Summary: Civil war is coming, as political violence inevitably escalates. It’s another scary story of the kind we love so much! Before we panic, let’s look at the facts.
It’s time for another thrilling doomster story. But today’s scary tale is politically useful. Stand by for amnesia as our elites exploit our fear to stampede us like cattle into the pens.
“Is America Headed for a New Kind of Civil War?”
by Robin Wright in the New Yorker.
Feel the clickbait excitement of the opening. Red emphasis added!
“A day after the brawling and racist brutality and deaths in Virginia, Governor Terry McAuliffe asked, ‘How did we get to this place?’ The more relevant question after Charlottesville — and other deadly episodes in Ferguson, Charleston, Dallas, St. Paul, Baltimore, Baton Rouge, and Alexandria — is where the United States is headed.
“How fragile is the Union, our republic, and a country that has long been considered the world’s most stable democracy? The dangers are now bigger than the collective episodes of violence. ‘The radical right was more successful in entering the political mainstream last year than in half a century,’ the Southern Poverty Law Center reported in February. The organization documents more than nine hundred active (and growing) hate groups in the United States. America’s stability is increasingly an undercurrent in political discourse.”
These street battles between extremist political factions are disturbing. They could become a serious problem, if not stopped. But let’s not wet our pants yet.
Current events in America are trivial by comparison with those during Germany’s Weimar Republic, when Left and Right fought in the streets — with the police as neutrals. For more about this period see Martin van Creveld’s great new book Hitler in Hell, Here Hitler discusses the climax of the street warfare, with the Weimar political regime near collapse (the SA were the Nazi’s paramilitary thugs):
“The SA had 86 dead in 1931 alone, and wounded plenty more. …In the summer of 1932 461 street battles took place in Berlin alone, leaving 82 people dead.”
Our current events are also trivial compared to those of America’s past. Such as the political violence in America in the 1960s and the 1970s. Our cities burnt in race riots, and the National Guard in full military gear occupied America’s ghettos each summer. Massive anti-war riots (e.g., the shootings at Kent State). Militant leftist groups were setting bomb across the nation , so that NYT called 1969 a Year of Bombings (e.g., the Weather Underground). Other left terrorist groups were even more aggressive (e.g., the Symbionese Liberation Group).
Amazingly, all that has gone down the memory hole. Our amnesia makes us easy to manipulate by cutting us from our history.
- Only our amnesia makes reading the newspapers bearable.
- We have trouble coping with our present because we’ve lost our past.
- Amnesia and anger: one is the problem, the other the cure.
A warning from the past.
While the current levels of political violence are trivial, there are broader similarities to Weimar. See gender-bending now and then. More importantly, politically active paramilitary forces were a destabilizing force in Weimar, the Freikorps (“free corps”) composed of WWI vets. The largest were the right-wing Steel Helmets and the left-wing Red Front Fighters.
Today we have roughly 2.5 million men and women who served in Iraq and Afghanistan (as of the end of 2012). Some fraction of those have not integrated back into civilian life, and might be susceptible to appeals of right-wing militia (or perhaps left-wing militia) if we get an economic downturn. One of the alt-right’s leaders, Nathan Damigo, is a USMC vet — with two tours in Iraq.
Our real foe: hysteria
There is always good advice available, if we want it. As in this NYT op-ed by Samuel Moyn and David Priestland: “Trump Isn’t a Threat to Our Democracy. Hysteria Is.”
“Since Donald Trump’s election, the United States has been gripped by tyrannophobia. Conspiracies against democracy are everywhere; truth is under siege; totalitarianism is making a comeback; “resistance” is the last refuge of citizens.
“Tyrannophobia, the belief that the overwhelmingly important political issue is the threat to our liberal freedoms and institutions, has always been a powerful force in the United States. As history has shown, however, its tendency to redirect our attention from underlying social and economic problems has often been the real source of danger. It is easier to believe that democracy is under siege than to acknowledge that democracy put Mr. Trump in power – and only more economic fairness and solidarity can keep populists like him out. …
“The threat of tyranny can be real enough. But those who act as though democracy is constantly on the precipice are likely to miss the path that leads not simply to fuller justice but to true safety.”
Moyn is a professor of law and history at Yale. Priestland is a professor of history at Oxford.
Consequences of our hysterical fear.
This hysterical and fearful thinking greases the way to awful decisions, such as described in this: “Is Changing the Constitution the Only Way to Fix Washington?” by Sophie Quinton (staff writer) at the Pew Trust. It is the kind of terrible advice quite common these days, but alluring – offering an easy effortless solution to our problems.
A people too apathetic and passive to run the Republic’s political machinery is too weak for the greater challenge of revising the Constitution. The GOP is dominant at all levels of government; the 1% owns both parties. On advice of the great and wise, we’ll reform America into a hard plutocracy. For details see these posts.
- Is it time to take the drastic step of calling a Constitutional Convention?
- Could a new Constitutional Convention help reform America? Is it worth the risk?
- Can Constitutional amendments save the Republic?
A better path.
There are better ways to reform America. They require hard work over years, with people risking much — and no certainty of success. For some ideas see Reforming America: steps to new politics.
For More Information.
Another example of hysterical fear-mongering about American politics: “Surviving America’s Political Meltdown” by Jeffrey Sachs (prof of stuff at Columbia). His description of US politics is delusional. The elites of both parties agree on a wide range of key issues, both domestic and foreign — the WOT, neoliberalism, loose regulation of Wall Street and Silicon Valley, etc.
- Journalists suffer from the crisis crisis, warping America’s vision.
- Requiem for fear. Let’s learn from failed predictions to have confidence in ourselves & our future.
- Threats come & go, leaving us in perpetual fear & forgetful of the past.
- Dreams of apocalypses show the brotherhood of America’s Left & Right.
- Collapsitarians and their doomster porn.
- A new survey reveals American’s top fears, showing our true selves.
- Before we panic about Trump, see the Left’s past warnings.
- We love scary stories. The reason why reveals a secret about America.
A new book about us.
To help us understand how we fell into this hole. From the publisher…
“A novel focus on ‘personal responsibility’ has transformed political thought and public policy in America and Europe. Since the 1970s, responsibility ― which once meant the moral duty to help and support others―has come to suggest an obligation to be self-sufficient. This narrow conception of responsibility has guided recent reforms of the welfare state, making key entitlements conditional on good behavior.
“Drawing on intellectual history, political theory, and moral philosophy, Yascha Mounk shows why the The Age of Responsibility is pernicious ― and how it might be overcome.
“Personal responsibility began as a conservative catchphrase. But over time, leaders across the political spectrum came to subscribe to its underlying framework. Today, even egalitarian philosophers rarely question the normative importance of responsibility. Emphasizing the pervasive influence of luck over our lives, they cast the poor as victims who cannot be held responsible for their actions.
“Mounk shows that today’s focus on individual culpability is both wrong and counterproductive: it distracts us from the larger economic forces determining aggregate outcomes, ignores what we owe our fellow citizens regardless of their choices, and blinds us to other key values, such as the desire to live in a society of equals. Recognizing that even society’s neediest members seek to exercise genuine agency, Mounk builds a positive conception of responsibility. Instead of punishing individuals for their past choices, he argues, public policy should aim to empower them to take responsibility for themselves―and those around them.”