The second U.S. civil war began in 2015 as a war of words and the polarization of political parties. No one even took one candidate in particular seriously until he unexpectedly won his disunified party’s nomination. He rose on the back of extremism, repeatedly touting “the good old days” when words were countered with physical violence. Voters watched in horror as the candidate’s xenophobic rhetoric turned to phallic comparisons and graphic misogyny. But many still supported him. Some embraced the candidate’s boldness, while others claimed that if elected, the candidate would quickly tone it down and become more presidential. But this was an election year unlike any we had ever seen, and I was embarrassed for our country. I was sure that voters on both sides of the aisle would have been able to see Donald Trump for the narcissistic autocrat that he is; it seemed pretty obvious to me. By October, though, it became clear that no one cared enough about violence, xenophobia, mysogynism, or even democracy. All of the Trump supporters I talked to wanted just one thing: to keep Clinton out, and even though she won the popular vote by more than three million, most voters seemed content to let the defunct electoral college rule the day. Instead of blaming Russia or gerrymandering, each political side was more than happy to point fingers at the failures of the other.
As 2017 unfolded with the White House in complete disarray, our commander-in-chief drew the battle lines. He was not to blame for the troubles besieging the presidency, he of said, it was Obama, Clinton, or the Democrats. Despite his demonstrated lack of leadership, like soldiers preparing for war, politicians fell immediately into a carefully strategized construction with one group on the right and the other on the left; the front lines running directly through the house and the senate.
The U.S. populace was quick to follow their lead. Since the inauguration, I have seen more bipartisan character assassinations between so-called friends on social media than ever before. It seems that those who would never consider verbally attacking associates at a company picnic in the park, are more than happy to attack them behind the virtual safety of their computer screens. This behavior has further emboldened the general public, and more and more I have seen it in angry tirades on the streets aimed at complete strangers. As my readers know, I’ve even seen it in church. We don’t know anything about these people, but we have become more than happy to make assumptions based on physical appearance, church attendance, and linguistic differences including perceived foreign accents, simple dialectic differences such as Southern Drawls and Western Twangs. Once again, this is true on both sides of the political aisle.
While I blame Trump for the arrangement of troops and the timing, I can’t blame him for the war itself. This war was in the making long before Trump was born. In his farewell address, George Washington warned that partisanship would be our “worst enemy.” He admonished, “The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension . . . leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism, [ultimately resulting in] the ruins of public liberty.” Washington’s advice went unheeded, and from that point forward, U.S. politics have been ruled by partisan politics. The civil war of 1861-1865 was the only point in United States’ history in which have we seen evidence of Washington’s truth more virtually than we have in the past few months. And we’re just getting started.
While physical altercations were rife throughout this particular election, the first assault with a deadly weapon came at the hands of a Democrat. Steven Scalise, a Republican, was critically injured. Four others were also hurt. The shooter’s reasoning, according to speculation from parties, was to begin a new revolution in support of Independent/Democrat Bernie Sanders, who lost the Democratic nomination to Clinton. Based on a Facebook post in March, it was not a stretch to go so far as to speculate that the shooter was attempting to initiate a coup to overthrow the Trump regime. The irony was not lost to either side, however; Democrats are traditionally anti-gun and anti-violence.
Fast forward two months. When white supremacists marched through the campus of the University of Virginia on Friday night, we could see it coming. Despite the fact that Virginia’s Governor, Terry McAuliffe, and Charlottesville’s mayor, Mike Signer made more than one attempt to legally stop the oncoming confrontation, the next day’s rally faltered only slightly in its place on the schedule. In response to rising conflict extending into Saturday morning, McAuliffe declared a statewide state of emergency and Saturday’s rally was finally cancelled. But it was too late. As anti-protestors began wrapping things up and heading back home, a car driven by a white nationalist Trump supporter plowed into the crowd killing one and injuring 19 others.
The most frustrating part for so many U.S. citizens is that Trump maintained an unusual Twitter silence until the worst of the violence was already over. Worse, Trump refused to outright condemn white nationalist racism and hatred. In fact, he insinuated that both sides were equally at fault, “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides. On many sides.” It was particularly telling that he felt the need to repeat the phrase, “On many sides.” A tweet from former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke came hot on its heels. “I would recommend you take a good look in the mirror & remember it was White Americans who put you in the presidency, not radical leftists.”
I hadn’t planned to post anything on my blog this weekend. In fact, between family responsibilities and Sunday activities, it’s taken me all day to write this post. I cannot maintain my silence any longer. As long as voices like Duke and Trump are being heard loud and clear, I must speak out on behalf of people like Heather Heyer, who strove to speak out, but has now been silenced.
I know this isn’t over yet. White Nationalists participating in yesterday’s fray report feeling emboldened by the events of the day. Between continued political divisiveness and verbal bickering between Trump and Kim Jong-un I fear we are facing the imminent threat of war on two fronts: nuclear war with Korea in the West, and civil war in the East.
What can I do? Speak without fear. That’s a hard thing for me, but my fear of speaking out is why I became a writer. Like many of the confrontive voices I have recently seen on Twitter and Facebook, I know that I can hide behind the relative safety of my computer screen. I hope, though, that my voice can be heard as one of reason. I don’t want my political views to hurt my relationship with family and friends, despite the fact that it has already broken some of those bonds between those who to refuse to let go of their misplaced blame. I don’t want to see this get worse, but I know that I will have to be prepared for the eventuality that it probably will.