Let’s hope we are still chuckling years from now. A warning worthy of Henny Penny — “BREAKING: Democrats Plan To Launch Civil War On July 4th” — ended up stealing the show from a trio of serious warning flags in recent weeks.
- A majority of Americans believe the country is in “real danger of becoming a nondemocratic, authoritarian country,” according to a poll backed by former President Bush and Vice President Biden.
- A third of Americans think a second civil war is likely in the next 5 years, according to Rasmussen.
- A “soft civil war” may already be underway, according to political scientist Thomas Schaller, quoted in straight-faced publications Bloomberg and USA Today.
While these developments received plenty of coverage, the Twitterverse took Alex Jones’ inside scoop on the looming Independence Day War and ran with it. “Just heard that Ken Burns has started filming documentary about today’s war. It’s miniseries, 1 minute episode, with no commercials!” The Washington Post devoted a story to the fun.
And, in a nation consumed with news about momentous Supreme Court Decisions, pulling immigrant kids away from their parents, President Trump’s pick to for a SCOTUS justice, and a dramatic Thai cave rescue, the CW2 talk seems to have faded into the background like a sitcom laugh track.
Which puts us in the mind of this line David Potter’s definitive account of the prelude to war:
“The Lincoln forces … had nothing to gain by pointing out the the election of their candidate might produce the grimmest emergency the republic had ever seen, and so they consistently made light of the warnings that the crisis of the union was at hand. They viewed the threat from the South as bluff and dismissed them with ridicule.”
Before we get tossed in the crazy basket along with Jones, we’ll be clear that we are not expecting the reprise of Fort Sumter anytime soon. But we have been looking at the deepening divide in America for a year now, and we’ve been doing a lot of research on the actual Civil War. And let’s be honest, folks: things are not looking good.
You can read through the surveys above, and you’ll see the trends are in the wrong direction. But more thought-provoking to us is the very concept of a “soft” Civil War. It simultaneously sounds like an oxymoron (or a triple moron, really) and eerily accurate.
Schaller and his interviewer used the term to describe the erosion of social grace between opposing political tribes, for example, tossing a member of the Trump Administration out of a restaurant on account of their employer. More recently, the WaPo wrote extensively, with interviews about the public trials of other members of Trump’s team — confronted in bookstores, flipped off by chefs, and harassed in the department store.
The animosity runs both ways. Trump is reportedly annoyed with staffers who bow to public pressure, rather than shout back. On Twitter, one self-identified Confederate responded to the news that Americans are fearful of a second Civil War with two words, “I’m ready.”
We’ve been around long enough to know that every actual war the US has joined is preceded by a period of increasingly breathless speculation. If anything, this seems to make conflict more likely in exactly the same way that a crowd around a pair of arguing school boys seems to encourage, not discourage, a fist fight. It is not a good social dynamic.
The same was certainly true on the eve of America’s bloodiest war, the Civil War. We’ll leave the reader with Potter’s description of the 36th Congress in early 1860. Tell us if it sounds plausible in say, five years:
“During this time, members displayed such hostility as to make the House simply an arena, and scarcely a deliberative body at all. Speeches reached an unprecedented level of acrimony, and apparently many members carried weapons. During one bitter debate, a pistol fell from the pocket of a New York congressman, and other members, think that he had drawn it intending to shoot, almost went wild. Senator Hammond said, ‘The only persons who do not have a revolver and a knife are those who have two revolvers,’ and Senator Grimes wrote, ‘The members on both sides are mostly armed with deadly weapons, and it is said that the friends of each are armed in the galleries.’ The widespread expectation of a shootout on the floor of Congress seemed not unrealistic.”