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Is America On The Brink Of Civil War? Depends On Who You Ask

A police officer separates a pro Trump supporter, right, who was taunting one of the organizers of the "100 Days of Failure" protest and march, Saturday, April 29, 2017, in New York. (Mary Altaffer/AP)
A police officer separates a pro Trump supporter, right, who was taunting one of the organizers of the "100 Days of Failure" protest and march, Saturday, April 29, 2017, in New York. (Mary Altaffer/AP)

Back in fall of 2016, when it seemed almost certain that Hillary Clinton would be elected president, an extremist militia called the Georgia Security Force began holding weekend training sessions to prepare for a Clinton presidency.

They were one of dozens of extremist militias who believed that the government was going to take their guns away, and members staged para-military training sessions, so that they would be able to fight back against the government.

As you’ll recall, Clinton received three million more votes than her opponent, but she lost the Electoral College.

In the two years since Donald Trump came into office, right-wing hate groups have flourished. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks such groups, identifies nearly a thousand scattered across the country.

This is life in Trump’s America.

Not only do they endorse the president’s enraged brand of nationalism, they love the fact that he has “cracked down” on immigrants and Muslims and people of color, whom they see as the natural opponents of white supremacy. They also love the fact that they are never held accountable for their vile ideology or thuggish tactics.

Over the weekend, for instance, a group called the Proud Boys — whose members like to wear t-shirts with slogans such as Pinochet Did Nothing Wrong, a reference to the murderous Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet — gathered in New York City for an event.

Afterward, members beat up two or three apparent protestors. Police who arrived on the scene did not arrest any members of the group, nor have they, despite video footage documenting the violent assaults.

This is life in Trump’s America. Violent right-wing groups are now routinely showing up in public, advocating white supremacy, and hoping to provoke, and partake in, violence. The president has refused to condemn these groups, even in the wake of a protest in Charlottesville that left an innocent woman dead.

As the mid-term elections approach, Trump has reverted to his most reliable weapon: projection. “You don’t give power to an angry left-wing mob,” he recently declared. “Democrats have become too extreme and too dangerous to govern. Republicans believe in the rule of law, not the rule of the mob.”

Just as a reminder: the central feature of the GOP national convention was an angry mob chanting “Lock Her Up” in reference to Hillary Clinton, who had committed no crime.

Ron Capitena, left, and Celeste Corbissero, of Ashtabula, Ohio, wear anti-Hillary Clinton and pro-Trump shirts as they wait for Donald Trump to deliver remarks in Youngstown, Ohio, Monday, Aug. 15, 2016. (Gerald Herbert/AP)
Ron Capitena, left, and Celeste Corbissero, of Ashtabula, Ohio, wear anti-Hillary Clinton and pro-Trump shirts as they wait for Donald Trump to deliver remarks in Youngstown, Ohio, Monday, Aug. 15, 2016. (Gerald Herbert/AP)

This is how Trump operates. Every accusation he lobs is a barely-veiled confession. Every day, he works to destroy the last vestiges of civility in American politics. He wants the partisan divide to grow more extreme and more violent.

And most right-wing pundits appear to harbor the same fantasies. You can hear it in the way they talk, over and over again, about civil war.

There is no equivalent desire on the left. There are no pundits fantasizing about what it will be like when America is at war.

Nor are their left-wing paramilitary groups stockpiling weapons, or spewing rhetoric online about initiating a genocide against people with white skin, or fantasizing about government raids, or planning protests in American cities designed to provoke violent confrontations with their right-wing opponents.

Such rhetoric and activism is happening in America — entirely on the right. It’s part of a larger violent, paranoid style of thought that has always existed in our country, and has become turbo-charged in the age of Trump.

Consider a group such as the Oath Keepers, which holds training sessions to help right-wing extremists prepare for “lethal force” at events organized by fellow extremists with the explicit hope of spurring counter-protests.

You can feel the panic rising as we get closer to the election.

It’s essentially a form of real-life trolling that results in people, mostly anti-fascist protestors, getting pummeled.

Beneath all these efforts is a pervasive sense of fear: fear of the shifting demographic tide in America, fear of declining cultural utility, and fear — above all — that democracy will bring an end to white male hegemony.

You can feel the panic rising as we get closer to the election. Scaring white people has proved the GOP’s most reliable electoral strategy, along with disenfranchising poor and minority voters.

They want a race war precisely because they fear free and fair elections.

Related:

Steve Almond Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Steve Almond's new book, "Bad Stories: What the Hell Just Happened to Our Country," is now available. He hosts the Dear Sugars podcast with Cheryl Strayed.

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