That Second Civil War

Young people roll their eyes when those of us now in our seventies talk about the sixties. But that was the decade to come of age in America. In high school it was the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis – we were all going to die. That was actually quite likely – for about ten days. That’s as close to global thermonuclear war as the world had ever been and perhaps ever will be – but then it was over. President Kennedy didn’t press the button. We quietly pulled our nukes from Turkey and the Soviets pulled theirs from Cuba – and that was that – and Kennedy was assassinated the next year. Something was up, but no one ever found out what that was. It didn’t matter, because the South had exploded. It was high time that some folks actually got their civil rights. They got beaten and jailed and killed instead – until that became impossible to justify. Martin Luther King gave his “I have a dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial. Hundreds of thousands attended that. Millions watched on television.

The world changed. Lyndon Johnson twisted arms. Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and then the Voting Rights Act of 1965 – and Johnson tossed in establishing Medicare and Medicaid and Head Start too. The nation was actually fixing a few things – and then it was off to college – and then Johnson decided we had to do something about Vietnam. College classes started in the fall and by the end of that year, 1965, there were almost two hundred thousand American troops stationed in Vietnam. That doubled the next year, and so on. And that tore the nation apart, along with a bit of a sexual revolution, and the drugs, and a complete revolution in popular music, and popular culture. That seemed overwhelming. It was.

Johnson gave up. He wouldn’t run again. Bobby Kennedy would, but he was assassinated, a few months after Martin Luther King had been assassinated. Then there were the riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago – the Chicago police beat up the hippies and a few reporters on the floor of the convention too. Something was up. Students took to the streets and took over Paris, and the Soviets rolled their tanks into Prague and ended the Velvet Revolution there – and then it was Woodstock – and then, suddenly, it was all over. The moon was not in the Seventh House and Jupiter was not aligned with Mars and peace was not guiding the planets and love was not steering the stars. This was not the Age of Aquarius. Nixon was president. All the excitement was over. The most significant decade in America since the Civil War was over.

But those were the days, when it was good to be young and in the middle of it all – although “good” might be the wrong word. It was like being in at the beginning of what would turn out to be a big deal – a decade that changed everything, a decade like no other. Those of us now in our seventies lucked out.

And our luck just ran out. This decade might turn out to be more significant. We were there for a sudden massive cultural revolution. This generation might be here for something much bigger, another Civil War. Suddenly that’s not a strained exaggeration. The Washington Post’s Greg Jaffe and Jenna Johnson report this:

At a moment when the country has never seemed angrier, two political commentators from opposite sides of the divide concurred recently on one point that was once nearly unthinkable: The country is on the verge of “civil war.”

First came former U.S. attorney Joseph diGenova, a Fox News regular and ally of President Trump’s. “We are in a civil war,” he said. “The suggestion that there’s ever going to be civil discourse in this country for the foreseeable future is over. It’s going to be total war.”

The next day, Nicolle Wallace, a former Republican operative turned MSNBC commentator and Trump critic, played a clip of diGenova’s commentary on her show and agreed with him – although she placed the blame squarely on the president.

Trump, she said, “greenlit a war in this country around race. And if you think about the most dangerous thing he’s done, that might be it.”

This could be dangerous:

These days, there is talk of violence, mayhem and, increasingly, civil war. A tumultuous couple of weeks in American politics seem to have raised the rhetorical flourishes to a new level and also brought a troubling question to the surface: At what point does all the alarmist talk of civil war actually increase the prospect of violence, riots or domestic terrorism?

Speaking to conservative pundit Laura Ingraham, diGenova summed up his best advice to friends: “I vote, and I buy guns. And that’s what you should do.”

He was a bit more measured a few days later in an interview with the Washington Post, saying that the United States is in a “civil war of discourse… a civil war of conduct,” triggered mostly by liberals and the media’s coverage of the Trump presidency.

The former U.S. attorney said he owns guns mostly to make a statement, and not because he fears political insurrection among his fellow Americans.

That was an odd thing to say. He backed down. He realized he had gone too far. It was only a metaphor, see? Really, that’s all it was.

Others don’t make that distinction:

There’s the persistent worry by some about the 2020 election. “Given my experience working for Mr. Trump, I fear that if he loses the election in 2020, that there will never be a peaceful transition of power,” Michael Cohen, Trump’s former fixer and personal lawyer, told a congressional committee Wednesday.

On that score, Cohen is not the only one who is concerned. As far back as 2016, Trump declined to say whether he would concede if he lost the election to Hillary Clinton, prompting then-President Barack Obama to warn that Trump was undermining American democracy. “That is dangerous,” Obama said.

Of course it is:

That issue was uppermost in the mind of Joshua Geltzer, a senior Justice Department official under Obama, when he recently wrote an op-ed for CNN urging the country to prepare for the possibility that Trump might not “leave the Oval Office peacefully” if he loses in 2020.

“If he even hints at contesting the election result in 2020 he’d be doing so not as an outsider but as a leader with the vast resources of the U.S. government potentially at his disposal,” Geltzer, now a professor at Georgetown Law Center, wrote in his op-ed in late February.

Geltzer urged both major parties to require their Electoral College voters to pledge to respect the outcome of the election and suggested that it might be necessary to ask the secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to reaffirm their loyalty to the Constitution over Trump.

“These are dire thoughts,” Geltzer wrote. “But we live in uncertain and worrying times.”

People said that in 1968 too, and they were right then, and people are right now:

His speculation drew immediate reaction from the right. Former Alaska governor and Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin tweeted a link to an article that called Geltzer’s warnings “rampant crazy.” News Punch, a far-right site that traffics in conspiracy theories, blared: “Obama Official Urges Civil War against Trump Administration.”

Said Geltzer, “I don’t think I was being paranoid, but, boy, did I inspire paranoia on the other side.”

Yes, something is up:

Some historians have sounded a similar alarm. “How, when, and why, has the United States now arrived at the brink of a veritable civil war?” Victor Davis Hanson, a historian with Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, asked last summer in an essay in National Review. Hanson said the United States “was nearing a point comparable to 1860,” about a year before the first shots were fired on Fort Sumter, South Carolina.

Around the same time Hanson was writing, Robert Reich, a former secretary of labor who is now a professor at the University of California at Berkeley, imagined his own new American civil war, in which demands for Trump’s impeachment lead to calls from Fox News commentators for “every honest patriot to take to the streets.”

“The way Mr. Trump and his defenders are behaving, it’s not absurd to imagine serious social unrest,” Reich wrote in the Baltimore Sun. “That’s how low he’s taken us.”

Reich got some unlikely support recently from Stephen K. Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist. “I think that 2019 is going to be the most vitriolic year in American politics since the Civil War, and I include Vietnam in that,” Bannon said in an interview with CBS’s Face the Nation.

He’s saying that this will make the sixties look like nothing much at all, that this is the real deal, and maybe it is:

All the doom, gloom and divisiveness have caught the attention of experts who evaluate the strength of governments around the world. The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index, a measure widely cited by political scientists, demoted the United States from “full democracy” to “flawed democracy” in January 2017, citing a big drop in Americans’ trust in their political institutions.

Similarly, Freedom House, which monitors freedom and democracy around the world, warned in 2018 that the past year has “brought further, faster erosion of American’s own democratic standards than at any other time in memory.”

Those warnings about the state of America’s democratic institutions concern political scientists who study civil wars, which usually take root in countries with high levels of corruption, low trust in institutions and poor governance.

And that’s the problem here:

Barbara Walter, a professor of political science at the University of California at San Diego, said her first instinct was to dismiss any talk of civil war in the United States. “But the U.S. is starting to show that it is moving in that direction,” she said. “Countries with bad governance are the ones that experience these wars.”

James Fearon, a Stanford University political scientist who researches political violence, called the pundits’ warnings “basically absurd.” But he noted that political polarization and the possibility of a potentially serious constitutional crisis in the near future do “marginally increase the still very low odds” of a stalemate that might require “some kind of action by the military leadership.”

“I can’t believe I’m saying this,” he added, “but I guess it’s not entirely out of the question.”

We’ll see what happens if Trump loses the 2020 election. Things are getting odd:

Former Gov. Paul LePage (R) tore apart a bill currently in the Maine state legislature that proposes essentially eliminating the Electoral College in favor of the popular vote because it would only “be minorities that elect” the President.

According to a Thursday Maine Beacon report, LePage told local radio station WVOM that the legislation would render him and other whites “a forgotten people.”

“Actually what would happen if they do what they say they’re gonna do is white people will not have anything to say,” LePage said. “It’s only going to be the minorities that would elect. It would be California, Texas, Florida.”

That’s enough to start a Civil War, with all the other states lining up against California and Texas and Florida, to preserve white rule, and the white race itself. But that’s a bit absurd, as is Paul LePage. Robert Costa covers one real problem here, no one giving an inch:

When President Trump’s longtime fixer Michael Cohen testified last week that his former boss was a “racist” and “con man” who routinely skirts the law, Republicans showed little interest in following up on his claims.

They shrugged when Trump called murderous dictator Kim Jong Un a “real leader” and once again elevated the North Korean leader on the world stage.

And faced with a vote on Trump’s legally contested declaration of a national emergency at the Mexican border, just 13 of 197 House Republicans opposed him.

So QED:

Acquiescence to Trump is now the defining trait of the Republican Party more than two years into his presidency – overwhelming and at times erasing principles that conservatives viewed as the foundation of the party for more than a half century.

Things have changed:

Trump’s ownership of the GOP was on vivid display again Saturday, when the president appeared at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Maryland, an annual gathering that has transformed into a raucous celebration of Trump, featuring propaganda-style art and a speaker who declared that the president was “chosen by God.”

Standing before an exuberant crowd chanting “Trump!” and “U-S-A,” Trump spent two hours railing against the “failed ruling class,” calling the special counsel’s Russia investigation “bullshit” and portraying his election as a major moment in global history.

“We are reversing decades of blunders and betrayals,” Trump declared at one point, before asserting that he was only joking in 2016 when he asked Russia to release Hillary Clinton’s private emails.

“Lock her up! Lock her up!” CPAC attendees roared at the mention of the former Democratic presidential nominee.

Why? This might be the answer:

In interviews over the past week, Republicans on Capitol Hill offered an array of reasons for their unflinching loyalty to Trump as the 2020 campaign begins to take shape: a deep-seated fear of his pull with their supporters in primary races; fraying consensus about conservatism as nationalism takes hold of the party; and shared partisan disdain for Trump’s perceived enemies in the news media and the Democratic Party.

“We’re not going to turn on our own and make the Democrats happy,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), who is up for reelection in 2020.

Instead they’ll embrace the absurd:

Former GOP foes in the Senate, such as Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) and Rand Paul (Ky.), flatter him and are regulars at his golf courses…

On foreign policy – long the bastion of Republican hawks who have been hostile to dictators and supportive of global institutions – Trump has been cast as a GOP hero, despite his feuds with allies, protectionist trade policies and chummy engagement with autocrats such as Kim, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

When Trump declared after a summit with Kim in Hanoi last week, that the North Korean leader was not responsible for the death of former prisoner and U.S. college student Otto Warmbier, most Republicans stayed mum.

“He’s doing a hell of a job as commander in chief,” Graham said at CPAC on Thursday.

He is? He’s actually starting the new civil war, and that’s done like this:

President Donald Trump on Saturday delivered a scorched-earth speech to conservative activists, calling the Russia investigation “bullshit,” adopting a southern accent to mock his former attorney general, and asserting that some members of Congress “hate our country.”

Some members of Congress think that his giant border wall is a rather absurd idea, and others disagree with him on NATO or NAFTA – thus they “hate our country” – and that’s civil war talk. That’s what he seems to be pushing:

The rollicking two-hour-plus appearance at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland offered the president a brief respite from an otherwise miserable week in which his much-touted summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un ended in failure and his former personal lawyer delivered explosive testimony to Congress.

Trump, basking in the adoration of the crowd, largely glossed over the North Korea summit’s collapse, instead reviving several of his greatest hits, from rehashing the 2016 election to obsessing over the crowd size at his inauguration.

The speech amounted to a boatload of red meat for conservatives, with Trump promising he’ll protect them from undocumented immigrants, socialism and liberal Democrats he claims are dead set on bankrupting the country with proposals like the Green New Deal.

So this is war, or this was a new reality show – Trump Gone Wild!

Well, that’s what he did:

“You know I’m totally off script right now,” Trump said at the beginning of his speech. As his meandering speech continued, it became clear that his assessment was an understatement.

At one point, Trump regaled the crowd with a story about a general he said was named “Raisin Caine” (it wasn’t immediately clear who he was referring to). He said he always sits with the pilots when airplanes are landing: “They know what we’re doing.” He said he has good eyesight and later added, “I don’t have white hair.” He derided a Hawaii senator as a “crazy person.” And he accused Hollywood of discriminating against conservatives.

He even revisited his campaign kickoff speech from June 2015. “From day one, I mentioned the word rape. If you look at that first speech, that was very innocent compared to what’s happening,” Trump said. Trump came under fire for his 2015 comments, which appeared to broadly assert that Mexicans were rapists.

He was saying that he had learned something new, that Mexicans are worse than rapists – all of them – or perhaps all Hispanics – or something. It was odd:

Throughout, Trump revealed himself to be a president deeply scorned by what he views as unfair media coverage and a lack of recognition from many in Washington. “I get no credit,” he said multiple times throughout the lengthy speech.

He also insisted that nobody had left the speech early, but journalists present reported that in fact, some attendees were seen departing before the close of his remarks.

Later, the president sounded off on the 2020 election, expressing regret that he attacked Sen. Elizabeth Warren so early. “I should have saved the Pocahontas thing for another year,” he said. “I’ve destroyed her political career and I won’t get a chance to run against her and I would have loved that.”

He really wanted to inflict more pain on this woman, and he judged rightly that this audience would have loved to be able to watch that:

Trump clearly delighted in the passion of the conservative audience, pointing to onlookers and applauding as Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.” blared on the speakers. At one point, the president wrapped his arms around an American flag on the stage, mugging for the cameras as he held the hug for a moment.

“I’m in love, you’re in love and we’re all in love together,” the president said.

And the nation asked that question once again. “What have we done?”

David Atkins answers that:

The president of the United States spent two hours telling a rabid audience of infotainment talking heads and social media influencers that there is a massive internal conspiracy against his administration; that his political opponents hate America; that official government statistics are fake; that the attorney general should have squashed an investigation into his own corruption; that the FBI is engaged in a series of politically motivated prosecutions, and so on.

So this is war! Trump didn’t’ say that. He hasn’t said that, yet. But he’s getting there – and that means that those of us now in our seventies, who talk about the sixties as the most consequential decade since the Civil War, a decade that changed everything, have to concede that this decade makes the sixties look boring. We were there for a sudden massive cultural revolution. This generation might be here for something much bigger, a second Civil War. You guys win. But our music was better.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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