Begun the Uncivil War has.
And it’s not just Rep. Maxine Waters’ comments, or the fact that Sarah Huckabee was refused service at the Red Hen.
Or the fact that the Secretary of Homeland Security, Kristen Nielsen, was hounded out of a Mexican restaurant—before having protesters show up at her house at 7:30 am, blasting audio of detained children. Policy Adviser Stephen Miller was also chased out of a Mexican restaurant.
Nor did it all start when “white nationalist” Richard Spencer was socked in the jaw. And it’s not just the fact that we elected a president who encouraged rally-goers to attack protesters—and continues to incite violence against the “fake news” media, attack minorities and immigrants, and generally stoke division.
It’s not just about actor Rober DeNiro’s not-so-eloquent political comments—or actor Peter Fonda saying that Barron Trump should be put in a cage with pedophiles. And it’s not just that Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi was accosted outside a movie theater.
Nor can we blame the horrible woman who called the cops on an 8-year old girl for selling water—or the racist lawyer who berated wait staff at a New York deli—both of whom were served a steaming dish of retribution by the Twitter mob (the latter had to endure protesters holding a vigil outside his apartment).
It’s all of this—and more.
I call it the uncivil wars for a few reasons. First, like America’s Civil War, this one pits Americans against each other. We are at a point where half the country believes the other side is evil and illegitimate.
Second, the term “culture war” has been used so much as to have lost its shock value. Today, the culture wars sound about as dangerous as the “soda wars” or the “pizza wars,” which is to say they are slightly more serious than the “drug wars.”
Conversely, the uncivil wars—by virtue of being new—more accurately captures the significance of the term war. Thankfully, this is (mostly) a cold war, but it is a war, nonetheless.
When trying to figure out how this all started, one comes up with a familiar list of items. Among the most important are these:
Rather than having political leaders who summon us to our better angels, our political leaders stoke division for personal gain. Donald Trump has decided that this is the smart strategy, and, rather than attempting to be the opposite of Trump, Democrats seeking buzz and attention and cash and fame have learned that the best way to get it is to ape Trump’s worst behavior.
Technology—from air conditioning to TV to Twitter—has conspired to alienate us from our neighbors. The advent of cable news, talk radio, and the Internet have allowed us to filter out opposing viewpoints, and cluster closer to our own tribes.
Two evenly divided political parties—each of which believes simultaneously it is winning and is about to be destroyed. Republicans believe cultural elites and demographic math are about to overtake them, even as they control all the levers of governmental power. Meanwhile, Democrats share this belief—which means they won’t adopt a subservient role, even as they control few levers of governmental power.
Any time two groups or individuals compete, there is likely to be some form of violence. Peace usually comes after one group or individual establishes dominance. America has experienced nearly two decades of political parity. And here we are.
Finally, a transformed economy has made us less tolerant and generous. White men, once so dominant as to afford the luxury of not identifying as such, now face competition from immigrants and outsourcing and automation. Simultaneously, some on the left have begun targeting them for mockery.
So how do we fix this? Most of these trends are intractable. Which is to say that they might eventually change—but that we essentially have little control over them. Save one: Political leadership. Rather than rise to the occasion during this dark hour, our current president believes in charity for none and malice toward all.
The good news is that we are one good leader away from turning things around. To be sure, America has faced difficult times before. The Civil War is the most obvious example, but the 1960s and ‘70s were another time when things could have come apart. The good news is that America is resilient, and that good leaders tend to emerge when we need them the most. The bad news is that today’s political class puts personal ambition and scoring points ahead of uniting this country.
For those optimists out there who still believe in political leadership, we are in desperate need of someone who is willing to rise to the occasion. If this person arrives in time, we might avert a serious rupture. If not, the uncivil wars might turn hot.