America endured the Civil War (1861-65). Now, an undeclared second civil war has broken out between Republicans and Democrats. The immediate casus belli is not Confederates firing on Fort Sumter in 1861. Instead, President Donald Trump is today's Fort Sumter. It is open season on him and of course on his Democratic adversaries.
This civil war is fought not with bullets and bayonets but with 21st century technology that can prove equally deadly in terminating political careers. Social media and cable television are the newest weapons and subpoenas and indictments are the instruments of destruction. Wider spread violence could erupt, something that did not happen during the worst years of McCarthyism in the 1950s and could spread far beyond the racially induced 1968 riots. However, the larger danger is to the future of America's democracy.
The cause of the Civil War was irreconcilable differences over the Constitution and the authority of the federal government vis a vis the states even though slavery was a divisive and decisive factor. Today, the Constitution is again at risk, meaning so is our democracy.
Divided government and a political system of checks and balances can only work when one party has veto-proof control of all three houses of government -- or when sufficient compromise and civility can overcome often profound political differences. Neither of these conditions exists. Instead, poisonous toxicity and vicious partisanship dominate this political battleground.
The rot began with the Vietnam War and then Watergate. Before both, the American public largely trusted its government in Washington. In the intervening decades, public confidence in major institutions from the clergy to the media and especially toward politicians plummeted. And a succession of administrations failed to provide responsive government. Now, the surge in costs of healthcare, education, retirement and growing disparities between rich and poor have sparked outrage on the part of too many Americans.
Trump was the major beneficiary of this discontent. His promises to disrupt Washington and "drain the swamp" were seductive. But his presidency is metastasizing Democratic animosity into outright hatred. Driving Trump from office has become so important that all means, fair or foul, are justified.
Following Trump's election and the Democratic backlash, both political parties have swerved to opposite extremes. The Republican Party is now fully owned by Trump and has abandoned the values of Lincoln and his successors. While many Republican members of Congress would prefer the old GOP, the threat of being "primaried" for disagreeing with the president or losing the Senate majority has stifled those instincts. While most Democrats are more or less moderate, the party is being jerked to the far left by a small, vocal few, several running for president. As a result, political compromise has become a casualty of this war.
Democrats lack no ammunition in blasting the president. Trump's prior business deals going back decades, especially Russia, his conduct in office, character and allegations of misdeeds beyond being labeled a liar, con man and cheat will be carefully, and not necessarily objectively, examined in great detail. Hence, this battleground is far broader than Watergate that focused on the cover-up.
Democrats will not explicitly threaten impeachment. As with the only two presidents to be impeached, barring irrefutable evidence of "treason, bribery, high crimes and misdemeanors" uncovered by the Mueller and Southern District of New York investigations, the Senate lacks the two-thirds votes to convict. Instead, Democrats are waging political war by a 1,000 cuts.
Multiple investigations will take months to complete, presumably just prior to the 2020 elections. The aim will be to destroy the president and his re-election. Should either investigation accelerate this process, so much the better.
No White House would tolerate this assault. Trump must realize that no matter his bold denials, he is fighting for his political survival. Democrats understand that this is a life-and-death political struggle.
Because of no-holds-barred partisanship, there is no set of agreed upon rules or ethical standards in this war. Nor does either side possess obvious advantages that will assure "success," if any can be obtained. And none of the declared presidential candidates of either party could be described as Lincolnesque.
Violence in America is waxing, taking on political, ideological, cultural and prejudicial contours in a country in which guns outnumber people. The political bases supporting both parties are inflexible and intolerant of the views of the other. Social media and cable television exacerbate and inflame these differences. In these conditions, a political truce seems in no one's interest. And greater violence is no longer a distant delusion.
The tragedy is that, as in 1861, it is not clear that a second civil war can be averted.