The latest fashionable prediction in the weeks leading up to the Presidential election is simply an intensification of one that has ebbed and flowed in the background since the primaries: This year’s vote will usher in a new American Civil War.
If Trump somehow wins, so the thinking goes in some corners of the media echo chamber, the decent people of our nation will rise in rage to repudiate him, leading to a Constitutional crisis. If Clinton wins, some believe the violence-prone element of Trump’s supporters will snatch up their pitchforks and march on Washington, throwing our nation into a downward spiral of turmoil. The worries behind these predictions were in no way assuaged by the 3rd and—thank goodness!—final Presidential debate, which many times moved from the merely contentious to the positively vitriolic as each candidate snarked, snarled, and scalded our ears to emphasize the moral, ethical, and personal failings of their opponent.
I’m likely not the only American who cannot wait for this ghastly election campaign—one that has somehow managed to avoid discussing the skyrocketing national debt, military readiness, educational outcomes, and a host of other important issues—to mercifully come to an end.
It is certainly, therefore, worth asking if the “civil war” talk in the media is simply an effort to attract viewers and readers—or is there something more worrisome here? My short answer is that this kind of heated coverage is akin to severe weather predictions on television: Something is happening, but the warnings are framed in the direst terms to keep you glued to the channel. The day after the election, the traffic lights will still operate, the wheels of our vast government bureaucracies will grind on, and children will still be screeching their way around our nation’s playgrounds. Nothing much about the daily fabric of our lives, in other words, will really change.
This does not mean, however, that a great national reconciliation will spring from the ballot box—far from it. The election results will likely cause the chasm in our national psyche to split even further.
The fundamental divide between those who see government as a beneficent instrument of positive social change and improvement versus those who see it as an incredibly expensive tool of coercion and indoctrination will grow wider no matter who wins. The economic winners in our neo-liberal paradise of government regulation and global trade treaties will continue to have little common purpose with the factory worker waving goodbye to a well-paying job and now learning to ask everyone if they want fries with that. The social justice warriors who see sniveling bigots rampaging through the land will find it difficult to believe that a great many people are honest and just—they may simply disagree with your positions and premises.
We won’t be locked in a civil war; we will be trapped in never-ending civic dysfunction as we debate the proper role and scope of government against a background of austerity and unrest. This problem that will be worsened by exploitative media, crushing public debts, overwhelmed and underwhelming politicians, and a never-ending supply of harrumphing lawyers determined to milk our anger and distrust for every possible penny that they can get.
Meanwhile, our government debts will get larger, our technology will become more clever and intrusive, the average person will grow more disgusted—and the ties that bind us as a nation will be stretched to the breaking point.
The $620+ billion dollars we now spend on our country’s public education system is the perfect encapsulation of all that ails us. We spend a stupendous percentage of our national wealth (remember that our total annual Gross Domestic Product is roughly $18.5 trillion) to generate results that run the gamut from fair to abysmal.
Parents run into a rubber wall of regulations and ossified union contracts whenever they attempt to push for changes in their child’s public schools. The politics surrounding jobs, money and influence drive virtually every decision—the children be damned—with the recent resolution of the NAACP calling for a moratorium on the charter schools that have been a life saver for so many students being the latest example of the power of the Almighty Dollar in any educational debate.
Not surprisingly, many parents are looking into private schools and scraping every coin out of the sofa cushions to pay the tuition and save their children, and others who cannot afford private schools are turning to home schooling to help their children escape dangerous and dysfunctional public schools. Meanwhile, debates that have little or nothing to do with improving academic outcomes swirl and consume our energies while other nations continue to quietly—and for far less money—produce the highly skilled graduates who will become the economic leaders of the 21st century.
We’re not heading for civil war; we’ve just stopped believing the official lies. That fact alone is dangerous enough to those who count on our gullibility to maintain their power and control. This will be where the pressure will be building in the months and years ahead. I suspect—sadly enough—that our discussions about the future of our nation and its institutions will be no more elevated than what we have seen throughout this year’s Presidential debates, which will be both our shame and our pain.