This question is cropping up in casual conversation more and all the time. Of course, once the question is asked, the conversation is no longer casual. It’s deadly serious.
Nobody is expecting a shooting war, with red and blue states lined up for battle like their nineteenth century predecessors.
Then, the issue was slavery. There were slave states and there were free states. You lived in one of the other. There was nothing like complete unanimity on either side of the Mason-Dixon line. But there were few outspoken slavery-promoters in the North; and, in the South, opponents of slavery learned to keep their opinions to themselves.
Our situation is different. Even in deep red states like Texas, most of the cities have gone blue. The urban-rural divide is stark and undeniable. Just peruse one of those county-by-county maps published in the New York Times. The gulf separating rural counties from their urban neighbors is unsettling.
Rural voters in California, therefore, have more in common with rural voters in Texas than they have with the denizens of Los Angeles and San Francisco.
And, even though urban centers have almost all shifted into the blue column, the tension between the urban and suburban electorate is considerable.
This is primarily because the population of the urban core of most cities is predominantly minority, while the suburbs generally skew white.
Sure, neither white or non-white America are monoliths. Liberal white voters have little in common with conservative Black and Latino voters. Still, most whites supported Donald Trump while most minority voters did not.
Nothing I have said to this point is particularly original, or controversial. But, as we weigh the likelihood of a second American civil war, our social reality must be held firmly in mind.
The possibility of civil war arises because a growing portion of white conservative America sees violence as the only way out. The guy who asked Charlie Kirk “when do we get to use our guns,” reflects this tendency.
The folks who stormed the capitol in January were heavily armed, but hardly anyone fired a shot. That could change. The elevation of poor Rittenhouse to hero status suggests that something has changed.
The Rittenhouse episode is revealing. Why did this confused young man show up at an angry protest with an AR-15 slung over his shoulder? He thought he was there to protect vulnerable businesses. He believed he might be of assistance because the folks on social media, talk radio (and Fox News) were cheering on the armed bands of vigilantes popping up at Black Lives Matter protests across the nation.
The Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville wasn’t about protecting a statue of Robert E. Lee; it was about coaxing counter-protestors, or police officers, to react with violence. The resulting melee, it was hoped, would provide footage for promotional materials.
And this is the way Civil War 2.0 could begin. By parading in public, decked out in military garb and toting automatic weapons, racist militias hope to spark the kind of backlash they can work to their own twisted purposes.
To date, macho gun displays have largely a matter of posturing. The Rittenhouse massacre indicates this could change. It isn’t just that a kid pulled the trigger. Repeatedly. It’s the way red America responded to this deadly display of gross irresponsibility.
The parallel here is the early days of National Socialism in Germany. Brown shirt mobs were organized to provoke attacks on suspected communists. The fact that, according to Nazi propaganda, most communists were Jewish, was integral to the strategy. Every time a brown shirt mob sparked a violent altercation with the perceived enemy, the more the general public was inclined to believe false predictions of an armed communist takeover.
The violence we should fear is of this type. If armed militias start firing the weapons they are currently brandishing, how will red America respond? The willingness of Republican stalwarts to celebrate the violence of Kyle Rittenhouse while minimizing the danger of January 6th provides fodder for worry.
The combination of militia-inspired violence and the species of bullying and election-meddling Trump attempted in 2020 could be deadly. If enough Americans lose faith in our democratic institutions, the national fabric could begin to unravel. What comes next is impossible to anticipate.
There is a theological aspect to our ideological divide. American white evangelicals have been worshipping a warrior Christ for generations. The Jesus who calls us to eschew violence, turn the other cheek, and forgive our ideological opposites, is either ignored or flagrantly opposed. Nice-Jesus might be okay for little girls, the argument goes, but the “real” America needs battle-ready patriot-warriors.
Unfortunately, progressive Christians often go out of our way to portray Jesus as spiritually gifted Palestinian peasant with no necessary connection to the Almighty. The forgiving Jesus, in this reading, was just a religious teacher who, for reasons rarely explained, spoke of a loving God. “Christians”, we are told, are simply people who agree with this first-century sage.
I am not quarreling with this common progressive conception of Jesus; I’m just saying he’s no match for Rambo-Jesus. Does this progressive Jesus have the ontological chops to redefine God? Can we point to the Palestinian peasant and say, “there, that’s what God is like?” Sure, we like his message, but does that have any obvious relevance to the heart of God?
This is one of the reasons why I am so hopeful about the 19% of white evangelicals who refused to bend the knew to Trumpian Republicanism. These folks are very clear about Jesus. They don’t like Rambo-Jesus. And they aren’t satisfied with Palestinian-peasant-Jesus either. Historically speaking, Jesus was a peasant who lived in Palestine. But is that description sufficient? The historical Jesus spoke with divine authority (whether you like his message or not). Jesus didn’t utter opinions, or give us his hot take; he spoke with the authority of Almighty God.
I don’t want to open a Christological can of worms here. I have no idea how Jesus could be both a carpenter-preacher and the human face of God. I just believe it’s so.
I believe it enough, in fact, that when Jesus tells me to love my enemy, I am prepared to do it. And when I fail, I repent, and give it another go.
And when Jesus tells me to turn the other cheek, I try my best to obey this command. Why? Because I believe Jesus speaks from the heart of God.
My concern, in other words, is practical. Those of us who take our understanding of Jesus from the Gospel text must speak up. There is no secular counter to Rambo-Jesus. This is a theological fight and it must be waged in spiritual terms.
- A day of reckoning in Winona, Mississippi: Why Fannie Lou Hamer and Curtis Flowers are forever united in a corner of my mind
- Returning to the scene of the crime
- The Science of False Confessions
- What Jonathan Haidt and Yascha Mounk get wrong about the culture war
- Conservatives say no to the human rights revolution
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