America’s Cold Civil War

When, however, inequality reaches the critical point, when interests diverge so much that consensus is no longer attainable, the bonding tissue that keeps society together begins to tear and democracy becomes compromised. In the absence of commonality, disputes can no longer have peaceful resolve. Instead, the resolution occurs through negotiation or war. — Read more from NOTES FROM DISGRACELAND and follow on Twitter

22. VIII 2021

Our everyday life is peppered with illegal activities – its normal functioning would be practically impossible without discretionary transgressions of the law. We jaywalk every day, regularly drive above the speed limit, and use cellphones while driving. And who hasn’t littered at some point in their life? For a long time, smoking marijuana or taking drugs have been considered rights of passage for many, while sharing you password or downloading music, movies or books is done continuously without even an afterthought. In certain states in America, non-procreative sex is still illegal and in some countries like Iran it carries a death sentence. Nevertheless, people systematically, and sometimes exclusively, engage in those practices as a matter of sexual preferences or lifestyle choices.

This aspect of casual transgression is well understood by both the citizens and the authorities. However, actions of authorities are almost never aimed at their systematic suppression. Police functioning is most effective when everyone is breaking the law. The purpose of the law and law enforcement is to make you a potential criminal and for the police to have an option to declare you an actual criminal at any given time [1].

Once this is done, once you have been declared a criminal, the court does not initiate a trial and possible sentencing, but instead pressures you to plead guilty and accept your criminality. This is more effective in the long run – once you have confessed to your criminality (in order to serve a lesser sentence or go free with a slap on the wrist), there would be no way of complaining or objecting to the consequences. In this way, you move closer to an easily governable docile subject. This is governmentality at its purest.

However, the situation is markedly different when non-individual entities are concerned. When an entire congregation or political party breaks the law systematically, this becomes a sign of possible civil disobedience and unrest, which requires urgency of intervention, especially if their followings are of negligible size. In that case, any attempt to prosecute those people can be diverted into a political struggle and, as such, become a defense against abuses of power.

Genealogy of a Political Hysteria

The seeds of the January 6 clown coup, and with it, the radical reshaping of the Republican party, most likely started as a consequence of the previous Oval Office occupant’s failed attempts to extort some kind of blanket immunity from prosecution by his successor. The repeated failure to successfully ensure such a package led to escalation in the negotiations and threats, most likely never intended to be realized, but, as the new President-elect called his predecessor’s bluff, things went beyond the point of no return. As matters got out of hand in this game of miscalculated leverage, and assumed an unintended dimension with grave legal implications, some key figures of the previous administration became implicated and compromised.

Clearly, the whole January 6 thing wasn’t conceived to be anything but a threat. No one in his right mind would think that a few hundred people breaking into the Capitol would amount to keeping the losing candidate in office. Keeping the Congressmen as hostages and asking that the Election results be reversed? Or what? The mob executes them? The noose? Only a total moron (and there were plenty of them in DC on that day) could believe that this could amount to anything. All of that was intended to be nothing more than a threat to push the Republicans in Congress to vote against certification in order to drag things further so that the new administration, in order to keep things under control and finish the whole charade, finally settles for a sweeping pardon. Nothing else.

Well, that didn’t work as planned, so here we are. For those involved, the consequences have become non-trivial. The latest transformation of the Republican Party into a pseudo-criminal collective is a result of dealing with those consequences.

Since almost every Republican still sees the support of Trump’s base as a must-have on their political path, the implicated leaders have compelled others, either by dirt or by promises of endorsement, to join in and create a shift from individual to collective criminality. With that maneuver, the underlying allegations of the Republican top would be converted into a collective liability of the entire party, which would transform the defense of the idiot-coup into a political struggle.

Clearly, this cannot be, in any possible context, a sustainable platform of a political organization. It is a losing proposition in an environment where political victory is won within 1% majority. It is really a desperate attempt to diffuse the culpability of their leadership and prevent consequences to take place.

The cold civil war

The democratic process was originally conceived as a way to peacefully resolve economic disputes between people who share common values, either cultural, religious, or in terms of lifestyles or visions of the future. As such, democracy requires commonality; inequality undermines it.

When, however, inequality reaches the critical point, when interests diverge so much that consensus is no longer attainable, the bonding tissue that keeps society together begins to tear and democracy becomes compromised. In the absence of commonality, disputes can no longer have peaceful resolve. Instead, the resolution occurs through negotiation or war [2].

Despite being abundantly and unambiguously clear what happened on and after January 6, the response has been annoyingly gradual. The effect of subsequent diversion of blame from individual to collective was to increase the already existing division and elevate the tensions, which have been accumulating over the past years. The escalation caused by the Republicans’ coming out as the white supremacist party has transformed those tensions into a cold civil war.

The legal and political disputes related to the January 6 events are now happening against a highly combustible social background where the underlying social tensions have already crossed the point of no return. The most acute problem, therefore, is how to avoid the cold civil war from heating up.

The current situation has become explosive — it is configured like a booby trap. And, when facing the problem of its deactivation, one does not just come in and cut the wires — one wrong move and the device will explode. Deactivation must proceed slowly and sequentially, first by figuring out who is connected with whom and only then can the cutting really begin.

[1] This argument, I believe, is due to Slavoj Zizek.

[2] Jeffrey A. Winters, Oligarchy, Cambridge University Press (2011)


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8 thoughts on “America’s Cold Civil War

  1. ‘Save the ballot boxes’ Amy Klobuchar stated on Jan. 6th. Although multiple copies exist, certifying Biden would have taken longer, and, Manchurian Mango would have more fool’s fodder to claim election fraud.

    1. A related fissure is the response to vaccination, mask mandates and such.

      It’s not getting any better. Those of you with an FT subscription might care to read “Second Thoughts on Second Homes” published yesterday.

      Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to run out to the ag supply store to lay in some horse dewormer, just in case …

  2. One aspect of defusing this situation is time. So far we see a lot of denial and anger. Bargaining and depression are a little less obvious to observe. Denial is fairly obvious (stolen election theories). So we have refusal to vaccinate, fights over masking-sometimes I think they’re trying to spread covid. Anger stage of grief is as good an explanation as any for such childlike behavior

  3. I’ve often felt that Republicans have the wrong enemy.

    The first enemy is of course climate change.
    Because that will kill us all.

    After that, the next enemy is serious economic inequality in this country. Economic inequality is not been this great since the 1920s. It doesn’t matter if the Fed tightens or loosens, in either case the 1% will end up with a bigger share of the pie.

    And yet, for all the real issues that we face, Republicans see the enemy as a guy from Guatemala who is coming here because his crops won’t grow.

    It takes some serious propaganda to divert 45% of the people from the real issues. Murdoch and the Koch brothers have done well.

  4. I draw an analogy between the January 6th Capitol riot to the rioting and looting of the Jacob Zuma cronies in South Africa last month. It seems both leaders were desperately trying to avoid the consequences of the their actions and taking responsibility for their immoral activities

  5. Thank you, Bjarne Knausgard. In each you post, your perspective shines a very useful light on the inherent complexity of realities beyond everyday awareness. I especially benefit by the historic references in your theses, which recall my university readings of 19th and 20th century philosophers and the politics, evolved in parallel during those eras. Thank you very kindly, sir, for your investment in these conversations.

    One ironic thought about Jan 6: If the National Guard had been present and in force to properly manage the crowd, the whole thing would have had a negligible impact. The phone records of republican congressional representatives would not be subpoenaed by a House Select Committee. There would be no need to bring Jim Jordan, Mo Brooks, and Kevin McCarthy before the Select Committee, which may not otherwise have been called to examine what would have been a much less traumatic event. But given what actually occurred, the congressmen will face some form of reckoning.

    The events that we saw on Jan 6 amplified the threat Trump poses to democracy, and the threat that many party members pose by backing him. Their cards are plainly on the table. Even without Jan 6, however, the Republican party could not help but be unalterably diminished and discredited by its affection for Trump, and, as you put it, “transformed as the white supremacist party.”

    Indeed, we find ourselves in a cold civil war of ideas. White supremacy continues to be a stain on our culture and politics. And now utterly lacking any pretense of standing as the party of Abraham Lincoln, the question placed squarely on the table for all the country to see is: “We are white supremacists… Will you vote for us?”

    Some people will definitely vote for them. White supremacy is not new to the US body politic. But it’s not cloaked and hidden as it once was.
    Modern white supremacy took new forms after the Civil Rights and the Voting Rights acts of the sixties. During Trump’s presidency it came into much sharper focus. I believe US voters can see through the pabulum being pedaled by Brooks, Jordan, Trump, etal. Mo Brooks may win the senate seat in Alabama next year. And the House is in contention, so Kevin McCarthy may become the Speaker. They will have their voters. But what will be the bigger picture of the country? That’s the million-dollar question.

    Democracy, by definition, moves slowly. The antivaxxers may, in some form, persist. Q-Anon may also. But there is a good chance these “movements” will be nothing more than peccadillos of history. Trump and the republican party, however, are no such things. Their autocratic and clearly white supremacist leanings present real danger. The American people must be fully prepared to confront them in the vote.

  6. Pardons did not have much to do with it. Donald Trump has a totalitarian mindset. He considers himself naturally to be “President for Life” and that life will extend forever. Rules for succession do not apply to him because there can never be a succession. He cannot die, the universe can only end its existence.

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