Monday May 23, 2022

American (un)civil war

January 19, 2022

There are probably nicer ways to say it, but when I read that in a 2021 national poll, 46 percent of Americans believed that ‘another civil war is likely’ compared with 43 percent who did not, the only words that came to mind were mutually assured destruction -- ‘MAD’. Watching from the war-torn Middle East as America forecasts doom and gloom makes me wonder if the country has gone off the rails.

I mean seriously, America, what are you thinking? Instead of acting fast to prevent such a calamity, you continue to fan the fire, recklessly moving towards civil strife, eyes wide open. If you have forgotten the horrors of your own devastating civil war, take a look at our ongoing bloody and disastrous civil wars, which have collapsed states under the yoke of violent polarisation.

Thing is, you never had it so good in terms of prosperity, freedom, and wellbeing, so why throw all of it away over differences of opinion? Why not manage your disagreements democratically? In other words, why not put democracy back at the centre of your domestic policy, instead of pretending to put it at the centre of foreign policy?

As my all-time favourite American satirist, the late George Carlin put it, civil war is an oxymoron. Indeed, not only war is not civil, but what we call ‘civil war’ is the worst kind of war because of the way it tears apart the national fabric. Yet, more than 150 years after the American civil war ended in victory for the federal union and the abolition of slavery, more than a few ‘nitwit hillbillies’ are itching for another fight.

Now that is not to say that all those responding in the affirmative in the 2021 opinion poll want a civil war, many are certainly worried, even fearful of such a scenario. But as Carlin often reminded us, America is a warlike nation and when there are no brown people to bomb somewhere else, it turns inward, applying ‘war’ to anything it hates. So, there is the American war on poverty, the war on drugs, the war on crime, and of course, the war on cancer, the war on AIDS, and of late, the war on Covid-19.

Now that Americans are split, polarised into two extremes feeding into each other, there is an intensifying ‘war’ on fascism and an ugly ‘war’ on liberalism. These cultural and ideological ‘wars’ are fuelled by racism and inequality and are sure to have bloody manifestations in the form of violent nationwide demonstrations, attacks on public property, bombings of clinics that provide abortions, etc -- all of which the country has already experienced in the past. Some even reckon armed militias may appear and engage in mass violence.

All of this begs the question: What role does the media play in all of this? Is it radicalising society and polity through its hyperbolic ‘journalism by opinion’, deepening the right’s obsession with ‘liberal tyranny’ and the left’s obsession with ‘fascism writ large’? Suffering from ‘Trump withdrawal symptoms’, corporate media is clearly complicit as it compensates for the loss of its golden goose by pushing sensational, even apocalyptic coverage of the divided country he left behind. The same goes for social media platforms which continue to fuel division.

At any rate, the high degree of polarisation, beliefs in alternative realities, and celebration of violence in American society suggest “we are at the brink of conflict”, in the words of one Yale University historian.

Excerpted: ‘The prospects of another American (un)civil war’