Home Opinion Are We Now in a Civil War?

Are We Now in a Civil War?


I visited a cousin a few years ago. He is much older than I, watches Fox News and that perspective faithfully, and he confided in me in a private moment that he was firmly convinced that that the U.S. was on the brink of a race war, and that he hoped he didn't live long enough to see it. At the time, I dismissed what he said, because the family had long (affectionately) considered him our resident right-wing nut job.

Now I'm not so sure.

The symptoms of civil war

This is an opinion piece, and is not meant to be anything else. So I stress again that these are my opinions.

Definition: A Civil War exists when a faction of the population does not accept the authority of the government placed or elected over them, and seeks to overwhelm that government through violence, up to and including armed insurrection.

It's likely that this insurrection begins innocuously: segregation of sects that do not respect the government's authority (Branch Davidians, Ruby Ridge); discrimination that is not acknowledged or dealt with (the ongoing struggles of the black and Muslim communities); a breakdown of civil communication that might have resolved the issues (the first Civil War); and easy access to weapons combined with a moral certainty that one's own perspective is the right one (events that have lead to all shootings of presidents and other important officials, such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.).

It's also likely that the symptoms of civil war began long before the war was apparent. Early symptoms in this case may include, but are not confined to: the first Civil War; unresolved issues of racial equality; unresolved issues of religious freedom; ongoing problems with in-group/out-group issues (this is a conflict of 'us' vs. 'them' with all the various definitions of us and them); a breakdown of traditional roles in society (gender equality, racial equality); and so on.

So the civil war begins quietly: Retributions against groups seeking rights and freedoms; rejections of authority by various factions of the population; two or more factions of society facing off against each other with a willingness to kill for their beliefs; the presence of an outside 'forcing' event such as climate change; all in an environment of great societal change and upheaval.

Symptoms of why we could already be at civil war and not yet recognize it

  • We have polarized our society politically to the extent that the two perspectives can't even talk to each other -- witness the testimony of the FBI Director, where every Democrat talked about police violence and every Republican talked about emails. 'Common ground', which apparently once existed, has disappeared completely at the Federal level.
  • There are disruptive factions in society that have been sanctioned, or at least tolerated, because we have little will to deal with them. The anarchists are represented by the folks that took over public property in Oregon last year; the factions facing off against each other at this moment are the black community and the police; groups and individuals willing to kill and die for their beliefs--well, just watch the news.
  • There is a political perspective that has powerful institutional and popular support that is unwilling to acknowledge that there even is a problem much less to do anything about it.

The actors that must be dealt with

In my assessment, these are the actors and perspectives that must be dealt with if we are to avert outright civil war:

  • The NRA: If an organization can brush off the deaths of 20 children at Newtown and 49 citizens at Orlando in an effort to continue an income stream for gun sales, then that organization needs to be removed from influence over society.
  • Fox News, Breitbart Report, Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin, Glenn Beck, Donald Trump, and most every right-wing pundit. They don't preach a political perspective that might make the country better: they preach hate. They need to shut the hell up because they don't understand the damage that they're causing.
  • Legislatures that advocate gun carry in inappropriate situations, continue to seek to suppress unconstitutional restrictions on women's health issues, reject universal health care for citizens, reject responsibility for bad governance such as that which lead to the Flint water crisis, etc.
  • Climate change denial: US citizens are suffering TODAY from governmental and industry malfeasance with respect to climate change. People have no water. People have no crops. Migration out of unlivable areas will soon accelerate, resulting in further in-group / out-group conflict like we saw in the dust bowl years.
  • The extremely wealthy -- those who have found the formula for unrestricted wealth and have used their knowledge to make themselves wealthy without concern for society -- need to either become concerned for society or have their wealth taken from them.

In sum

If we value our society and civilization, then we must envision AND ENACT a society that is the one that the founders envisioned: all people are created equal; all people have a right to life; all people deserve a government that will represent them and advocate for their success. It might require an attitude shift on the part of many individuals and organizations, but really it wouldn't be that hard to do.

So the questions boil down to these two:

Are we in civil war?

Do we want to be in civil war?

Our choice, but it increasingly appears that we need to make a choice soon. I hope we make the right one.

P.S. My cousin is still alive. I still want to prove him wrong.

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Randall Cuthbert Dr. Randall Cuthbert is a retired APUS Professor of Emergency & Disaster Management. He has also worked as a Red Cross Shelter Supervisor, and spent a 20-year career as a US Air Force Civil Engineer Officer. His blogging interests include: protecting & enhancing the EDM profession in the areas of integrity, honorable public service, and social justice; education regarding the 'big picture' role of EDM in our society; educating our professionals and neighbors with regard to the greatest threat to our civilization--climate change; and in general terms, creating a better world for our children and grandchildren.