The Cold Civil War by Angelo M. Codevilla.
As the Ancients remind us, the statesman’s primary concern must be the good of his own nation. In revolutionary times especially, thoughts, words, and deeds about international affairs must be subordinated to internal needs. That is the primary meaning of “America First.” But because “America First” has an equally compelling meaning internationally, it also implies taking seriously what the United States might do for itself vis-à-vis foreign nations—beyond simply using them as weapons in domestic battles, as so many politicians and commentators do today in what passes for discussion of Russia policy.
America is in the throes of revolution. The 2016 election and its aftermath reflect the distinction, difference, even enmity that has grown exponentially over the past quarter century between America’s ruling class and the rest of the country. During the Civil War, President Lincoln observed that all sides “pray[ed] to the same God.” They revered, though in clashing ways, the same founders and principles. None doubted that those on the other side were responsible human beings. Today, none of that holds. Our ruling class and their clients broadly view Biblical religion as the foundation of all that is wrong with the world. According to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, “The phrases ‘religious liberty’ and ‘religious freedom’ will stand for nothing except hypocrisy so long as they remain code words for discrimination, intolerance, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, Christian supremacy, or any form of intolerance.”
The government apparatus identifies with the ruling class’s interests, proclivities, and tastes, and almost unanimously with the Democratic Party. As it uses government power to press those interests, proclivities, and tastes upon the ruled, it acts as a partisan state. This party state’s political objective is to delegitimize not so much the politicians who champion the ruled from time to time, but the ruled themselves. Ever since Woodrow Wilson nearly a century and a half ago at Princeton, colleges have taught that ordinary Americans are rightly ruled by experts because they are incapable of governing themselves. Millions of graduates have identified themselves as the personifiers of expertise and believe themselves entitled to rule. Their practical definition of discrimination, intolerance, racism, sexism, etc., is neither more nor less than anyone’s reluctance to bow to them. It’s personal.
On the other side, some two thirds of regular Americans chafe at insults from on high and believe that “the system” is rigged against them and, hence, illegitimate—that elected and appointed officials, plus the courts, business leaders, and educators are leading the country in the wrong direction. The non-elites blame the elites for corruptly ruling us against our will, for impoverishing us, for getting us into wars and losing them. Many demand payback—with interest.
So many on all sides have withdrawn consent from one another, as well as from republicanism as defined by the Constitution and as it was practiced until the mid-20th century, that it is difficult to imagine how the trust and sympathy necessary for good government might ever return. Instead, we have a cold civil war. Statesmanship’s first task is to prevent it from turning hot. In today’s circumstances, fostering mutual forbearance may require loosening the Union in unfamiliar and unwelcome ways to accommodate differences that may otherwise become far worse.