Soft Civil War: What it Means…

Nadin Brzezinski
6 min readJul 12, 2018


You may have heard the term. Carl Bernstein has used it repeatedly on the air in recent weeks. Some of us have used it for years, and the fact that Bernstein is now saying it aloud, on national television, means we crossed an important point. It is hard to deny it now. The country is divided among two intransigent camps, that will not compromise. This is the recipee for a shooting civil war. And while the letters from the second civil war on Twitter were hilarious, the real deal will not be so damn funny.

However, the letters are not unlike the Washington elite taking their picnic baskets to watch the rebs get their asses kicked at the first battle of Bull Run. It was fun, until they had to literally run for their lives with the troops in blue that were routed. I do hope though, that those letters remain fun, and we never cross into the ugliness of an actual shooting event.

Let’s be clear here. The American political system depends on compromise. When there is no will for compromise, for good or evil, the system breaks down. It is breaking down. In fact, you could make an argument that it has already broken down.

We are also moving beyond politics as sport, to politics as war. And in time this war could become the real thing. In some ways the mass shootings at places like Las Vegas may be a sign that this is closer than we think.

Bernstein said the other day that the November election will determine the future of the country, and whether American norms survive or not. I agree with him, the November election is critical, however, I will make a few distinctions.

We have a president who treats allies of seventy plus years as if they were enemies. He treats a person who attacked the United States with incredible deference, (does the Kremlin have something on Trump, or is this about Trump Tower Moscow? Watch this space.)

We have a president who refuses to distance himself from a rabid racist base. I will say it, Donald J Trump is racist.

The man also attacks law enforcement, the media, in short any institution that might hold him accountable. HIs lackeys in Congress follow suit because they are afraid that accountability is coming. I am hardly the first one to ask this either. Could they be acting this way because they were compromised as well?

The hearing this morning in Congress followed on the same pattern. It was a moment of unrelenting partisanship and attacking of institutions that could hold the president accountable. We know Conservatives are getting their judges, but they are selling their souls in the process.

There is more, the inability of Members of Congress who happen to be Republicans to call on the President for his actions tells me that we abandoned those norms two years ago. Or to be far more precise, this became obvious two years ago.

Civil wars, the shooting kind, do not start out of the blue. I know in the American myth Fort Sumpter almost came out as a shock. Those who study the origins of that war, can trace it directly to both legislation to protect slavery, and the increasing divisions in the country. People knew a war was coming easily fifteen years before the first official shot. The Kansas Little War and John Brown were preliminary events, and while usually not considered part of the civil war, they were about the central issue of the war: Slavery. So perhaps, we need more precision and include them in the shooting phase of the war.

We live at a time when people are self sorting politically. People are physically moving to areas where they can be surrounded, mostly, by people who agree with them. The same has happened in social media, where people are self sorting into belief bubbles. These silos are near impenetrable, and are not just along the liberal-conservative divide.

Trump supporters see the other side as less than human. And both progressives and clintonistas see Trump supporters the same way. There is a wrinkle here, clintonistas consider progressives their enemy as well. This dehumanization precedes the actual shooting phase of a civil war.

But we are seeing something else. We see things that used to be in the fringe become more mainstream. Yes, Republicans are seeing a few candidates, taking on their party standard, who are peddlers of hate. And by this I mean members of the Nazi Party, holocaust denial fans, and of course white supremacists. They use different names to call themselves, terms that are more socially acceptable, only because they are not that well known. By this I mean the code of hate is linguistically shifting, but it is also coming into the mainstream. Oh and the dog whistles are no longer silent either. They know they can do this. There is still some price to pay, but not as much as it used to be. Macaca is no longer a career ending slur, for example.

The rise in hate crimes and calls for ethnic cleansing on the part of the president’s followers is also part of this pattern. And some of these not so fine folks are running on cleansing the United States from all Jews. (Fortunately this fine person lost the primary and will not be on the California November ballot.) Or keeping Chicago neighborhoods white, ninety percent white. He is still on the ballot.

We are at this moment because these deep divisions are leading to something ugly. Part of it is status loss, and the fear of such. Demography is what it is.

While it is a sport to blame Republicans because they are racist, a common belief, and there is factual evidence on this as well. I mean it is not as if Dixiecrats did not move to the Republican Party. The Southern Strategy was also of their creation under Richard Nixon.

The truth is that Democrats are also responsible. Let me explain this. Civil wars do not come out of just one side claiming they have been aggrieved, but usually have a second side that has been unable to confront this before it becomes a festering wound.

I am not going to say in this piece if Bill Clinton was a good or bad president. He was a brilliant politician. However, this soft civil war likely started to harden during his years in office. It is when Republicans started to oppose all he tried to do. It is the moment Democrats should have put a stop to it, loudly. Instead they tried to accommodate the right wing and moved to the right.

This is not uncommon in civil wars. One side will give in, and give in, and give in, until there is no more room to give in. It is a rational effort to try to stop an actual war. Those who know history also know that this rarely works. And when it does, the side that accommodated the other loses much, including their soul.

You confront the bully. You do not accommodate the bully. Democrats have been accommodating the bully for now three decades.

So back to the November elections. Anybody who knows the patterns of American political history knows that the party that has the White House tends to loose seats in Congress. Democrats should do well, assuming they run on something and not just against Trump. However, this could trigger violence.

I am not saying stay home and don’t vote. By all means, VOTE. And hope we get new leadership that will confront the bullies. But be aware that if Democrats do as well as they should, and they retake the House… maybe the Senate, this will trigger a reaction from the aggrieved party that has run on fear and hate and contempt for law for the last twenty five or thirty years.

The soft civil war will only deepen, and you must be ready for that leading to violence. Remember, the Kansas Little War and John Brown campaign are usually not included in the actual civil war. We are seeing a spike in violence, including mass shootings. Some are politically motivated, (on both sides to be fair, but the vast majority are still with radicalized right wing males.)

Richard Spencer called Trump the last great hope for the white race. If Democrats take over, that will make some of his people very angry. Some (and before you say it, I know liberals are also armed) are very well armed.



Nadin Brzezinski

Historian by training. Former day to day reporter. Sometimes a geek who enjoys a good miniatures game. You can find me at CounterSocial, Mastodon and rarely FB