American Decline

Americans Are Too Pampered and Neurotic to Fight a Civil War

By Bonnie Kristian

“Tomorrow is war,” right-wing media personality Steven Crowder tweeted Monday night after news broke of the FBI’s search of former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago property.

Bright and early the next morning, Crowder was back—with details. “Today is war. That is all you will get on today’s show,” he wrote, finishing with the time and hashtag for his political commentary show and a gif of the late conservative firebrand Andrew Breitbart saying “war.”

Crowder’s initial tweet was the first example cited in a Tuesday New York Times write-up of the surge of violent language from the right following the Mar-a-Lago search. Other examples in the piece (”This. Means. War.” and “We’re at war” and “Country on the verge of CIVIL WAR???”) run along strikingly similar lines, and comments like these were widely featured in a fresh round of speculation that a new Civil War is nigh.

But the Crowder posts, particularly, are a perfect illustration of why I think we should be skeptical of that forecast.

“War,” for Crowder, means sharp words on a podcast. “War,” for Breitbart, meant starting a website—the gif Crowder used came from a 2012 documentary, Hating Breitbart, about the launch of his eponymous Most of the shitposting about the need to “lock and load” is just that, and for all our negative partisanship and inflammatory social media use, Americans have yet to show ourselves at anything like a critical mass inclined to kill each other over politics.

I’m not suggesting a rise in political violence is inconceivable—far from it. Experts increasingly warn it’s coming, and they may well be correct. Our norms against political violence have been seriously assailed in the last three years. Much of our politics is undeniably malicious. Some people really do view each other as enemies rather than mere rivals, as evil instead of simply wrong. And the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6, the destruction of a Minneapolis police station, and the repeatedly attempted destruction of a Portland federal courthouse show there is a small subset of Americans—some political ideologues, some accelerationists, some equal-opportunity chaos enjoyers—who are willing to physically attack the government and each other.

But I don’t think that’s most people. I don’t even think it’s most people who like to LARP extremist politics on the internet. There is a madness of crowds, yes, and mobs will do things their individual members will not. But there’s a yawning gap between ragebooking while you watch Fox News or getting hyped about “MAGAts” on Twitter and bludgeoning a real, live human being because they voted the wrong way. It’s a gap I don’t believe most Americans are prepared to cross.


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