The New Civil War

I don’t remember my parents being political at all. My Step-Dad was an Army Green Beret and my Mom a naturalized American citizen via Germany. I’m sure they voted, but it wasn’t like we sat around the dinner table discussing geopolitics. Neither of them had attended college while I was still living at home and being politically active wasn’t really congruent with my Dad’s military service.

After I joined the Air Force, that was also the case for me, especially when I became a commander. After retirement though, it was a different story. Since moving to Tucson in 2008, I ran for and won a seat on my local school board and worked on three Arizona campaigns, two Senate and one House, and supported various other campaigns in one way or another. It has been my service as a school board member though, that really led to my activism. Public K–12 education and the children it serves, (as it turns out) is my new passion.

Our recent Presidential election was traumatic for many and some people are totally shell-shocked. In my mind, much of the consternation is not about partisanship, but rather about the values we collectively subscribe to as a nation. Do we as stated in our Declaration of Independence, “hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness”? Or rather, do we believe that (as with the Citizen’s United decision), corporations are people and should have as much say in our nation’s governance as “the people?” Do we still aspire to be Ronald Reagan’s “shining city on the hill” (words originally spoken in a sermon by Puritan John Winthrop), that serves as a beacon of democracy to the rest of the world or, do we only care about ourselves; about “America First”…and last.

I had for the most part managed to have a more pragmatic perspective about the recent turn of events until about two weeks ago when I visited our Nation’s Capitol. Seeing the multitude of protestors everywhere, in many cases controlled more tightly by increased police presence,  brought home to me the very real shift in our national direction. Then yesterday morning, I had a contentious conversation with my Mom about politics (whom I once could talk to about anything) and it occurred to me that what we are now experiencing is the New Civil War.

As with America’s original Civil War, this one is pitting family members against family members, friends against friends, and neighbors against neighbors. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t at all mean to minimize the 620,000 lives lost in the original Civil War, to this date the deadliest in our nation’s history. But, this New Civil War has the potential to be just as fractious to our country. It may be a war of words versus guns; but the divisions surrounding economics, equal rights, freedom of speech, state’s rights, and free trade vs. protectionism, all with a dose of nationalism mixed in, are every bit as real.

And just like the original Civil War, this one is comprised of “battles” of significance. The fight over Betsy DeVos is one. It was well-fought on the part of public education advocates, but in the end, they were out-gunned by the corporate reformers and the lawmakers they purchased. It would appear the Dakota Pipeline is another battle where “the people” have lost to corporate interests. There will be many more battles such as the one  over the Muslim travel ban currently underway. I’m guessing we are going to have at least four years of such battles. It is tiring to contemplate.

Wars are often though, contests of attrition. The side that remains better resourced in terms of troops and weapons and the intelligence and supplies to support them, is usually the victor. There are numerous examples however, of a grass-roots resistance (because it is supported by the hearts and minds of the people), that achieves victory against all odds.

If our nation is to remain a democracy, one which is “of the people, by the people and for the people”, we must all (each of us), remain engaged and vigilant. I understand it would be easier just to bow out and ride the “ignorance is bliss train,” until it jumps off the tracks. Believe me when I say I’ve considered that option more than once. But, as the American educator and author (born in 1899) Robert M. Hutchins said, “The death of democracy is not likely to be an assassination from ambush. It will be a slow extinction from apathy, indifference, and undernourishment.”

To those who care about our democracy and our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, I implore you to not let current events discourage you or detour your resolve. Now, more than ever, we must keep our heads in the game. After all, (as attributed to Edmund Burke) “All it takes for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Let it not be said that was our course.


16 thoughts on “The New Civil War

  1. Well written. It actually mirrors how the “other side” has felt for the last 8 years. I, like you, am an advocate just on the “other side”. I think that speaks more to the new civil war. We don’t have to fight over everything but common ground can mot be found when eyes are closed with hate. Many of the actions taken are the same as what previous administrations also had to do, yet now it is an action that requires a riot? How far can the continuous trama over everything go before it becomes rhetoric? The Right is patient, they have not rioted over the last 8 years but the violence and hate from the left is out of control. Eventually the Right will fight back. Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.

    • Thanks Kim, and I really appreciate your response. Believe me, I would like to understand. I was very sad yesterday that my Mom and I were so apart in our viewpoints. As for the riots, I think that word is a little over the top. Yes, there was that thing at Berkley, but the vast majority of the protests have been peaceful. As for the right not “rioting”, protesting is kind of a liberal thing so I’m not surprised. And, I think they just do it in different ways.

      All that aside, how do we move forward as a country?

  2. I am not a teacher. I have no professional stake in education. My interest is as a parent with one young child in school and another heading there in a couple of years.

    You framed this new civil war as a battle between public education advocates and “corporate reformers.”

    I also have nothing to do with any corporation that has stakes in education.

    As a parent, I want my children to have the best possible opportunity to succeed. It certainly seems to me that sending them to a better school increases chances of success. To be honest, it’s not easy to provide that benefit to them.

    My spouse and I recently discussed the possibility of taking a new job in a different state. The first thing we did was research the school situation. We found that there were only two ways to get our children in a high-performing school – move to specific areas where housing values exceeded our means or pay a high tuition for them to attend private school.

    In the end, we decided not to take the new position.

    As a parent, it’s hard for me to sympathize much with the public education advocates given the fact that I had to make such a choice.

    • Thanks very much for your perspective OneReasonablePerson. I appreciate your insight. Of course, I could argue that the dilution of resources available to district schools is part of the problem you describe. But, don’t get me wrong. I totally get your desire to take care of the needs of your child. I believe we should all care about the needs of all children as the quote by John Dewey states, “What the best and wisest parent wants for his child, that must we want for all the children of the community. Anything less is unlovely, and left unchecked, destroys our democracy.”

  3. There has been a war on public schools for two decades now. Those who dig deep know that most public schools outperform Charter schools, and unless you are in a high poverty area, the public school is truly the best choice. Even in high poverty areas, there are many, good public schools. The denigration of public schools has a motive. It is not a civic motive, however. Always follow the money.

  4. These are definitely times that can try relationships. Many of us see the fabric of our society and political bedrock shaken and threatened. Thank you Linda for sharing your perspective on these uncharted waters.

  5. Very well said.

    I’d add that propaganda is already a major weapon being used by Trump and his adherents. They follow his example of accusing the other side of something they themselves are guilty of.

    Currently the concern and talk of civil war by the left has been turned into loud accusations from the right that liberals want a civil war. Of course anyone with five minutes online can find that right wing and alt-right (white supremacists) sites have been drumming up civil war since 2009 while liberals have only very recently talked about it and in the context of being worried about it – not promoting it.

    Americans that are not paying daily attention can easily be tricked by these tactics until theybturn against the very people they should be siding with.

    I hate to put it in terms of sides but pretending you can sit on the sidelines and not pick a side is not a realistic option anymore.

      • OH MY! Private schools, Private Prisons, Privatize Social Security, Repeal Affordable Care Act and go back to allowing the private insurance companies to call the shots, all about money and politics…How about money IN politics!

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