Did you hear Hillary Clinton talking about America’s cold civil war the other day?
She didn’t call it that, but that’s what she meant. Just days after the U.S. Senate confirmed Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court by a razor-slim majority, the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee joined the chorus of outrage from America’s political left. She stopped short of encouraging mobs to get in Republicans’ faces and interrupt senators’ meals, but Clinton left little doubt where she stands.
“You cannot be civil with a political party that wants to destroy what you stand for, what you care about,” she told CNN. “That’s why I believe, if we are fortunate enough to win back the House and/or the Senate, that’s when civility can start again. But until then, the only thing that the Republicans seem to recognize and respect is strength.”
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Ah, yes. Strength.
Clinton, who is still smarting over winning the popular vote and losing the Electoral College vote (the only vote that matters — for now), has spent the better part of two years trying to delegitimize the 2016 election. Her voters — the sort who scream helplessly at the sky in protest — have been pumping each other up, grasping for any and all justifications for their “resistance” to the “authoritarian regime” now occupying the White House.
It’s not enough to say Republicans and Democrats differ on policy or even disagree on first principles. According to the true believers, the other party is in the business of destruction. We used to believe in a democratic republic, we put “ballots over bullets.” Today, votes are the equivalent of violence.
It was remarkable to hear the Democratic Party’s 2016 presidential nominee effectively endorse that point of view. No civility is possible until Democrats win.
Why such rhetoric? Why now? Truth is, it’s been a long time coming.
Antonio García Martínez, an author and contributor to Wired magazine, summed up the landscape perfectly in a tweet: “The Right is angry because they have near-total political power, but little cultural power. The Left is angry because they have near-total cultural power, but little political power. Each covets what the other has and feels is rightfully theirs.”
Frustration and intransigence leave partisans spoiling for a fight, and not just on the Left. What does it tell you when a fairly milquetoast Republican like Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina lays into his Democratic colleagues on the Judiciary Committee? He called the events leading up to the appearance of Kavanaugh accuser Christine Blasey Ford “the most despicable thing I have seen in my time in politics.”
“Boy, you all want power,” Graham said. “God, I hope you never get it.”
The political players can’t quite put their finger on it, but Graham came pretty close. In politics, few victories are final. At issue is power and who gets to use it. Power comes in many forms. People who make laws have great power, but so do the people who make culture.
The trouble is, we no longer have a common culture or a common political language. We have multiple cultures and subcultures, niches and echo chambers. We don’t listen to each other because we no longer know how.
But if you listen carefully to what the elites are saying, the message is unmistakable. This is breakup talk.
Anyone who has ever experienced a failing relationship or gone through a divorce knows what I mean. People talk past one another. They pick up words and using them as cudgels. And in really bad cases, they use actual cudgels ... or worse.
Underneath it all is a deep and seething resentment that’s palpable, but also a feeling of powerlessness. Why can’t they understand? That’s what all the screaming on Kavanaugh was about on Capitol Hill. That’s why the screaming continues today.
How much worse could it get? Plenty.
It’s a fairly short distance from a gaggle of protesters screaming at a senator and his wife in a tony Washington, D.C. restaurant to shooting a senator whose vote “put our lives at risk.”
We’ve seen it before. We saw it in the 19th century before the Civil War, when a pro-slavery Democrat nearly beat an abolitionist Republican to death with his cane on the Senate floor. We saw it in the early 1970s, when there were more than 1,900 bombings in 18 months targeting police and military installations.
Whether or not Kavanaugh’s confirmation rallies Democrats or Republicans to the polls on Nov. 6 doesn’t really matter. A narrow Democratic majority in the House resolves little. Politically and culturally, we’ll remain as divided as ever.
As with any breakup, only after some sort of catharsis is it possible for peace to return. Only at a remove can people begin to heal and life is possible again.
We’re not there yet. Not even close.