Thoughts on Life, Love, Politics, Hypocrisy and Coming Out in Mid-Life
Saturday, January 15, 2022
Virginia GOP Seeks a Huge Leap Backwards
With hundreds of bills already filed, Republicans were clearly hoping to roll back much of what Democrats muscled through in the past two years, looking well beyond the “kitchen-table” issues that Youngkin and incoming House Speaker Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) have called priorities.
Among the GOP bills are those to: prohibit local governments from banning guns from parks and government buildings; cancel a minimum wage hike — from $11 an hour to $12 — that’s scheduled to take effect next year; require women seeking an abortion to sign a written consent; require voters to show photo ID at the polls; cut the early-voting period from 45 days to 14 days; and repeal a state law requiring local school boards to follow the state’s lead on transgender-rights policies.
Democrats seemed eager to flex what remains of their political muscle on some fronts. They were threatening to defeat Youngkin’s nomination of Andrew Wheeler — a former coal lobbyist who was President Donald Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency chief — for secretary of natural resources. Cabinet confirmations are typically mere formalities in Richmond, where a governor’s pick hasn’t been defeated since 2006.
Youngkin announced his 13th and perhaps final Cabinet nominee late Monday afternoon. He has not nominated a chief diversity officer, a Cabinet-level post Northam created in the aftermath of a blackface scandal in early 2019. Youngkin transition aide said the incoming governor “will have announcements on that office in the near term.” He declined to elaborate.
Don't be surprised if the diversity officer position remains unfilled or is abolished to appease the racist GOP party base. Of equal concern is Youngkin's likely undermining of measures to deal with Covid-19 that have helped Virginia fare better than other states in the Old South. The second piece in the Post looks at this troubling situation:
Last week, Mr. Youngkin and the state’s attorney general-elect, Republican Jason Miyares, who take office Saturday, announced Virginia will join the legal challenges to the Biden administration’s vaccine mandates “to protect Virginians’ freedoms.” They did so even as the coronavirus pandemic drove hospital admissions so high that the current governor, Democrat Ralph Northam, declared a 30-day state of emergency on Monday.
[T]he issue raised by the governor-elect is about messaging. By attacking vaccine mandates at this critical time, Mr. Youngkin threatens to reverse the gains against the pandemic in Virginia, which has one of the nation’s highest vaccination rates, and, consequently, one of the lowest per capita death rates from covid-19.
It’s no coincidence that counties that voted heavily for Donald Trump, who has also opposed vaccine mandates, suffer far worse covid-19 death rates than counties that supported Joe Biden. An analysis by NPR showed that covid-19 deaths per capita since May 2021, when vaccines became widely available, are nearly three times higher in counties where Mr. Trump won 60 percent or more of the vote than in counties won by Mr. Biden.
Mr. Youngkin has supported vaccinations as key to combating the coronavirus. But his framing has rendered his own vaccine advocacy toothless. . . . . That rhetoric will only encourage anti-vaxxers to continue resisting the best anti-covid weapon science has devised.
Here’s a question for the governor-elect: Since when have “Virginians’ freedoms,” which he said should trump vaccine mandates, given license to endanger the lives of others in a pandemic that will likely have taken the lives of some 1 million Americans by the time Mr. Youngkin’s first year in office is finished?
Here’s another: Will Mr. Youngkin, once in office, also oppose the state’s own vaccine mandates for children and teenagers attending schools in Virginia? Included here: shots for diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis; the meningococcal conjugate vaccine; the human papillomavirus vaccine; the hepatitis B vaccine; the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine; the haemophilus influenzae type B vaccine; the pneumococcal vaccine; the rotavirus vaccine; the polio vaccine; the varicella vaccine; and the hepatitis A vaccine. By Mr. Youngkin’s reasoning, shouldn’t those public health interventions also be left up to individual Virginians?
Perhaps the greater peril posed by his messaging is that it will subvert Virginia’s fight against the pandemic, led by Mr. Northam, who favors vaccine mandates. Just nine states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia have lower covid-19 per capita death rates than the commonwealth, and in only eight states is a greater percentage of the population fully vaccinated.
Expect the next two years to be a nightmare for sane, non-extremist Virginians.
Friday, January 14, 2022
Republicans Continue to Kill Their Constituents
When the future judges our political present, it will stand in appalled, slack-jawed amazement at the willingness of GOP leaders to endanger the lives of their constituents — not just the interests of their constituents, but their lungs and beating hearts — in pursuit of personal power and ideological fantasies.
We are seeing at least three varieties of GOP political necromania.
The first, practiced most vigorously by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, uses an ongoing pandemic as a stage for the display of ideological zeal. In this view, the covid-19 crisis — rather than being a story of remarkable but flawed scientists and public health experts deploying the best of science against a vicious microbe — has been an opportunity for the left to impose “authoritarian, arbitrary and seemingly never-ending mandates and restrictions.” Never mind that U.S. public health officials are not part of the left, and are authentically confused about the equation of their advice with ideology.In the name of freedom, politicians such as the Florida governor employ the power of their office to prevent other social institutions from taking responsible, lifesaving steps in the midst of a pandemic. This is an effort by populists to prove that their MAGA commitments outweigh all common sense, public responsibility and basic humanity.
A second type of the Republican romance with death comes in the vilification of those most dedicated to preserving the lives of Americans. Public officials such as Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) invent a conspiratorial backstory to the covid crisis and depict the most visible representatives of the United States’ covid response as scheming, deceptive deep-state operatives.
Paul talks of jailing Anthony S. Fauci in the midst of our public health crisis on the basis of imaginary claims. But the fundraising appeals to MAGA loyalists that immediately follow such attacks by Paul and others are real. And for a subset of true believers, Paul’s acts of dehumanization provide cover and permission for threats of violence against scientists and their families. . . . Some GOP leaders are willing to feed the most dangerous social passions — to play crackpot roulette — for their own gain.
A third category of Republican death wish is the practice of strategic ignorance. In a case such as Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) — America’s most reliable source of unreliable information about covid-19 . . . . Says Johnson of the vaccines: “We now know that fully vaccinated individuals can catch covid. … So what’s the point?” Well, the point is to prevent serious expressions of the disease and avoid the filling of hospitals and morgues. Johnson’s brand of home-brewed epidemiology will inevitably result in added suffering, tragedy and grief.
He offers his lack of intellectual seriousness as an element of his political appeal — similar to handing out a résumé with the firings and felonies highlighted. Even when comprehensively refuted, he takes the pose of a brave man willing to question the repressive experts.
Johnson is not only making dangerous statements about the coronavirus. He is using his willingness to cite stupid things as the evidence of his independence from the rule of professionals and experts. He is defining democracy, in the words of Tom Nichols, author of “The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters,” as “unearned respect for unfounded opinions.” Johnson is practicing strategic ignorance.
This would be bad for democracy at any time. It encourages the development of not merely alternative views but alternative realities. And this makes the pursuit of a common good nearly impossible.
During a pandemic, however, the celebration of ignorance is an invitation to death. . . . . If a significant group of Americans regard the musing of a politician such as Johnson as equal in value to Fauci’s lifelong accumulation of expertise, the basis for rational action is lost. And the result is needless death.
Biden-Cheney in 2024?
As I’ve noted before, one reason I pay very close attention to the Israeli-Palestinian arena is that a lot of trends get perfected there first and then go global — airline hijacking, suicide bombing, building a wall, the challenges of pluralism and lots more. It’s Off Broadway to Broadway, so what’s playing there these days that might be a harbinger for politics in the U.S.?
Answer: It’s the most diverse national unity government in Israel’s history, one that stretches from Jewish settlers on the right all the way to an Israeli-Arab Islamist party and super-liberals on the left. Most important, it’s holding together, getting stuff done and muting the hyperpolarization that was making Israel ungovernable.
Is that what America needs in 2024 — a ticket of Joe Biden and Liz Cheney? Or Joe Biden and Lisa Murkowski, or Kamala Harris and Mitt Romney, or Stacey Abrams and Liz Cheney, or Amy Klobuchar and Liz Cheney? Or any other such combination. Before you leap into the comments section, hear me out.
America is facing an existential moment, Levitsky told me, noting that the Republican Party has shown that it isn’t committed any longer to playing by democratic rules, leaving the United States uniquely threatened among Western democracies.
That all means two things, he continued. First, this Trump-cult version of the G.O.P. must never be able to retake the White House. Since Trump has made embracing the Big Lie — that the 2020 election was a fraud — a prerequisite for being in the Trump G.O.P., his entire cabinet most likely would be people who denied, or worked to overturn, Biden’s election victory. There is no reason to believe they would cede power the next time.
“In a democracy,” Levitsky said, “parties lose popularity and they lose elections. That is normal. But a democracy cannot afford for this Republican Party to win again because they have demonstrated a ton of evidence that they are no longer committed to the democratic rules of the game.”
So Biden-Cheney is not such a crazy idea? I asked.
“Not at all,” said Levitsky. “We should be ready to talk about Liz Cheney as part of a blow-your-mind Israeli-style fusion coalition with Democrats. It is a coalition that says: ‘There is only one overriding goal right now — that is saving our democratic system.’”
That brings us to the second point. Saving a democratic system requires huge political sacrifice, added Levitsky. “It means A.O.C. campaigning for Liz Cheney” and it means Liz Cheney “putting on the shelf” many policy goals she and other Republicans cherish. “But that is what it takes, and if you don’t do it, just look back and see why democracy collapsed in countries like Germany, Spain and Chile. The democratic forces there should have done it, but they didn’t.”
To put it differently, this Trump-cult version of the G.O.P. is trying to gain power through an election, but it’s trying to increase its odds of winning by gaming the system in battleground states. America’s small-d democrats need to counter those moves and increase their odds of winning. The best way to do that is by creating a broad national unity vehicle that enables more Republicans to leave the Trump cult — without having to just become big-D Democrats. We all have to be small-d democrats now, or we won’t have a system to be big-D or big-R anythings.
That is what civic-minded Israeli elites did when they created a broad national unity coalition whose main mission was to make the basic functions of government work again and safeguard the integrity of Israel’s democracy.
Such a vehicle in America, said Levitsky, should “be able to shave a small but decisive fraction of Republican votes away from Trump.” In a tight race, it would take only 5 or 10 percent of Republicans leaving Trump to assure victory. And that is what matters.
This is the democratic way of defeating a threat to democracy. Not doing it is how democracies die. I am quite aware that it is highly unlikely; America does not have the flexibility of a parliamentary, proportional-representation system, like Israel’s, and there is no modern precedent for such a cross-party ticket. And yet, I still think it is worth raising. There is no precedent for how close we’re coming to an unraveling of our democracy, either.
As Levitsky put it: “If we treat this as a normal election, our democracy stands a coin flip’s chance of survival. Those are odds that I don’t want to run. We need to communicate to the public and the establishment that this is not a normal donkeys-versus-elephants election. This is democracy versus authoritarians.”
This is not for the long term, noted Levitsky: “I want to get back as quickly as possible to where I can disagree with Liz Cheney on every policy issue” — and that is the most we have to worry about — “but not until our democracy is safe.”
The idea does have merit. Will partisans put democracy first over normal party politics? I am very afraid for the future. that my grandchildren will face.
Thursday, January 13, 2022
Protecting Virginia's LGBT Protections From Youngkin/GOP Assault
The Virginia General Assembly’s 2022 legislative session began on Wednesday amid concerns that Republicans will try to curtail LGBTQ rights.
Republicans last November regained control of the Virginia House of Delegates, and now have a 52-48 majority. Democrats still maintain a 21-19 majority in the Virginia Senate.
Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin, Lieutenant Gov.-elect Winsome Sears and Attorney General-elect Jason Miyares take office on Saturday.
Democrats, who in 2019 regained control of the General Assembly for the first time since the 1990s, passed a series of LGBTQ rights bills that outgoing Gov. Ralph Northam signed. These include the Virginia Values Act, which added sexual orientation and gender identity to Virginia’s nondiscrimination law, and a ban on so-called conversion therapy for minors.
Northam in 2020 signed a law that repealed the state’s statutory ban on marriage and civil unions for same-sex couples. Virginia that same year became the 38th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.
The Virginia Department of Education in 2020 issued guidelines that are designed to protect transgender and non-binary students.
Youngkin during his campaign against McAuliffe expressed support for Tanner Cross, a gym teacher at a Leesburg elementary school who was suspended from his job after he spoke out against the policy. Youngkin has also said he does not support allowing trans children to play on sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity.
Vee Lamneck, executive director of Equality Virginia, a statewide LGBTQ rights group, on Wednesday in an email to the Washington Blade noted Youngkin has nominated former Heritage Foundation President Kay Coles James to become the next Secretary of the Commonwealth. Lamneck notes the Heritage Foundation “has a long history of spreading harmful, anti-LGBTQ rhetoric” and James herself has said the Equality Act, which would add sexual orientation and gender identity to federal civil rights laws, is “anything but equality.”
State Sen. Travis Hackworth (R-Tazewell County) last month introduced Senate Bill 20, which would eliminate the requirement that school districts must implement the Department of Education’s trans and non-binary student guidelines. State Del. Danica Roem (D-Manassas), who in 2018 became the first openly trans person seated in any state legislature in the U.S., on Tuesday told the Blade during a telephone interview that she expects SB 20 “would be dead on arrival” in committee.
“I would strongly encourage LGBTQ folks and our allies and champions to contact their state senators about SB 20, let them know that this is a thing and that they do need to oppose it,” said Roem. “This is a year where if there is a state legislator who introduces anti-LGBTQ legislation we should as a community and as a Democratic Party specifically should really make a statement and defeat that loudly and make a very, very clear statement that as long as we have at least divided government, we are not going back on what we have done to make Virginia one of the most LGBTQ-inclusive states in the country.”
State Dels. Mark Sickles (D-Fairfax County) and Dawn Adams (D-Richmond), who are openly gay and lesbian respectively, both won re-election. State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) remains the only openly gay member of the Senate.
Ebbin on Wednesday told the Blade during a telephone interview that Youngkin since his election has not specifically indicated whether he will try to rescind the Department of Education guidelines.
“Given the new political climate in Virginia, we know that many are worried about the future of LGBTQ equality in our commonwealth,” said Lamneck.
They acknowledged the House is “less friendly,” but added the Senate “remains unchanged.”
“We will work with the Senate’s pro-equality majority to act as a crucial back stop against harmful legislation and efforts to roll back our hard-earned wins passed during the last two years,” said Lamneck. “Bills have already been introduced that would weaken both the Virginia Values Act and the Virginia Department of Education’s guidelines for the treatment of transgender students. We can’t allow this to happen.
State Sen. Steve Newman (R-Bedford County), who, along with former state Del. Bob Marshall (R-Prince William County), co-authored an amendment to the state constitution that defines marriage as between a man and a woman, co-chairs Youngkin’s transition team.
Youngkin despite his deceptive campaign is no moderate and is in bed with some of the most extreme anti-gay hate groups in Virginia and America. The coming four years will be frought with danger for LGBT Virginians as well as members of racial minorities.
Wednesday, January 12, 2022
More Guns Are Behind America’s Murder Spike
After murders in the United States soared to more than 21,000 in 2020, researchers began searching for a definitive explanation why. Many factors may have contributed, such as a pandemic-driven loss of social programs and societal and policing changes after George Floyd’s murder. But one hypothesis is simpler, and perhaps has significant explanatory power: A massive increase in gun sales in early 2020 led to additional murders.
New data from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) suggest that that indeed may have been the case. According to the data, newly purchased weapons found their way into crimes much more quickly and often last year than in prior years. That seems to point to a definitive conclusion—that new guns led to more murders—but the data set cannot prove that just yet.
[T]he ATF’s data are the most robust source available for evaluating the increased use of firearms in the United States in 2020.
What’s most startling in these new data is the degree to which firearms purchased in 2020 featured in crimes committed in 2020. The ATF’s data set includes a measure known as the “time to crime” of each gun traced—the time from when a firearm was legally purchased to when it was recovered after a crime. On this metric, an enormous shift is apparent: The number of traced guns whose time to crime was a year or more increased by less than 1 percent in 2020 compared with 2019, but the number of guns whose time to crime was six months or less increased by 90 percent.
Prior years looked quite different. Only about 13 percent of guns traced from 2015 to 2019 were recovered within six months of purchase. In 2020, 23 percent were. In total, the average time to crime fell from 8.3 years in 2019 to seven years in 2020, and just about half of the guns traced in 2020 crimes were purchased three or more years prior to recovery, compared with more than 70 percent a decade ago. Moreover, states with greater upticks in gun background checks—meaning more purchases of new guns—also saw greater increases in new guns recovered in and traced to crimes. All told, what this reveals is that guns used in crimes in 2020 were newer than in the past.
No data exist on exactly how many guns were sold in 2020. The best proxy is the number of firearm background checks performed by the FBI, which indicates an attempted purchase but doesn’t necessarily mean a completed one. These background checks surged dramatically in 2020, first when coronavirus cases began to appear in the U.S. and again after Floyd’s murder at the end of May.
The ATF's data do not specify time to crime for the subset of firearms that were recovered in homicides; everything is grouped together and cannot be disaggregated. . . . . Ultimately, more granular data would be needed to answer with perfect confidence the crucial question of whether new guns lead to more homicides, but there is also no reason to suspect that guns used in homicides differ significantly from guns used in other kinds of crimes.
The ATF’s data are kludgy in part because of legal limitations, specifically a law known as the Tiahrt Amendment. “The Tiahrt Amendment is basically a law that says the ATF cannot provide gun-level trace data to anyone other than the police,” says Cassandra Crifasi, a researcher of gun-violence prevention and policy at Johns Hopkins University. “What that means is that researchers are restricted to the sort of high-level reports that ATF puts out. So we have no idea if the guns used in crime were used by the person who purchased it or if it was diverted to someone else.”
But Crifasi and other researchers believe that the ATF could still provide better data, such as the average time-to-crime numbers by crime type. However, the ATF has so far declined to share those numbers, including in response to a formal Freedom of Information Act request. . . . institutionally they just want to … limit everything,” he added, noting that the ATF is hamstrung by a lack of resources and pressure from gun-rights-focused lobbyists and members of Congress.
Right now, we know that gun sales rose dramatically starting in March 2020, and that murder—driven by gun murders—increased substantially a few months later. We have strong evidence that more people were carrying guns before murder went up in 2020, and the ATF data tell us that newly purchased firearms were used in more crimes than usual. It stands to reason that new guns helped feed 2020’s murder surge, though the data to confirm this conclusion remain agonizingly out of reach. The data aren’t perfect, but they’re strongly suggestive: More guns are behind America’s murder spike.
Tuesday, January 11, 2022
Glenn Youngkin Has Begun His Assault on the Environment
Glenn Youngkin, Virginia’s governor-elect, campaigned as a practical, no-nonsense business executive. But on at least one crucial set of issues — energy and the environment — the Republican is preparing to govern in a manner far out of step with the moderate state he will soon lead.
Last month, Mr. Youngkin announced he would pull Virginia out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, an emissions-cutting pact among Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states, in defiance of common sense and, perhaps, state law. Then, last Wednesday, the governor-elect nominated Andrew Wheeler, a former Trump Environmental Protection Agency chief and onetime coal lobbyist, to be the state’s secretary of natural resources.
Confirmation fights are rare in Virginia; the legislature tends to allow governors to staff their administrations as they choose. The General Assembly has not refused to confirm a governor’s nominee in 16 years. In general, this is a sound practice. But Mr. Wheeler’s nomination is a thumb in the eye of anyone who cares about climate change or practically any other environmental issue, and Democrats should be outraged.
During his time leading the EPA, Mr. Wheeler was the ultimate fox-guarding-the-henhouse figure, helping
PresidentDonald Trump roll back about 100 environmental rules addressing an astonishing variety of problems, according to a New York Times count. His first major act was relaxing standards for handling toxic coal ash, to industry cheers. He gutted a policy designed to transition the country off pollution-spewing coal power plants. He canceled efforts to regulate perchlorate, a chemical that damages babies’ brains, in drinking water. He slow-walked the replacement of lead pipes.
He ripped up rules to stop the nation’s least responsible oil and gas drillers from pumping massive amounts of methane into the air. Perhaps his most egregious move was barring the EPA from considering a vast amount of peer-reviewed scientific evidence, hobbling the agency’s ability to make fact-based decisions about the nation’s air and water.
Virginia has a strong climate law in place, aiming to eliminate by mid-century planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions from the state’s electricity sector. This big transition will require a sustained effort over decades. Democrats worry, with reason, that Mr. Wheeler will do all he can to undermine and delay the law’s implementation, not to mention the other environmental issues to which he may apply his poor judgment.
That may be what Mr. Youngkin wants. In his statement announcing Mr. Wheeler’s nomination, the governor-elect insisted that Virginia “needs a diverse energy portfolio,” signaling a desire to preserve fossil fuels in the energy mix despite their environmental drawbacks. But this is not the future that state law envisions, nor should it be. Neither Virginia nor the rest of the nation can stop using fossil fuels tomorrow. But it should be every state official’s goal to cut polluting fuels as fast as practicable.
Mr. Youngkin should find a better steward of Virginia’s environment.
I predict that this is only the first of many extremist actions will will see from Youngkin. Just wait for what the Christofascists and evangelicals will pressure him to do. Be very worried about the future.
Monday, January 10, 2022
Sunday, January 09, 2022
An Expert on Civil War Issues a Warning About America
Barbara F. Walter, a political scientist at the University of California, San Diego, has interviewed many people who’ve lived through civil wars, and she told me they all say they didn’t see it coming. “They’re all surprised,” she said. “Even when, to somebody who studies it, it’s obvious years beforehand.”
This is worth keeping in mind if your impulse is to dismiss the idea that America could fall into civil war again. . . . The sort of civil war that Walter and Marche worry about wouldn’t involve red and blue armies facing off on some battlefield. If it happens, it will be more of a guerrilla insurgency. As Walter told me, she, like Marche, relies on an academic definition of “major armed conflict” as one that causes at least 1,000 deaths per year. A “minor armed conflict” is one that kills at least 25 people a year. By this definition, as Marche argues, “America is already in a state of civil strife.” According to the Anti-Defamation League, extremists, most of them right-wing, killed 54 people in 2018 and 45 people in 2019. (They killed 17 people in 2020, a figure that was low due to the absence of extremist mass shootings, possibly because of the pandemic.)
Walter argues that civil wars have predictable patterns, and she spends more than half her book laying out how those patterns have played out in other countries. They are most common in what she and other scholars call “anocracies,” countries that are “neither full autocracies nor democracies but something in between.” Warning signs include the rise of intense political polarization based on identity rather than ideology, especially polarization between two factions of roughly equal size, each of which fears being crushed by the other.
Instigators of civil violence, she writes, tend to be previously dominant groups who see their status slipping away. “The ethnic groups that start wars are those claiming that the country ‘is or ought to be theirs,’” she writes. This is one reason, although there are violent actors on the left, neither she nor Marche believe the left will start a civil war. As Marche writes, “Left-wing radicalism matters mostly because it creates the conditions for right-wing radicalization.”
It’s no secret that many on the right are both fantasizing about and planning civil war. Some of those who swarmed the Capitol a year ago wore black sweatshirts emblazoned with “MAGA Civil War.” The Boogaloo Bois, a surreal, violent, meme-obsessed anti-government movement, get their name from a joke about a Civil War sequel. Republicans increasingly throw around the idea of armed conflict.
To me, the threat of America calcifying into a Hungarian-style right-wing autocracy under a Republican president seems more imminent than mass civil violence. Her theory depends on an irredentist right-wing faction rebelling against its loss of power. But increasingly, the right is rigging our sclerotic system so that it can maintain power whether the voters want it to or not.
If outright civil war still isn’t likely, though, it seems to me more likely than a return to the sort of democratic stability many Americans grew up with. . . . Yet most of Marche’s narratives seem more imaginable than a future in which Jan. 6 turns out to be the peak of right-wing insurrection, and America ends up basically OK. “It’s so easy to pretend it’s all going to work out,” he writes. I don’t find it easy.
The piece in The Economist looks at some of the same sources and the factors that lead to civil war. Perhaps somewhat disturbingly it tends to take a "it can't happen here" mindset which in itself can compound the risk of fascism and/or civil war. In my view, it is bettter to prepare for the worse than be caught flat footed thinking no real risk exists. Here are excerpts:
IT IS HARD to overstate the danger Donald Trump poses to America and the world, but Barbara Walter manages it. Mr Trump scorns democratic norms, stirs up racial division, propagates the big lie that he won re-election in 2020, encouraged a coup attempt on January 6th 2021—and might win the presidency again in 2024. Ms Walter, a political scientist at the University of California, San Diego, rightly decries these sins. But she goes further. Thanks partly to Mr Trump, and partly to the underlying trends he has exploited, she claims America is at risk of civil war.
A second risk factor is factionalism. Since the end of the cold war, perhaps 75% of civil wars have been fought between ethnic and religious groups, rather than political ones. Here what matters is not how diverse a country is, but whether politics revolves around identity.
Political leaders who stir up fear of another group to win support from their own are often especially dangerous. Consider (as Ms Walter does) the former Yugoslavia. As the cold war ended, it cast off communism and began to move towards democracy. It promptly fell apart, goaded by “ethnic entrepreneurs” such as Slobodan Milosevic.
He was not a true believer. A former communist, he switched to Serbian nationalism because it was the easiest way to win support. . . . The most effective grievance-mongers are creative liars. Serbian television, for instance, once claimed that Serb children were being fed to lions in Sarajevo Zoo. They also recognise no statute of limitations. “For five centuries they violated our mothers and sisters,” said one Croat nationalist of Bosnian Muslims.
Complacent cosmopolitans did not see war coming. They lived in cities where Serbs, Croats, Muslims and others freely intermingled and intermarried. They did not imagine those groups would start killing each other. Even when they knew that Serb militias were forming in the hills, they dismissed them as yokels. One local writer recalls city folk joking about rustic Serbs “hating us because we knew about soap and water…and wearing clean socks”.
Another risk factor arises when a large group fears it is losing status. Ms Walter lists several that rebelled for this reason. Sunni Arabs, who dominated Iraq under Saddam Hussein, were shut out of power after he was toppled; some went on to create Islamic State. After the revolution in Kyiv in 2014, some in Ukraine who considered themselves ethnically Russian revolted against the new government (with assistance from Vladimir Putin).
The most disgruntled members of an aggrieved group may take up arms. At first they are typically too small in number to pose a serious threat—but social media can accelerate the descent into bloodshed.
All this is persuasive, and a useful guide to what is happening today in, say, Ethiopia, or might happen in Lebanon. But America? Yes, there are some parallels. The country is polarised, and cynical race-baiting politicians have made matters worse. The most egregious culprits are on the right, but some on the left have exacerbated the split by alienating white Americans: urging minorities to think of themselves first and foremost as members of a racial group, as some activists do, ultimately encourages the majority to do likewise. Many working-class whites feel a loss of status, and their grievances have been stoked on social media. There is a rural-urban divide: some educated city-dwellers disdain their rustic compatriots, who keenly resent it.
No country as sophisticated, modern, liberal and democratic as contemporary America has ever descended into civil war. It has exceptionally strong, professional and apolitical armed forces. Its police, though far from perfect, uphold the law, as do its courts.
A series of politically inspired terrorist attacks is sadly plausible. So is a better-organised revolt than the one staged a year ago. But it would have no chance of success—and, on past form, the terrorists would be caught and punished. The American state cannot be overthrown by seizing a building in Washington.