A Fork In the Road is Coming
As most of you know, I served on active duty as a USAF Security Policeman from 1984-1993. Three of those years were spent in Brunssum, The Netherlands, working on the International Military Police force at Headquarters, Allied Forces Central Europe (AFCENT, now known as AFNORTH). I noticed an interesting phenomenon while I was there. As any policeman know, sometimes, you have some unpleasant interactions with members of the community you serve. In general, those actions end up with you forcing that person to do something the really do not want to do.
In my experience, this type of unpleasantness usually occurred when dealing with a German, or an American. But there was something interesting about the outcome. When you forced a German to do something, every time they saw you after that, they would approach with a smile, “Hello, my friend! How are you?” It was almost as if they’d discovered during the confrontation where they stood in the pecking order related to you, and henceforth treated you with respect and friendliness.
Americans, on the other hand, didn’t react that way. Once a confrontation had gone against them, then every time they saw you after that, they’d shoot angry glares at you. Maybe they’d remark to a friend, “See that MP over there? He’s a dick.” Once you’d had that confrontation with an American, you were never going to be friends.
Frankly, Americans resent authority. We accept some measure of it as a necessary evil most times, but there are limits. We can be pushed, often quite far, but when we reach a certain tipping point, enmity quickly flares. We can have quite heated arguments as equals, then knock off and have a drink. But once we have a heated argument, then are forced to do something we don’t want to do…well, we don’t like it.
That piece of our national character is being tried this month.
Over the past couple of days, we’ve seen arguments about national health care erupt into incidents of local violence. Yes, we yelled at each other bit back in 2005 or so, when Social Security reform was on the table. But now we’re seeing thugs in SEIU T-shirts showing up and throwing punches at people who are gathered to demonstrate against the current version of health care reform. We’ve seen a local Democratic Party apparatchik shove a demonstrator in the face. Billy Beck has often said it, and now he’s saying it again: “You have always heard it here first: All politics in this country now is just dress rehearsal for civil war.”
At this rate, I’m afraid that it’s going to become painfully obvious that a large number of people in this country are not going to politely doff their caps to the local SEIU grandees, once they’ve learned their lessons like good Germans. Quite the reverse, in fact.
I’ve also said before–and every time I do, people like Oliver Willis call me crazy for saying it–we’re preparing this country to split apart. There are two political camps in this country: collectivists, and and indvidualists. (Forget party labels. The parties are, at best, loose approximations of those two camps.) It’s a fairly even split between the two camps. And the fundamental philosophies of those two camps have become irreconcilable, for a number of reasons, but primarily as a result of centralization of power in Washington.
Of course, the two philosophies have always been incompatible, but in a more federated America, the incompatibility didn’t matter as much. People in Wisconsin could be as progressive as possible, and no one in New Mexico cared much. And if people in Wisconsin or New Mexico didn’t like the local political climate, they could just move to somewhere whe the climate was more to their liking. But with the arrogation of so much power by Washington, that’s no longer an option. In a federal system, nobody in Texas much cares if some yankees in a state far away set up The People’s Autonomous Oblast of Massachussets. But if Bostonians think that some Alabama ‘seed in Washington is gonna force them to dance while handling snakes and speaking in tongues…well, you can’t square that circle.
Unfortunately, if the solons in Washington declare we must do X, there’s no way to escape the consequences of that decision. And so, every political decision is now fraught with national, rather than local consequences. As a result, the incompatibility between collectivists and individualists is reaching a boiling point. The centralization of power in Washington, and the nationalization of practically every domestic issue, has done nothing but poison our politics, and degraded our political discourse.
This has happened once before in American history. Between the founding of the country and the 1850s, Slavery moved from an issue of local sovereignty to a national moral issue. And as abolitionists gained power in both the house–and especially the Senate–it became clear to the Southern states that the abolition of slavery by Congress was inevitable. Once that happened, given the temper of the times, secession was inevitable as well.
Whether the Civil War was inevitable is a matter of debate. I tend to think that the peculiar character of Lincoln made it so. Given a different president, we might have two very different nations–and probably more, in what is now the United States.
By the same token, I don’t believe we are in for a shooting war between the Red and Blue states. Quite apart from the fact that people in the red states tend to be the people with all the guns, there seems to be a declining interest in both Red and Blue states to live under the same political regime. Blue staters are increasingly uninterested in delaying their march to Utopia by having to make concessions to Bible-thumping, gay-hating hayseeds, and Red staters are not willing to live in a Peasants’ and Workers’ Paradise run by Godless, unborn-baby-killing Commies.
We’re already struggling with the nearly impossible political task of how to reconcile two irreconcilable philosophies under a powerful central government. Having union thugs show up and deliver beatings and intimidation is only going to raise the anger level among Americans who feel they are being forced to do something they don’t want to do, increase their resentment, and push the country closer to dissolution.
And this won’t be a case like 1860, where 70% of the country successfully forced their will on the remaining 30%. We’ve got a nearly even 50-50 split between those two philosophies now. We’re too evenly divided to make force an easy, or even viable option. If things keep going in this direction, then I think we’re on the way to divorce court, where we’ll be citing “irreconcilable differences”.