoid schizophrenic that thought the government was in the business of brainwashing, believed in a 9/11 conspiracy, New World Order, and a 2012 apocalypse…

  2. DNefcy says

    Doesn’t sound like the author has a good handle on either American politics or Chinese trolling terms. Stick to writing about your area of expertise, you haven’t got the knowledge base to write outside of it.

    • LukeReeshus says

      What, specifically, did he get wrong? Because this statement is accurate, and explains why the U.S. is not, in fact, heading for a civil war:

      Civil wars usually happen… when [ ] the elite is divided. In the U.S., for all its faults, the elites are still significantly bipartisan and centrist. There isn’t that much daylight between the Republicans and Democrats with regards to either economic [or] foreign policy.

      Elite consensus will keep anything too crazy from happening. Real consequences for politically zealous speech will continue to be felt at the local level, like at the University of Missouri, which is expecting its freshmen enrollment to decline by a total of 18% because of the hubbub there two years ago. This is the sort of thing that will get (some) universities to reign in their radical leftists.

      So what about the radical right? Well… what radical right? Richard Spencer’s views are neither new nor popular—conservative Americans are indifferent towards minorities, not neo-segregationist. And the so-called “Alt-Right” is more concerned with trolling than actual policy proposals.

      As for that NRA ad, well… this may surprise non-Americans, but that’s pretty standard fare for gun hoarders, and has been for a long time. As always, they pose a far greater threat to census-takers than to American democracy.

      • Curle says

        Elites are split much more than you describe. Richard Spencer is not characteristic of the Rught side of the split which is heavily composed of professionals offended and concerned about open borders extremism, blank slate theology in academia and structural asymmetry in the delivery of events presented as news through billionaire propaganda outlets.

      • seedie says

        Unfortunately Luke, the ‘elite consensus’ that you pin your hopes on is part of the problem.

        For at least a generation, in most universities, the staff and student body, led by intolerant ‘liberals’ and fundamentalist ‘socialists’ of various hues, has dominated university culture and controlled access to passing grades for graduates and to opportunities for postgraduate studies and employment.

        More than 90% self-identify as ‘liberal’, up from 75% less than a generation ago. The great majority of senior and controlling posts in society are recruited from people with graduate and postgraduate qualifications. This has led to an extreme recruitment bias; in education at all levels, in media, communications, the legal system, the executive and the elected political systems.

        Unscrambling this will take more than faith in a consensus of the present elite, which increasingly is a product of this system. The elite may not be divided but the extent to which it is bipartisan or centrist can be measured by its response to the last two democratically elected presidents.

        I hope I’m wrong.

  3. Uri Harris says

    Excellent article Sumantra. This is the type of reasoned analysis that’s so difficult to find anywhere else, unfortunately.

    However, I think the situation is more dire than you suggest because the conflict has taken on the characteristics of a religious war, and we know how they often end.

    Leftism has become a religion. It has sacred values that it will not compromise on, and that changes what might otherwise seem to be an addressable situation. And, of course, there are plenty of people on the right happy to engage in a religious war.

    • Ken Phelps says

      “We’ve been in a cold civil war for at least the last 10 years.”

      More than that, I think. I see the roots of the present situation in the Republican Southern Strategy of 50 years ago. Since then a collection of beliefs encompassing religion, creationism, gun control, abortion, etc., have been “bundled” by the religious right (or those manipulating them), into a package. While an individual’s entree into the bundle might be their religion or their guns, they become wedded to other positions in which they might not ordinarily have any interest.

      The left, of course, have a parallel universe with different sub-units of belief. If I encounter someone sporting a set of caucasian dreadlocks, I can predict with a high degree of confidence what that person’s opinion on a new dam or powerline will be.

  4. jam says

    “Alt-Right” protestors rushed the stage and tried to shut down a play

    These people disrupted a play they felt might perpetuate political violence. In no way did they attempt to shut it down – the difference must be noted when performing this type of analysis.

  5. Lup says

    Wild rhetoric and political violence are symptoms of underlying problems. This call to ‘calm down’ without actually addressing any of these underlying problems does a terrible disservice.

    The spike in hate crimes following Trump’s election is as political as James Hodgkinson trying to mass murder Republicans. A worthwhile question: Why does America continue to produce all of these violent white supremacists like Dylann Roof and Jeremey Christian and James Harris Jackson and James Scott Lee and Adam Purinton? Why do we have ‘Kansas Crusaders’ planning to blow up a Mosque in Garden City, Kansas? Why do we have Nazis holding rallies again?

    All of this is deeply political. People have grievances—both real and perceived—and they are turning to tribal, identity politics and violence against the Other to externalize these grievances. In the most violent cases, we have America’s leftovers, those who’ve found little success or dignity in society today, being left behind.

    The impulse here should be to help the worst off—not to politicize (i.e., use) violence and score political points.

    • Curle says

      Obviously you are well versed in hostile racial acts by some small number of whites. Is it your belief that there is an imbalance? That whites commit more of such dominance displays against either blacks or Muslims than vice versa? That when Left controlled municipalities categorizing assaults and other acts of violence by minorities against whites; that they DON’T inject their own politics into the interpretation of hate to lessen the perception blacks are engaged in their own dominance exercise when they assault whites at double the rate whites assault blacks? That Muslim terrorists aren’t engaged in a similar exercise? That violence of blacks on white, even violence following direct political incitement by agitators, is somehow assignable to less troublesome motives than racial dominance, territorialism and hate?

      What the sensible Right is concerned with is people in the Left incapable of comprehending proportions, particularly proportions relating to racial violence. A characteristic example was a fine bit of propaganda put out by Vox after the Orlando Muslim dominance murders. Vox went back to the 1980s and stopping before 9-11 to find data purporting to show that Muslim terrorism was a small fraction of the broader terrorism ‘problem’ and suggesting that Rightist fears over the danger of domestic religious war (read terrorism) incited by incoming or second generation Muslims was overblown. In this ‘analysis’ Vox neglected to inform their Lefty readership that terrorism stats include acts directed solely at property (ELF freeing minks from captivity, etc) and that such property directed terrorism rarely resulted in the loss of life and constituted the overwhelming majority of terrorist acts both including Muslim terrorism and excluding it. That when adjusted for only terrorism directed at human targets Muslims were in a league of their own. Thus Vox proved the old adage that propaganda isn’t about lying it is about deception; only telling the truth uo to a point.

      • Lup says

        Here are some ‘proportions’ from the FBI’s stats on hate crimes from 2015. Roughly 60% of hate crimes were racially motivated, 20% religiously-motivated, and 18% targeted someone based on their sexual orientation. Of the racial hate crimes, 52% of the victims were black, 18.7% white, 9.3% hispanic or Latino and on down. Of the 20% due to religion, 52.1% was anti-Jewish, 21.9% anti-Muslim, 4.3% anti-Catholic, etc. The anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim stuff is, I would say, both religious and ethnic/racial. (Muslims tend to be POCs and Jews have always been ethnically Otherized.)

        Anyway, my point was that this Right v.s. Left framing (which you have fallen into) is a trap. It is tribal bullshit that is more interesting in spinning blame and defining enemies than in assessing the actual problems. That a liberal outlet like Vox would put out a liberal interpretation of terrorism is not a surprise. That’s called media bias. It’s what the media does.

        Now, if you want to talk about groups or entities being in a ‘league of their own’ when it comes to ‘terrorism directed at human targets,’ look no further than US missile strikes during the month of June in Syria and Iraq (500+ and 800+ civilian deaths, respectively). Those figures dwarf the 94 deaths committed by Muslims on US soil since 9/11. When it comes to proportion and ‘dominance’ and who’s doing the most killing, there’s no comparison.

  6. Steven says

    Civil war, almost certainly not. On the other hand, violent insurgencies feel almost likely at this point.

  7. Sumantra is correct. Civil war in the US not likely. Nevertheless, collectively the electorate are wiling, even eager, to listen to arguments for some form of dis-union. That distinguishes the present from 1859 when the “Free States” were willing, even eager, to force a minority of states back into the Union.

    I take this to be good. An imperial and indispensable America simply has no foundation in our founding documents.

    The situation here in the US is similar to that in 1857 except that now no one in the US will risk getting killed to keep a minority of states in the Union.

    N.b. for Sumatra: The US is a nation of John Lilburns and so we take everything personally. Also, we are a nation covenanters and when the covenant has been broken we do not fall back on enforcing custom and tradition but rather we look for the possibilities for a new covenant in a smaller but ideologically more homogeneous congregation.

  8. While I absolutely agree with its underlying theme, that increasing polarization will produce bad results for everyone, this article downplays the legitimacy of the center left’s complaints (I have nothing to say about, nor any sympathy for, the toxicity of the lunatic far left).

    While blocking President Obama’s centrist nominee for the SCOTUS was technically legal, no one can seriously argue that it was moral, or that it set a healthy precedent. Add to that the second popular vote win, but electoral college loss, in as many decades, and it’s easy to see why the left is so angered when an unlettered buffoon takes the nation’s highest office.

    There is a sense that conservatives have outplayed centrist liberals, not through fair “small d” democratic means, but rather, through a series of mechanations, obscure legal maneuvers, gerrymandering, and the liberal application of huge amounts of corporate money enabled by “citizens united.”

    This article does not, in my opinion, adequately account for these seemingly evident institutional cracks in its attempt to explain the current levels of frustration and anger in the US.

    • Curle says

      You really need to read up on the disgraceful conduct of Senate Democrats during the Bork Supreme Court nomination wherein the Ds engaged in a smear campaign worthy of that old slanderer -for-political advantage+$$ Morris Dees before introducing the word ‘moral’ into a discussion of Supreme Court nominations. Supreme Court nominations have been nothing more than power politics for decades now.

  9. Michael says

    The multicultural experiments imposed on Western countries since the 60s has clearly failed. Mass immigration into successful Western countries (including Europe and Australia), from failed countries with failed cultures was clearly a disastrous idea.

    This ideology of guilt and equality of outcome didn’t come from nothing of course. Marxism slowly mutated into postmodernism – like a benign tumor turning malignant, metastasizing to almost every realm of Western societies, destroying what makes them successful, democratic and unique. Destroying cultures which still motivates half the planet to move to these handful of countries in the West. Add to the long list of postmodern absurdity, the idea that people from completely failed and stagnant cultures, massively imported into the West will, by some deranged empathic “logic”, elevate us all.

    I hope the backlash against this nihilistic, adolescent absurdity which has nothing but contempt for the traditions, history and achievements of western society, will arrive in force soon. I think the leaders and makers of policies in the US, Canada, Europe, Australia will soon realize they should not worry so much about the “anarchy” created by blue-haired incompetents with sociology degrees and worry a lot more about the boiling anger of perhaps less educated but, at least in the case of the US, heavily armed citizens who moreover will have a true motivation to fight and not some bogus “we fight fascism” slogans. These citizens may not have a college degree (for whatever that’s worth these days) but they do have enough sense and honor to realize and appreciate their freedoms did not come for free. These are the people the governments in the West should really worry about. They have had enough. They will not continue to accept to feel like outcasts in their own countries, that they no longer even feel safe there. That their cultures and identities are being replaced by an unrecognizable “melting pot” of nonsense. Be it architecture, music, art, social life. And they will have every right to do so.

  10. Fuck you says

    KILL ALL LIBERALS NOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  11. Fuck you says

    Bring the Phoenix Program to American. Kill the Leftist Cocksuckers.

  12. Max Dugan says

    yes sumantra. and by the way, nama mio fong liang wa ching. meanwhile, we are in fact already in one. We await the match to light the air that is so combustible, it’s choking us all. Just a matter of how big the B will be in the word BOOM. Nama sadharma pundari ka sutra. nam myo renge kyo.well, spelling not a strong suit….

  13. I think we are heading for another civil war, and its not going to start in dc. its going to start on the west coast(my bets on California) and its going to start after the 2018 midterms. if the democrats lose in 2018 again, I expect nothing short then an armed uprising from the left. but the fact remains on how far people are willing to go to further their political agendas? I think people in todays society have too much to lose if they go to war. I am willing to go to war against my own countrymen if I see them as being overbearing. I myself have a deep hatred for liberals, I think they are ruining this country. but I think we on the right have a big buffer zone from the left because most people on the left don’t have firearms. its goes against their ideology to own guns. we’ll see what the future holds but im sticking to my guns on this one.

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