• Michael Vlahos

Our Civil War Moves to a New Stage

The Defense of Democracy morphs into the tyranny of “Our Democracy”


In military strategy it is important not to confuse silence with stability. Silence may seem calm, almost quiet — as in “all quiet on the Western Front” — yet this state is not necessarily coterminous with stability. It is a manifestation, not a sign. Below the surface, new and very unstable dynamics may be brewing.


So too is it with politics. The excruciating, unceasing struggles of the last four years, which has so resembled a civil war, just without blood-battle, has eased. Moreover, both sides appear just a bit more quiet, and less visibly intoxicated by hate. Yet this is appearance, a natural but momentary subsidence of tension and threat.


After 2016, the entirety of Blue passion and action was focused on a single goal, the overthrow of the Red president. It was a war mobilization, and daily pitched battle, against the White House. At last, the presidential palace is theirs, along with the elected and permanent institutions of government.


Blue triumph begs the question: Where now is the mighty program, the swirl of offensive movement? Where is the new “Hundred Days” — echoing FDR, but also, in its militant impetus and aggressive promise, Napoleon as well? Three possibilities:


First, Blue’s hold on Congress and Senate is tenuous: A titular, razor-thin margin. Second, the electorate wants COVID relief, economic recovery, and a return to a measure of “normal” before any big change is embraced. Third, a motivated host of voters, very close to half of the electorate, voted Red. While the former president’s most clamorous cohort is very much smaller than that, the important takeaway for the Blue Central Committee is that the Red voter clearly voted against the Blue program — especially its “progressive” little revolution.


Clearly, across the board, there is not enough “majority” to push a new, New Deal — at least right away. Hence, both antagonists have moved into that interim phase in a long military campaign called “regrouping” (or rethinking, or recalibration, or strategic revision). Note, though, that the rhetoric of future battles to come has not subsided — and this is a clue to what lies ahead.


The extreme rhetoric deployed by both Blue and Red is a bridge of continuity, reassurance that the struggle is far from won, and must be enjoined again as soon as possible. Final victory cannot be allowed to slip away. The battlefield may have shifted, but not the battle. The Fight goes on: The goal posts on the field of decision have simply been moved.


This short subsidence in American civil war has inspired some in the Noble Order of Washington Wisdom to urge that the new president act on his bonny promise of “national healing” and “coming together.” Perhaps then civil war itself might wind down.


Yet this promise was simply campaign misdirection. Blue leadership has no intention of settling the civil war, save by main force, and the unconditional surrender of Red. This is not to say that many in Blue might wish national reconciliation — only that the Party apparat is in the thrall of a Progressive coalition, including those all-important “activists” who are the committed core of party power, plus the metaphorical “future” of the Party: Its vocal and growing youth cohort. The grandfatherly campaign impression of (rapidly) aging moderation (by its Oz-like candidate) helped put the Party over the line in “election month.” Yet this is not the true portrait of the party in power.


The civil war goes on because its conflict dynamics have been set in stone.


What are these dynamics? First, Blue was committed after 2016 to overthrowing the Red president, at all costs. Now that Blue is again in power, it is committed to staying in power. This means reshaping the political order so that one party alone dominates for a couple generations — just as Red did for three generations after 1860, and Blue did for two generations after 1930.


There are three components to locking in Blue one-party rule:


First, the process and protocols of national elections must be decoupled from transparency and oversight, so that “irregularities” can proceed unhindered as they did in 2020: By protecting the ability of local election authorities to distribute, collect, validate, and certify ballots and voter rolls as they see fit. This looser and less-regulated electoral regime will be achieved with the passage of H.R. 1. Again, this is not to say that Red did not seek the opposite outcome — of limiting voting. Only, rather in contrast, that Blue seeks voting open to friendly massage. Moreover, a relaxed national voting regime would make court challenge — and thus election accountability — almost impossible.


Second, Blue is actively developing a law enforcement venue to criminalize right wing political activity, using 9/11 national security architecture as its model. The goal here is not to round up thousands of accused “extremists” and budding “domestic terrorists,” banishing them to a Blue Gulag. Rather the objective is the wholesale intimidation of militant conservatives and “trad” Christians (which the Equality Act will make criminally suspect) so that their political speech and activity becomes wary and muted — and certainly under full surveillance. Effectively, Blue would be the sole authority and legal source for the legitimacy of Red political expression, where transgression would effectively lead to criminal and penal sanction.


Third, targeted proscription of Red political expression might generalize Blue dominance. Spawning a climate where working curbs on speech and religious practice are the norm would curb the very exchange of information and argument so necessary to a free society. Yet it would be a boon to its rulers. Glenn Greenwald describes the grisly template as it is already being imposed. Rather than any sort of government agency bringing down a heavy hand on “Fake News” or failed “Crimestop” — the FCC would put pressure on AT&T and the other big carriers for carrying “extremist” news services like Fox and OAN. Furthermore, the Big Five social media giants would be regulated: To come down on politically incorrect speech framed by “suggested” Government guidelines.


There is also a fourth component of signal importance to a Blue one-party state: Control of armed Americans. Military and paramilitary departments and agencies are being vetted, and given political loyalty tests wholesale. Blue wants total inoculation against the American equivalent of a coup d'état in Spanish Morocco (Franco) or the Schwarze Reichswehr and its putsch-specter. Armed citizens are another matter. Blue is committed to de facto disarming of millions of Americans who pose — in their minds — a threat reeking of the Sturmabteilung or Der Stahlhelm. If American gun owners, in contrast, revere constitutional rights and the militia heritage in defense of the Republic, then in the mind of Blue that makes them at best, childlike romantics, and far more likely, budding racist stormtroopers.


Hence, apparent political stand down is not stalemate, just as a moment of quiet along the Front in no way marks a return to party and governing stability. Blue owns the executive branch, and the ruling agencies of government, plus a titular hold on Congress. Moreover, Blue has a credible path to its core goal. Why would it even think of giving up?


Furthermore, in the absence secure one-party rule, the balance of power in Congress could shift as soon as 2022, and with it, hope for future election-tuning would slip away. Blue is fully aware that it must seize the reins of state power on the basis of its current narrow margin. Red, however, is now at its post-election low point. Plus Blue’s edge exists now. Moreover, that margin, if adroitly exploited, might be just enough. Risk yes, Big Risk. So there is desperation in the air, as well as the bated exhilaration that always attends that high-stakes, high-risk gambit.


Thus, this is the dynamic that assures a resumption of political mortal combat. Three power-modalities could trigger the return of all-out war:


First, Blue legislation, executed as a headlong, frontal attack on Red, that backfires badly; or setting up authoritarian frameworks for political enforcement that turn Americans against them.


Second, a dramatic failure by either side: In the case of Red failure, it might prompt a Blue “Big Push” that could mobilize Red insurgency; In the case of Blue failure, panic might set in, a sort of pre-mid-term election hysteria, which, if translated into militant policies, might have baleful, blowback consequences.


Third, a disruption of leadership continuity — at the very top — that dramatically alters the style and substance of imperial rule, creating nationwide foreboding and distrust.


What has so far gone unmentioned ( by the Noble Order of Washington Wisdom) is Blue’s transformation — in its propaganda and public persona alike — from doughty, heroic resistance fighter to stern, authoritarian enforcer, Fasces in hand. Whereas their four-year j’accuse was that the Red president was destroying American democracy: Once in power they shifted gears, effortlessly and almost instantly. Their one-voice regime — what they all call “their democracy” — is rapidly building out a program and style of rule that is far more characteristically authoritarian than anything the Red rollercoaster could have ever dreamed on.


Blue’s problem — not eventually, but soon — is that people will begin to notice. Then Blue will push hardest-utmost to finish the job. It is then that the biggest battle of this civil war will be enjoined.