American Decline

We Are In a New Civil War … About What Exactly?

By JOHN F. HARRIS Politico

For most of my reporting career, to refer to some dispute or another — over a judicial nomination, perhaps, or an uproar over a proposed shopping mall near a battlefield — as “a new Civil War” was to reach for a metaphor.

On the anniversary of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol, we mark the evolution of journalistic cliche: Serious people now invoke “Civil War” not as metaphor but as literal precedent.

The Trump years, which it is now evident did not end with his presidency, have awakened a conflict so profound that, as in the 1860s, democracy, constitutional order and union itself are in peril.

A big deal, indeed. But also a puzzle: If this is a 21st century version of 19th century disunion, shouldn’t it be more obvious what the war, at bottom, is all about?

The Jan. 6 anniversary is a reminder that the chaos of the Trump years in one important respect — and perhaps only in one — is a historical anomaly. The country many times over has witnessed dissent and disruption far more violent than anything seen in recent years. But earlier episodes featured profound ideological and moral questions — easily visible to the naked eye, in the present and to historians afterward — that lay at the heart of the matter.


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