Thomas L. Friedman in the NY Times today comes out and says it:
I began my journalism career covering a civil war in Lebanon. I never thought I’d end my career covering a civil war in America.
As might be expected, there’s still an ingrained tendency to ‘both-siderism’, as in the sub-headline that states “The nation is deeply divided, with each side seeing the other as “the enemy.””. (We’re seeing it that way because they ARE enemies.)
Friedman calls on the center-left and the center-right to come together and vote for politicians to put a stop to this. The problem with that is that there is no center-right any more, just an increasingly extreme minority consolidating power by every means they can get away with, whether it’s rigging FBI investigations, stealing a Supreme Court seat, or colluding with Russia to steal an election. They are openly looting the country, trashing the rule of law, and using racism and worse to energize their base.
As long as we’re talking Civil War, try to imagine how any combination of centrists from either side could have jointly agreed on anything that would have avoided the War Between the States. In 1860 the choice was between treating people like property, or like human beings. (Today the choice is coming down to things like whether or not to throw children into concentration camps.)
Where the center really is, is on the left these days. A majority of Americans reject what the Republicans are trying to do. A majority of Americans voted for the other candidate in 2016. (And in 2000 for that matter.)
But give Friedman credit — there’s a lot he gets right. He’s calling out the Republican Party, even if he can’t dismiss a reflex tendency to worry the Democrats might be as bad given the opportunity. This is a key section.
In essence, we’ve moved from “partisanship,” which still allowed for political compromises in the end, “to tribalism,” which does not, explained political scientist Norman Ornstein, co-author, with Thomas Mann, of the book “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism.” In a tribal world it’s rule or die, compromise is a sin, enemies must be crushed and power must be held at all costs.
It would be easy to blame both sides equally for this shift, noted Ornstein, but it is just not true. After the end of the Cold War, he said, “tribal politics were introduced by Newt Gingrich when he came to Congress 40 years ago,” and then perfected by Mitch McConnell during the Barack Obama presidency, when McConnell declared his intention to use his G.O.P. Senate caucus to make Obama fail as a strategy for getting Republicans back in power.
When you are dealing with a tribal mindset, compromise is not an option — because it takes both sides.
From the outside it may appear that both sides are equally culpable in their responses, but when one side refuses to accept anything but total victory, survival demands a comparable response.
For those who mock Friedman for quoting taxi drivers as holders of special insight, today he cites someone who might have a little more credibility.
My friend retired Marine Col. Mark Mykleby stopped by for a chat after the Kavanaugh hearing last week, and as we bemoaned this moment, he remarked: “When I walked out of the Pentagon after 28 years in uniform, I never thought I’d say this, but what is going on politically in America today is a far graver threat than any our nation faced during my career, including the Soviet Union. And it’s because this threat is here and now, right at home, and it’s coming from within us. I guess the irony of being a great nation is the only power who can bring you down is yourself.”
What Friedman fails to note is that it’s not just Newt Gingrich that has got us where we are today. This Civil War II has been building a long time. Its opening rounds begin with things like the Powell memo. It was advanced with moves like the end of the Fairness Doctrine, and the rise of talk radio and Fox ‘News’. It was fostered by the end of meaningful anti-trust action, and with the consolidation of corporate power. It scored a strategic victory with the Citizens United decision, and now Janus.
If we want to be honest, Friedman’s Civil War II really began as the Reagan Revolution. People remember the kind, smiling face — but forget the racism and corporatism behind it, and the outright criminality like Iran-Contra.
Donald Trump is the true heir of Ronald Reagan. Charles P. Pierce has been on this for a long time.
Far too many people are far too delicate about this. The Republican Party is completely mad, and it has been going in that direction for a very long time. It has been raving through all the halls of all the governments, large and small, like a lost soul with a big knife. The symptoms of the enveloping disease have been obvious for decades, ever since Ronald Reagan served up the first helping of monkey brains in 1976, when he nearly wrested the party’s nomination from Gerald Ford. It is full-blown now, and it is general throughout the Republic. The Republican Party has infected every institution with its own private insanity.
While Friedman is recognizing how bad things are (and he’s not wrong on that), he’s still not clear that the real enemy is people with power and wealth who care about nothing but their own self interest.
For all we venerate the Founding Fathers, they too were largely men of power and wealth fighting to protect their own interest. They saw democracy as a better way of doing it than trusting in a hereditary aristocracy which viewed them as something to exploit. It’s the difference between pure self-interest, and enlightened self-interest. It’s no little matter that people like Trump, Kavanaugh, McConnell, etc. have become a de facto aristocracy-kleptocracy-kaistocracy, or that enlightenment is not in their world view.
Just as the original Civil War was sparked by those who wanted to keep their grasp on wealth by establishing their own plantation nation, so too the modern oligarchs do not care what they do the world so long as they retain their power and wealth. Just as the original Civil War troops were persuaded to fight to preserve the power of the rich by playing to their fears over their own place in the world, so too the modern GOP exploits the fears of people who see their world being turned upside down.
We’re not at the point of bullets and bayonets yet… and if the Republicans succeed with their efforts to destroy the rule of law, rig elections, and institutionalize their grip on power, they may not need to resort to them. (Although the NRA has them primed and ready; ICE and Homeland Security are models of how to create domestic terror squads and internal police...)
November and the elections may be our last best chance to start turning things around.
The thing to remember is that it won’t end in November even if we can take back one or both houses of Congress. The Big Money will still be there, advancing its interests. The battle will still have to be fought at state and local levels. The millions of Americans who worship Trump will not suddenly see the light. Our laws, our courts, our legislatures, our government agencies will need intensive work to be reclaimed against active opposition. We’ve been under attack for a long time — even if people like Tom Friedman are only realizing it now.
We will be fighting into the foreseeable future — and the rest of the world will not hold still while we do it. Authoritarians are on the rise around the world. Inequality continues to grow. Climate Change is accelerating. Trump is replacing international cooperation with competition. It’s not going to get easier.
The world is made by the people who show up for the job. We’re going to have to start putting in overtime. Never give up, never surrender. Resist.