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.
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