I don't know when the first shots were fired in the Second American Civil War. Maybe it was the Supreme Court nomination fight that the Democrats mounted against Reagan's pick of Robert Bork 30 years ago. Maybe it was the doctrine that Senator McConnell espoused upon the election of Obama of absolute non-cooperation. Perhaps it was the Arab Spring that seemed to shift the entire world into a more Conservative/Fundamentalist vs. Progressive route.
The Second American Civil War is alive and well and raging in our Congress, our cities, our small towns, in all states and every family. The political system has always been fervent and fermenting, but when the dust would settle on elections the victors and vanquished would usually get on with the business of governing. Up until the last few years Supreme Court nominees were voted by both houses almost unanimously, not including Bork and some memorably unqualified picks. The victors would pass legislation sometimes with the help of the vanquished. The model has been that of a pendulum that swings toward the left and then to the right. Party fatigue would set in after 8 years and the vote would propel the pendulum to the other side. A great way to moderate legislation. Only the good stuff would survive.
With three branches of government it may seem like a civil triumvirate, but those of you who follow history know, triumvirates are always awkward. It is the jockeying of the three that has made our government so damn good. FDR tried to pack the Supreme Court and the Judicial branch struck him down. Nixon tried to neuter the Judiciary but we all know how that ended up. The Judiciary has likewise struck many things down enacted by the legislative branch. It works most of the time, and that's enough for successful government.
We have been complaining about gridlock for ages in Washington. That gridlock was one of the reasons the pendulum swung from left to right this past election. That and the worldwide shift toward conservatism. Along with the Arab Spring, we saw it also with Brexit, and the French and German rise in the right-wing fervor in those nations.
As someone referred to it, this is the new abnormal.
This post, and its writer is far too to ignorant to know what to make of it all. But in my limited perspective and grasp this is what seems pretty clear to me: if the old adage "information is power" is to be believed, then the second American civil war revolves around how many souls can be persuaded by that information. In my hay-chewing days in the mid-70's the news was presented three ways: John Chancellor, Walter Cronkite and Harry Reasoner. They had 22 minutes to tell America the news. And that was it. Morning shows had some news but mostly fluff. There was no late night news programming and certainly no round-the-clock information channels either. Those three anchors told the same story, more or less, with differing amount. of time given to each feature. Rarely would any of the major networks go off the reservation with different news. And there was no fake stuff or programming geared to sway one's opinion. The only time that ever happened was when Walter Cronkite announced the futility of Viet Nam, hastening not only its end but LBJ's proclamation, "If I've lost Cronkhite, I've lost the nation.
My, how things have changed.
Today we have several 24-hour news channels, right-wing, left-wing middle-of-the-road. In the need to fill that time channels have not only a standard news format but they have programming that pushes their agenda in an attempt to create new viewers and new profligates to the Cause (capital C intentional). That cause may be Progressive, or Conservative, but make no mistake, they are mouthpieces. That is nothing new in politics. Newspapers used to have an agenda, too. The Hearst paper chain was notoriously Conservative while Joseph Pulitzer and his media empire was Liberal. The slanting of news was called "Yellow Journalism". Apparently that term is no longer applied to the more slanted news networks at Fox and MSNBC.
We no longer tune in for the news. We tune in to whichever news programming validates, confirms and strengthens our worldview. Just for the hell of it, I'm going to repeat that. We tune in to whichever news programming validates, confirms and strengthens our worldview. We aren't looking for the news and nothing but the news, we are instead, like junkies, lapping up another fix, another high by a monolithic media machine which dangles their teats 24 hours a day.
This is a graph I found somewhere online that has a fairly comprehensive list of news outlets and their ranking for bias. This is what the creator of the graph, Vanessa Otero had to say:
"Remember that journalism is a professional and academic field with a set of agreed-upon standards. People get degrees in it and people who are really good at it get jobs in it at good organizations. Peer review helps ensure mainstream sources adhere to standards; if a story doesn’t meet those standards, other news outlets report on that. Not believing the mainstream media just because it is mainstream is like not believing a mainstream doctor or a mainstream lawyer. Sure, you should question and rate the quality of what the newspaper, doctor, or lawyer says, but you shouldn’t dismiss them out of hand because the paper is big, the doctor works at a hospital, or the lawyer works at a firm."
So, what should we do in the middle of this civil war? It is unlikely Congress will all of a sudden decide to cooperate on issues important to the country. It is unlikely Fox Nation will start embracing Progressive politics and just as unlikely Joe and Mika will start hugging each other in a dance of like-minded bipartisanship. Wait a second. My BFE staff is alerting me to the fact that Joe and Mika are now engaged! What? Huh? Well, still, Rachel ain't gonna hug Sean and Charles ain't gonna hug Chris. Never. Why Joe, you smooth talkin' moderate.
I've come up with a list of things I think we need to consider as individuals. Maybe if we start doing it then Congress will follow. Here goes:
1. Recognize that we are Americans first, not Democrats, Republicans or Independents. Before we were anything else we were first Americans, right from birth. It was only later our fathers told us to vote a certain way, or the entire family always believed this or that. Take your birthright back and lets all be Americans.
2. Stop taking everything so personally. Is Nancy Pelosi a twit?Well, maybe, but basing a conviction on her is like hating M & M chocolate covered peanuts because you don't like the brown ones. Is Mitch McConnell a destroyer of worlds? Perhaps, certainly liberal ones. These guys are just doing whatever they can to move along their agendas. They are not the faces of evil. They, to, are Americans. If you don't like them, vote them out. (On a side note, I thought it interesting many pundits called last election a change election. They forget that most all incumbents were re-elected.)
3. Find someone who is polar opposite of your thinking and sit them down and ask, "OK, help me out, tell me about your views." Changing views never happens but maybe you will get a new perspective on their world view.
4. Find a middle of the road, respectable source of unvarnished news and take out a subscription or watch it more. Smack dab in the middle of the "minimum partisan bias" area in the above graph is the New York Times. Because I don't want to be brainwashed by my usual TV fare I took out a subscription to the Times so I hope to get a clearer picture of the news.
5. Along the same lines, I have decided to devote X amount of minutes of viewing to the other guys, in hope of gaining more perspective. George Will was always on the other side but I have always appreciated where he comes from and more than once his commentaries have made me do more critical thinking of my positions.
6. The other party isn't the enemy and their proponents aren't clowns. Our particular brand of democracy relies on a two-party system as a check-and-balance and without the "other" guys we would have a authoritarian rule, or worse. Thank the heavens for the them, they are as vital to our overall system as the air we breath.
I don't know when this second Civil War will end, perhaps in a national crisis. Maybe it never will. I have thought for some time that we as a nation are in decline. According to history all major nations and civilizations, in average, last 273 years. America is now in its 240th year. Many historians believe that nations tend to undergo a cycle of life: genesis, growth, deterioration, collapse and decay.
We are told the press is bad. That facts are whatever you want them to be. This surely is a dangerous time for democracy. Dr. Timothy Snyder, a writer and authority on fascism writes:
Fascism says nothing’s true. Your daily life is not important. The facts that you think you understand are not important. All that matters is the myth ― the myth of one nation as together the myth-ful connection with the leader.
When we think of “Post-truth,” we think its something new. We think its something at campuses. We think its something irrelevant. Actually, what post-truth does is it paves the way for regime change. If we don’t have access to facts, we can’t trust each other. Without trust, there’s no law. Without law, there’s no democracy.
So if you want to rip the heart out of democracy directly, if you want to go right at it and kill it, what you do is you go after facts. And that is what modern authoritarians do.
Step one: You lie to yourself, all the time. Step two: You say it’s your opponents and the journalists who lie. Step three: Everyone looks around and says, “What is truth?” There is no truth.
And then, resistance is impossible, and the game is over.
And then, resistance is impossible, and the game is over.
Where are we on that timeline? The politicians claim it is a time of growth if you elect them. Maybe the Second Civil War will usher in a new era for America. Information and strength is out there. Which tree will you pick the fruit?
We may not be able to stop the natural progression of a national life cycle, but we can surely stall its ultimate decay by being a smart, aware and discerning citizen.