Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Name of the Day...

...belongs to John Batchelor, who writes for the Daily Beast.

Normally, I'd end the post right there, but Mr. Batchelor is also the author of "The Civil War of 2017."

While the piece itself isn't all that great its title brings up an idea I've been talking about for some time now: the United States is currently in the midst of a kind of low-grade, non-shooting civil war between Republicans and Democrats.

(I would actually take it a step further and call it a religious war, not unlike the ones between Protestants and Catholics during sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Europe. Seriously. Rather than fighting over the Pope, today's combatants disagree about the federal government. Should it have an active role, as suggested by the New Deal and the Great Society? Or should it retreat to a more libertarian ideal, like that which preceded FDR and the Great Depression? The reason I think it's "religious" is that the two sides hold core beliefs which are somewhat axiomatic; they can't be argued. Either you believe in one or you believe in the other.)

But if what we're experiencing now is a civil, not a religious, war it's also unlike the one that took place from 1861-65 in that it isn't based on geography (although it kind of is, with rural areas facing off against metropolitan areas, with the suburbs caught in between), but cuts across families.

Unlike the old "brother against brother" slogan* used to describe "the predicament faced in families (primarily, but not exclusively, residents of border states) in which loyalties and military service were divided between the Union and the Confederacy," today's civil war probably affects most families, doesn't it? Can't you think of at least two members of your own family who are on such opposite sides of the current political divide that they can barely stand each other? (Last year I read that families in America were so divided that many had to have separate Thanksgivings!)

Take my sister and me, for example. I love her, I suppose (she's my sister after all). Joanne is the oldest, I'm the youngest, and we both love politics and current events (and arguing). The difference, though, is that she and her husband are dyed-in-the-wool Republicans while I've evolved into a Democrat in recent years. (To give you an idea how "bad" they are, as Baby Boomers in the 1960s their one act of rebellion was to vote for Nelson Rockefeller in the 1968 Republican Primary instead of the parentally-approved Richard Nixon. Oy!)

And it's gotten to the point where we simply can't talk about politics to each other. At all. It's never been said out loud, but whenever we get together now we avoid the subject entirely. If we do, we get along just fine (she's actually a good person). But we don't just disagree on policy, we disagree on the actual facts themselves. It's true: my sister and I live in entirely different universes. Which one of us is right? Who knows?

Incidentally, our disputes also carry into religion itself: my sister is a devout Catholic while I'm an agnostic. (She once confided that she "has to receive the Eucharist at least once a week." What does that even mean?) And I read once that the most reliable indicator of whether one was a Republican or Democrat is the frequency of attending religious services. Those who go to church weekly, for example, are most likely to be Republicans. So the "war" has a religious dimension to it as well.

(Honestly, I'd be hard-pressed to think of something Joanne and I do agree on. She's a Sox fan, I'm a Cubs fan; she lives in a gated community in a suburb as far from the city as possible, I live on the Near West Side of Chicago -- I could go on and on.)

But isn't it true that Republicans and Democrats are in a kind of civil war? They can't work together on anything. The United States has to be more polarized than at any time since the real Civil War. (I was around during Vietnam and I think today is even worse.)

So how do we get out of this civil war? How does it end? I have no idea. I kind of expect it to last for the rest of my life. I really do; I see no way out of it. I hope someday the two sides can at least share the same reality, but that sounds like a long way off to me.

* Apparently this was a real thing. According to Wikipedia, "There are a number of stories of brothers fighting in the same battles on opposite sides, or even of brothers killing brothers over the issues."

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