The Dispatch: More from CWR...

Civil war served cold

Forty-two percent of Americans think it is  “likely” or “very likely” for a civil war to erupt within five years, about three years into the next presidential term. What do we say to that?

(Image: Elijah O'Donell @elijahsad | Unsplash.com)

A Facebook friend used a phrase I had not heard before: Cold Civil War.

It is used as a description of what Americans are doing to themselves. It is a troubling phrase. It combines the “excessive” level of “toxic” public debate with the alarming thought that only a slight miscalculation by one side or the other and “cold” will go “hot.”

Another friend fears a Kosovo-like civil war, a fight that quickly descended to neighborhood against neighborhood. In our case, though, the ethnics slated for cleansing will be the ideological ones.

This, really, is little less than fear mongering.

Oh, but wait. Maybe we should be a little frightened. There is that spooky Rasmussen Poll from last June. Thirty-one percent of those Americans asked believe a civil war is “likely” to erupt within the next five years, and 11% say it is “very likely.”

So that’s forty-two percent at “likely” or “very likely” for a civil war within five years, about three years into the next presidential term.

What do we say to that? Nothing.

I call that a ham sandwich question. A good pollster can always find 31% of any group willing to overreact to any question about a ham sandwich, plus another 11% who will seriously over react.

Further along in the poll some 59% of Trump supporters believe if there were violence it will be used first by Trump opponents. This, strangest thing, is the reverse of a poll taken at the same point in Obama’s second year in office: 53% of Obama supporters felt the same way about Obama opponents. Yawn, is my reaction.

But Cold Civil War? I had never heard of it. Here I thought the normal levels of partisanship were going on normally. We Americans do exhibit a unique and somewhat charming hysteria in our political hyperventilations.

Anyway, I went looking for Cold Civil War on the web and the returns confirmed I live under a rock, emerging on but rare occasion. There are, I found, numerous references to a Cold Civil War (CCW hereafter). Either a CCW is in development or it is already here, usually the latter.

The earliest use of CCW I could find was from National Review in 2008 and it appears in several NR articles scattered over the last decade, but NR’s use got little attention. There was a Jerusalem Post columnist who used it in January 2017, but he didn’t get much for it either.

Real web traction didn’t begin until CNN’s July 2017 interview with Carl Bernstein. He said we’re in it and laid the blame for it on Fox News. Search “Fox News and Cold Civil War”; it all circles back to Bernstein and his CNN interview.

CCW clearly is not original to Bernstein but he wins the web war. His alarmist tone had two other talking heads listening in quiet rapture.

In a separate segment from speech he delivered in November 2017, he described Fox News as a “right-wing counterforce.” Fox has created a pro-Trump narrative challenging the CCN narrative. Bernstein’s conclusion: “A fact-based debate is becoming impossible in this culture.” “We are in a Cold Civil War.” That’s quite a problem. But is it real?

Where would it show up first, this CCW? Congress, I’d guess; Congresspeople can be pretty snarly.

In the run-up years to the Civil War, the deliberative halls of our national legislature rang with curses, recriminations, fights, felony assault and an actual brawl. The latter involved, along with others, Mississippi Democrat Representative William Barksdale, whose hairpiece was snatched during the melee by an irate Wisconsin Republican Representative Cadwallader Washburn. Washburn didn’t help matters when he flourished the purloined toupee, claiming he had scalped Barksdale. Nor did Barksdale help himself by snatching it back and inadvertently putting it on backwards.

That was comic but by the end of the 1850’s, Congress was literally paralyzed and throwing punches at one another. We are nowhere near anything that.

When it isn’t focused on Fox News, part of the CCW storyline is the inability of Congress to get anything done in any sort of bipartisan fashion. Most of the visual coverage from every cable outlet is that of mouthy representatives and senators, talking heads and “political consultants,” portraying one another as snarling enemies, glaring at each other across a (so far) DMZ aisle.

It simply is not so.

The 115th Congress in 2017 passed into law 74 bills and 23 joint resolutions (which carry the weight of law). Those 97 measures were all policy laws that do touch citizens across the country – from overhauling education benefits for veterans to expanding a program to detect hearing loss in school kids. All those votes included Republicans and Democrats. Even the 11 key voles identified by Ballotpedia, the ones subject to the greatest degree of partisan dispute, were nonetheless adopted with support by members of both parties.

This level of partisan cooperation does not sound like a harbinger of a Cold Civil War going hot, not to me. What it sounds like is very poor reporting with the absence of real nuance and posturing of a few politicians. But is a cool phrase, kind of wonky in Bernstein’s use; simple and something just bloodcurdling enough to get ginned up for any agenda.

If there is a Cold Civil War going on, my conclusion, it is a media and political creation, a handy bucket to thump like a drum.

About Russell E. Saltzman 7 Articles
Russell E. Saltzman is a former Lutheran pastor who has written for First Things (where for a brief stint he was associate editor), Aleteia, and others. He was the long time editor of Forum Letter, an independent Lutheran publication previously edited by Richard John Neuhaus.

10 Comments

  1. The immediate problem I see here is that you assume that a new Cold Civil War must of necessity look like the prior Civil War. The old Civil War was fought between competing political ideologies at the national level, state and region versus state and region, but the CCW is divided very differently, a struggle between the relatively uniform government and elite classes and the vast majority of the rest of the population. Just as the new Civil War won’t be fought with muskets, it also won’t be fought by large armies representing North and South in set battles. Don’t underestimate the level of anger simmering below the surface in this country. If we don’t separate ourselves voluntarily, bloodshed, ethnic clashes and fiscal collapse will do it for us.

  2. What of the war being waged by cultural Marxists? And the cooperation of the ruling duopoly with the deep state in opposing Trump should count as evidence of something.

  3. Thank you for the most outstanding use of a ham sandwich in an essay.

    Physical civil war is unlikely in a country addicted to good cellphone reception.

  4. Regardless of the truth of whether a CCW is imminent, it’s true that civil discourse and rational thinking has rapidly deteriorated.

    This lack of civility has more than one cause, but I believe a central cause is social media and the iPhone.

    As evidence, I’ve noticed that the advent of social media and, later, the iPhone tracks with our decline in social discourse

    Sherry Turkle, in her book “Reclaiming Conversation,” states that the data phone/social media combination destroys solitude in people. Consequently, people become less reflective, more reactive, more stressed, and less creative.

  5. On Saturday May 9, 2009, at the first White House Press Association Dinner of his administration, the President stepped up and said “I’m Barack Obama, many of you covered me and ALL of you voted for me.” The response was laughter and applause, because they knew he was right.

    On the left there is CBS, ABC, NBC, CNN, and for occasional amusement – there is MSNBC.

    On the right – There is Fox news.

    If we keep talking like this we’ll probably talk ourselves into the next one, so let’s try to calm down, maybe a few prayers, and some laughs, because some of these people are funny. Not on purpose, of course, but they are funny.

  6. Saltzman’s Ham Sandwich is Don Quixote’s windmill is the slightest prospect of wrong warranting indictment by a Grand Jury is the Bete Noire a divided civil society perceives in war with its other half. Saltzman indicates the war Steve Seitz cites Sherry Turkle that we’ve lost “solitude” due to immersion in electronic communication begins to indicate the causes. It’s more complicated. Since writing on the Internet I’ve had [at times] the strong urge to be uncivil. Why? That immediately references Turkle’s book but instinctively I know its much deeper. Solitude is the setting for contemplation of God. We’ve lost that. Yoga Ashrams Buddhist nirvana either result in mindless complacency or stark opposition because there’s no cohesive doctrine on Justice centered on the totality of moral good found solely in the humanness of Christ.

  7. Weeeelll…., when in college in ’97, I recall a few dorm-mates and I concluded the nation could suffer civil war within 25 years. Given what I have seen since, I think this still quite possible. I suspect We will fight over whether We, the People, may recall Our Judeo-Christian roots or not. Many secularists insist they’ve been treated as second-class citizens simply because We all do not seek secular values being instilled in Law.

    • Mr. Flaherty,
      I suspect your secularist friends to be either ignorant or disingenuous because all philosophy [including Scholasticism and the Natural Law] are secular by definition.

      Therefore, they felt like second class citizens, not because they were secularists, but because they’re philosophy didn’t comport with the establishment’s philosophy. Unless everyone agrees, there’ll always be minority opinions and people feeling like “second class citizens.”

  8. What appears to be missing in articles like this is the fact of Ephesians 6 being a reality. The United States has diametrically opposed God by the rulings of SCOTUS on same sex “marriage” and the killing of unborn children by their mothers, for starters. Unless the United States turns to the Lord Jesus Christ, yes, much will come to pass.
    God bless, C-Marie

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