What’s going on? I’ve been hearing so much lately about our national political divide that it brings a novelty song from my 1950s childhood back to mind:
“Save Your Confederate Money, Boys, the South Shall Rise Again.”
Even in my Northern hometown the song was a hit on the radio and barbershop quartet circuit, although Little Richard was a bigger hit on my side of town.
But that was then. Among politicians, pollsters and pundits, Civil War talk has become all the rage.
For example, the University of Virginia Center for Politics found last fall that 41% of Joe Biden’s voters in 2020 and 52% of Donald Trump’s voters at least somewhat agreed that it’s time for red or blue states to secede from the Union.
A Business Insider poll in October 2020 said most Americans believed the U.S. was already in the midst of a “cold” civil war.
A University of Maryland and Washington Post poll late last month found 40% of Republicans, 23% of Democrats and 41% of independents thought violence against the government was “sometimes justified”— a position held by only about 1 in 10 in the 1990s, the Post said.
Are they serious? Although I try to view attitudinal polls with healthy skepticism, there’s no question that just about everyone in these pandemic times has plenty of reasons to be cranky.
Even those of us who are vaccinated, I am told, have spun off a form of anti-vax faction called “vaxxed and done,” meaning they’ve taken all the precautions, including shots, that they care to take, regardless of what else the CDC may come up with. (I sympathize with their frustration but I don’t agree with their strategy.)
But the notion of another Civil War, taken seriously, raises a host of questions, such as which way would the country divide? The old North-South model no longer seems close to adequate for these red-state-versus-blue-state times.
Or should that be “heartland prairie populists” versus “liberal coastal elites”?
More than a century later, the “states’ rights” issues raised in the first Civil War remain largely unsettled, although they have moved on, thankfully from slavery, but to other vexing matters such as abortion and gun rights.
Last summer, Texas lawmakers passed a bill that authorized any private individual to bring a civil suit against those who facilitate abortions — and offered large monetary bounties to encourage enforcement. The impact was devastating as clinics across the state canceled appointments and shuttered their doors.
Well, it didn’t take long for lawmakers in Illinois and California to draft bounty laws of their own, with more states possibly to follow. Talk is brewing about a further backlash against, for example, businesses who withhold services from same-sex couples.
Yes, other battles may well be on the way, one hopes without bloodshed. But as this country should have learned to its great sorrow, once you start a conflict between the states you don’t always know where or how it’s going to end.
Another disturbing aspect of this rising wave of war talk is how much of it boils down to a very old-fashioned notion of something crucial to our democracy: The ability of Americans and all of our many tribes to get along.
Our societal failures to deal with the racial divide showed up in a widely covered study taken by the University of Chicago Project on Security and Threats, or CPOST, directed by Robert Pape, a leading scholar on the terror warfare and politics.
In the CPOST poll of 725 arrestees in the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol, almost two-thirds agreed that “African American people or Hispanic people in our country will eventually have more rights than whites.”
As Pape has said, that meshes with the increasingly popular “Great Replacement” theory promoted by far-right anti-immigration activists here and in Europe that conspiratorial elites are trying to replace this country’s white population with nonwhites.
That’s quite a yarn. If you believe it, I have a nice bridge to sell you. No Confederate dollars, please.
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Clarence Page, a member of the Tribune Editorial Board, blogs at www.chicagotribune.com/pagespage.