Civil war. That’s what many are calling the political battles tearing apart our country in the immediate aftermath of the recent ballpark shooting of congressional Republicans and staffers in Alexandria, Va.
It’s more than political engagements, however, on today’s domestic battlefield. It’s the haves against the have nots. Fundamentalist Christians against all other religions, but particularly radical Muslims. Gun toters against anti-gun advocates. Global-warming deniers against environmentalists.
The list of engagements, real and imagined, is long and growing every day. Much like The War Between the States fought with great bloodshed from 1861 until 1865, today’s political and cultural civil war pits fathers against sons and daughters; mothers against sons and daughters; brother against brother ; sister against sister.
We are a nation extremely divided, and as Abraham Lincoln famously said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
Unfortunately, we are not blessed at the moment with a national leader with Lincoln’s strength and wisdom to chart a path out of this national nightmare. Political courage is defined for the moment by knee-jerk responses to the latest violent attacks of one American against another, or terrorist events abroad.
Point of fact: In the immediate aftermath of the ballpark shooting in Alexandria, even as one lawmaker remained in critical condition in a nearby hospital, finger-pointing among politicians from both sides of the aisle began in earnest. Republicans blamed Democrats and not surprisingly, Democrats blamed the Bully President.
Sure, the president visited the Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise at the hospital and called for unity in the wake of this most recent violence amongst the citizenry, but his words ring hollow given his public pronouncements about violence against his opponents during his campaign last year, and his propensity for verbally challenging people from all walks of life who don’t lavish praise upon him on a daily basis.
It’s going to take someone with a strong backbone and keen insight into today’s social and political worlds to bring all the warring parties together and find common ground that will lead to lasting peace. Not only will this leader need courage to stand up to the hateful rhetoric of impassioned ideologists, but he or she will need to find the strength to stare down owners and managers of the nation’s news media outlets — particularly telecommunications and internet executives.
Unlike the bloody battles fought across our countryside with guns, cannons and other military accoutrements from more than a century and a half ago, today’s civil war is fueled and often fought through technology, by the ability of all sides to vent their anger and frustration electronically, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Minute-by-minute news coverage — most real, some fake — exploits the latest engagement on our streets, in our schools or on our ball fields.
The media, a free press, is an essential part of our democracy. Its role is defined and protected by our Constitution. But until there is a full understanding and acceptance of the power new technologies provide — whether it be established media outlets or every American with a Facebook or Twitter account — our present-day civil war will rage unabated.
The rights of all Americans to free speech must be protected. We need to realize, however, that we will never completely agree on exactly how our country should be governed. We should accept — and our elected representatives need to lead the way on this — that a democracy with differing points of views is better than a nation led by one man issuing edicts, with failure to follow them leading to banishment or an early grave.
This modern-day civil war is both that simple and that complex.