Edging Toward Civil War?

A few days ago, I shared one of the essay questions from my Law and Policy final exam. The question required students to consider the very different–actually opposed–beliefs about what constitutes American “greatness.”

A number of students chose to respond to that question, and although virtually all of their essays were thoughtful, several of them were depressing. As I noted yesterday, at least a couple suggested that we might be heading toward civil war–that Americans’ approaches to the legitimacy and purpose of government are so incommensurate that common ground is simply unattainable.

Nearly all of them blamed social media for many of our inconsistent realities.

As I said yesterday, I would love to dismiss their observations and concerns as overblown, but stories like the one yesterday and this one–which I referenced a few days ago– are becoming more common and more worrisome.

A small group of white nationalists stormed a bookstore in Washington, D.C., to protest an event for a book on racial politics and how it’s impacting lower- and middle-class white Americans.

The group stormed the Politics and Prose bookstore on Saturday afternoon, interrupting a scheduled talk by Jonathan Metzl, a professor of sociology and psychiatry at Vanderbilt University who released his book “Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment Is Killing America’s Heartland” this spring.

Videos filmed by those in attendance showed the group standing in a line before the audience chanting, “This land is our land.” At least one man was yelling white nationalist propaganda into a megaphone while people in the bookstore booed him.

The man identified the group as “identitarians,” a far-right white nationalist group which is linked to Identity Evropa, which the Southern Poverty Law Center lists as an extremist group.

This exhibition of racial and religious animus took place on the very same day that a 19-year-old white supremacist fired on worshippers in a synagogue in Poway, California.
Before he mounted the attack, the shooter had  gone online and posted an eight-page manifesto, in which he boasted about his “European ancestry” and expressed hatred of Jewish people.

Metzl told NBC Washington that before the protest broke out he was speaking to a man who had helped Metzl’s father and grandfather flee Nazi Austria.

“Not five minutes before, I had acknowledged him and said this is how great America can be when it is bold and generous,” Metzl recalled to NBC.

He told the Post that the incident was “very symbolic for me.”

Actually, the incident should be symbolic for all of us.

The man who had helped Metzl’s father and grandfather escape the Nazis represents what many of us–certainly, the people who occupy my own “bubble”–think of as American greatness: generosity of spirit, a willingness to use our own good fortune to assist others, an instinctive impulse to protect people who are weaker or who are being marginalized.

We see America as an idea and citizenship as a diverse polity’s common devotion to that idea.

The “very fine” people who rioted in Charlottesville, who shot up the synagogue in California, who demonstrated in that bookstore and who cheer anti-immigrant slogans at Trump rallies cluster around a very different version of American greatness.

In their morally impoverished reality, only white Christians can be Americans, and only when straight white Christian males are dominant can America be great.

My students are right about one thing: those worldviews are impossible to bridge. They do not lend themselves to compromise. And thanks to Donald Trump and his constant appeals to the basest among us, we are confronted daily with evidence that many more Americans than I ever would have guessed share a significant amounts of  “identitarian” beliefs.

And a hell of a lot of them are armed.


  1. I live in rural Arizona. I am armed. I am female, plus 60 yrs. I did not, not will I ever vote for Trump, or anyone like him. He is, in my opinion, morally bankrupt, and had always been. What can we do? Quit pigeon holing people. Ie: if I’m rural and armed, I must be an uneducated Trumper! So far from the truth. Urban elitists are also part of the problem. The recent election in my state is an example of what can happen when we have reasonable choices. Love my new senator Kirsten Sinema, and hope to rid us of McSally shortly. I know the far left and many others, including myself, hate Trump and many of his minions, but the larger electorate needs to be presented with reasonable candidates who connect, not agree with then necessarily, to get some reasonable people elected. If we just concentrate on how much we hate Trump, then we’re not going to be successful in getting a change, and we can’t take 4 more years of this!

  2. I am a Floridian now after living in the Midwest for around 30 years. I consider myself mostly conservative perhaps libertarian. I voted for Trump and agree with much of his policies although I dislike the man and his abrasive nature. I grew up in south Florida amongst many latino immigrants and have traveled the world enjoying the many people and cultures I have met. I embrace he differences in people and welcome those you come legally into the US. The key is legal immigration, illegal immigration is a recipe for anarchy and disaster.

  3. We need to remember that these far right radicals, despite being in the media constantly, are still a VERY small number of people. Most of is are somewhere in the middle. And we need to work together, like Sinema does despite her party.
    Everyone sees everyone else’s business and opinions on social media platforms. We know ttools and bots from outside use it to stir trouble. All the buzzwords that divide, over used, thrown around. All the overwrought outrage over every thing n anything. Get off social media n news, get to know the people in your neighborhood n communities. We may not all agree but it doesnt make the other person evil. Both the minority of the far right n far left will take the rest of us down if we focus on them only.

  4. I am a 60 year old armed citizen … I have a college education…
    I voted for Trump and will again.
    A) He needs his people to back him up he really does have a great ability to handle things..
    B) Democrats who from the beginning of Trumps presidency declared they would not help him meant they would not reasonably work out solutions to our nations problems and so forego the very reason they’re in office and should be ashamed for not supporting their constituents..
    I’m an American in God we trust..amen

  5. I live in Michigan I’m conservative ,and you are misrepresenting the facts to the extreme. Fact is these are radicals and they are on both sides of the spectrum. What about left wing mutts like antifa calling a black person a bigger just because they’re conservative, what about the left attacking people in restaurants because they’re conservatives,what about knocking people’s mega hats off their heads because these people support conservatism and morality. What about left wing politicians fomenting violence against conservatives,and also is real and no one on the left stands up and says that’s wrong. What about a left wing that wants to strip all of your rights away to defend yourself from government tyranny. What about a president that has been harassed since before he even entered office because they just don’t like him.not because he’s done anything wrong. If a civil war ever starts it will be because the Democrat party and it’s left wing media arm has been jinning it up since Obama ran for president.

  6. Michael Jenkins. I understand what you are saying about extremists on both sides, but there are many people in the middle. You say that you support conservativism and morality. Being a Trump supporter and morality don’t seem to go hand in hand. Trump appears to be one if not the most amoral President we have ever had. Also, I don’t see any far left people killing white nationalists, but the reverse seems to be true with white nationalists killing people of color and Jews.

  7. Michael Michigan says “the president who has done nothing wrong” has been harassed. 1 problem: you line in Michigan and haven’t known about trump and his cons for 50 yrs like people in the NE do. You seem to discount all the bully name calling and daily lies. There is no hope for democracy if you and others admire this type of governing. Tire of all the right side hate.

  8. I’ve lived in Michigan my whole life 60 years and I want to ensure everyone that Michael Jenkins senior does not represent the views of most of us in this state. He is clearly a product of Fox News and I feel sorry for him and others like him; having such a horrible view of the world is very sad.

  9. Thank you cathy and Terry ,there are still some people that that we can depend on .

  10. My father died in 2008. He was 96 and a 26 year naval officer veteran. He told me the last time i came home to visit -he lived alone, drove and did very well-he said that we were headed towards a civil war. He might not live to see it but it was going to happen. He told my husband and i to plan on leaving the country . He was going to go to poland where my grandparents came from as he spoke the language fluently and was finacially well off. I was very shocked to hear him say this as he was very patriotc even though he was a democrat. I have come to the conclusion he was right.

  11. I am Almost 60 and Armed too.I am also ex military and went to College.You might not want to think that are Country can get along and lets all sing kumbaya,but whether Trump wins again or a Democrat wins the office you’re still going to have total division it is a generation problem.We allowed a generation to grow up and feel that are entitled to do whatever they want and are Politico Leaders don’t care what they do has long as they get thier votes.you all have to see that we are starting to go to anarchy from both sides of the establishment but one thing you have to remember is that the older generation is already seen Vietnam and all the gulf wars.We have watch President’s and Top Officials get caught in Lies and life just keeps on going. I just totally feel after looking at our history that it is going to come to a civil war. People do not want to have a happy medium they just want it their way and if it’s not their way they don’t want to go along with it.

  12. Politics in America – on both the left and the right – are poisoned by flimsy reasoning, sweeping generalizations and anti-scientific activism. The real world is much more nuanced and complicated but never more accessible to pragmatic solutions. Several people here in the comments have pointed this out. Even dividing people into the two primary camps comes with inherent flaws.  It’s not too surprising really that we seem to be at each others throats. The gradual introduction of relativism, post-modernism and progressivism into our culture is a recipe for chaos and confusion. We have even arrived at the bewildering place of refusing to identify the difference between men and women as objective reality. People cannot affirm that blue lives matter or even all lives matter. Although the dominant black lives matter narrative is false – police do not disproportionately use lethal force against black people – try telling that to a millennial protestor.  (The use of nonlethal force , sadly, continues to be an area we must address.) We are told that we must disarm rational, law-abiding citizens in order to stop shootings by criminals and the mentally ill. We no longer speak of keeping abortion legal and rare or speak of limiting it to the unborn children of victims of rape and incest; the radicals must have this absolute right to terminate human life. We will forever be the most generous and welcoming nation but without addressing this humanitarian crisis on our southern border effectively, we will deprive struggling Americans of jobs and key resources. We live in the most prosperous country in work history and yet must inexplicably march toward socialism and economic lethargy. Regrettably, I do not see any alternative to secession — constitutional or not — or a 21st century version of civil war that would leave our nation unrecognizable and a shadow of its former greatness.

  13. The talk of civil war and the riots started again under President Obama , remember when travon Martin was killed in Florida. Holder and Obama were all over getting justice done when the media kept referring to the shooter ad white. But once it was discovered he was Hispanic they both quit talking about it as a biracial man I was very disappointed in the president. I felt like the votes meant more than justice. So until politics get out of picture we will have problems on both sides

  14. It doesn’t matter what you say or don’t say people are not going to change. The only way people change is through sorrow, or when they realize the ship is sinking. Then it’s to late people have to communicate through conversation, religion, and respect .
    I voted for Pres Trump but I dont like everything he does but people on the left and right just can’t admit that he has done some very good things but people are so indignant they can’t think rationally because of their hate. I didn’t like Obama but I respected that he was our President I didn’t like his 8 years in office but he had his moments and I supported those moments but the left and right wouldn’t care if God almighty came down and shook Pres Trumps hand the hate the left has for the Pres eats at them and they just can’t give him any respect.

  15. America has had a war on education for the last 30 to 40 years. The purpose of going from 1 through 12 is indoctrination and telling kids the history of the United States. Seen and shaped in the way the history of America was sculpted to write the history from their perspectives for future Generations. The right wing Christianity part of the RNC, they do not care that Trump says to reporters it’s okay I’m a celebrity, I can walk right up and grab a Woman by the pussy. I can do anything I want! So what kind of standard is that going to set for our children of this country. Too blatantly right in front of people’s faces obstruct Justice, commit almost what would be conspiracy charges with so many connections to Russia it’s not even funny. When I grew up the Democrats were called pinkos and commies. It’s almost like we’re in an alternate universe now the Republicans are now the pinkos are commies. If the people that got a hold of the 10 years of Donald Trump’s tax returns. Their conclusion was he lost 1.4 billion dollars in that 10 years. Is father really knew how to make money well they said. There was no way for Donald Trump to make money almost everything he invested in he lost money. He’s causing the United States to lose power around the world. He’s the only leader of a free world that has been completely laughed at buy the whole U.N. my question two people be at what point hasn’t gone far enough tell the people stand up and say enough bulshit. We impeach Clinton for Less and right now we’re allowing this person to go around and tell our kids eat junk food and telling them to not respect the law and do all kinds of crazy crap. I sit and I remember the speeches he was running and saying during the election, you’re going to be so tired of winning and winning and winning. You’re going to say mr. Trump we’re getting tired of winning. The very first thing he did when he came into office was he allowed the Russians to come right into the Oval Office which is never been done before and he gave up and Israeli spy for Syria. He’s the president of the United States what right does he have to say OK Jerusalem is now part of Israel. I had a friend of mine for 20 years that was a direct descendant from Iraq very nice person. He warned me about this. He said “you wait Steve when you see the Palestinians have to give up” a place called the Golan Heights. Now why would this place be so important? when I asked him” he said the third world war will be fought over water” so the day that Trump said I’m awarding the Golan Heights to the Israelis and it’s always been considered occupied territory by the Israelis. So let’s stir up some trouble and we’re going to award the capital Israel is Jerusalem now.( where are United States president has place in dictating this I have no idea and what power does he have to do so) he told me to watch for when the Israelis are given the Golan Heights and I asked why so much that. He said” the Golan Heights hold 80% of the area’s water supply. So if the Israelis take control of it and it’s already occupied by the Palestinians. Then the Israelis could just turn off the water spicket to the Palestinians! You want a never-ending War you do crap like that and that’s exactly what you’ll get a never-ending War. It’s time for people to stop calling it the human race. Just having the word race in their makes people feel like they have to compete that’s the word race. We would all have a much different outlook on each other if we said we are all part of the human kind. That being diverse and different cultures coming into each other are a good thing and that’s part of being the humankind helps us all if we see it from a different perspective. Start promoting some messages filled with love instead of diverse crap that just distract people so they aren’t paying attention to him. I know this is a brutally honestly spoken truth and the president of the United States has nothing to do with Israel. We need to look by and see the truth. The military industrial complex of this world makes a lot of money off all the wars that are being started. So does the Council of Foreign Affairs so does the IMF so does the Heritage Foundation so does the Bilderberg Group. It’s time for the 7.1 billion people to take control from the 7 million people that are pulling all the strings. Term limits need to be imposed. Amend the Constitution to say even if we have to add seats to the house and the Senate. That 30% of the house and 30% of the Senate are pretty much jury selected. They must see a counselor for a month or two making sure nuts and bolts together upstairs. Also have them take an IQ test. What this would do is overtime it would take the power away from all these giant corporations. The people that are breaking America’s Bank are these huge corporations that get massive amounts of money to build a store or a corporation there. We need to get rid of large corporate donations and term limits need to go into affect and have 30% of people just randomly selected to serve for Congress and the Senate. The people that would be selected to speak for there jurisdiction. Steph the Republicans when that area or section the persons that is chosen for them would be on their voting registration card a Republican. If they are registered a Democrat they just select a Democrat. We need to make much much harder do you have our own Wright’s used against us. It should be made mandatory that every president releases their taxes for at least the past 7 years. We need to rebuild the middle class in this country. We could even bring this 30% down to also work with the local Congress and Senate in your state. Even if it came down to adding 30% more seats. Fill them with basically Jerry selected Congress people our Senate people. It’s just an idea and some way of thinking on how we can fix this mess we’ve gotten ourselves into so it doesn’t happen anymore. it’s just an idea ,there’s a million more out there. We need to try something new we can’t have somebody who can’t stay on point in one paragraph. We can’t take the strength of United States and have it look like it’s being led by a toddler. I love my country sometimes though you do fear the government.

  16. Just because you vote for someone that tells you how great they are doesn’t make it true. Narrow minded people such as Michael sr. from MI disease this country. Need a vaccine for bigotry.

  17. It’s funny how the left always accuse the trump supporters . But all the violence comes from the left. This last shooting was by a trangender person who hated trump, but no one seems to want to talk about that….leftist hypocrisy at its finest…like attacking trump supporters for wearing Maga hats….hypocrites

  18. Interesting article.
    You condemn the hate-filled, uncompromising biased attitudes that are driving this great country toward civil war.

    And how did you accomplish this??
    That’s right….by blaming 100% of the problem on the far right.

    Good job Sheila!

  19. I consider myself a social Democrat crossed with a bit of Libertarianism. But I agree that both the far right conservatives and the far left liberals are most dangerous. They are unwilling to compromise and see it as an all or nothing game for their stand on issues. Many issues like gun control and abortion and immigration and rights for the LGBTQ community leave very little middle ground for compromise to be had. Our government being run on social media is making the situation worse. And facts and reality are being ignored. Most of the illegal fentanyl which can be very deadly is not coming from Mexico but from China through the Canadian border and on cargo ships airplanes and in the mail. Also the country with the most number of people in the US illegally is Canada. More people enter the US legally through the airports on tourist visitor business or student visas and simply dont leave when their visas expire. But right wing xenophobes want to focus on central American asylum seekers and ignore all of these others here unlawfully. Maybe it would be best to divide up the country where liberals can live and have things their way in one part and conservatives can do the same in another part. With only 2 political parties of any significance it will always be ba CV k and forth gridlock. We dont have multiple parties represented in Congress like European country where they must work together and build coalitions. And it does in cycles because power shifts regularly between Democrats and Republicans. We live in dangerous times when we have a president who wants to be a dictator and acts like being elected president of the country made him emperor of the world. Plus we have a Senate majority leader trying to blackmail or coerce Americans I to reelecting Trump by refusing to work with any Democratic nominee who beats Trump. He is not serving the people of this nation or the voters who elected him. I am very afraid for the future of our nation.

  20. The world is great and has been for years, however it has also been allowed to be an anarchy. The so called founding fathers established a divided society, but raped and murdered the very people that they claimed were less than them. Trump has been allowed to masquerade his hatred for all of humanity, with name calling and TOTAL DISRESPECT for women. He demonstrates the GOP lack of integrity, morality and leadership. What is with him and Putin having one on one meetings. The president doesn’t have absolute power, and he’s supposed to be checked by Congress. He refuses to see his flaws, because he chooses people to serve, saying that they will do a great job, but they by his definition are stupid, weak and liars. He was considered as unfit to be president during the primaries by every candidate, but those candidates have shown that they are no better than trump. Trump is a disgrace to mankind and has taught his sons to follow in his footsteps. America is better than trump and his unamerican allies with Putin and Kim Jong un. Hatred is the weapon of a person that is not happy with himself. Looking in the mirror prove my point. Be Blessed to be one of God’s children.

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