How We Got to the Brink of Civil War

Conservative radio host Joe Walsh earned national notoriety by blaming Obama for the police murders. There are other conservatives who feel the same way — and they are largely wrong.

Literally hours before the Dallas murders, Obama gave an unusually — for him — heartfelt speech in defense of law enforcement. That received precious little attention, though, because Obama prefaced those words with unfortunate comments about “a broader set of racial disparities.”

Hillary Clinton followed suit — after the Dallas murders — by blaming “systemic racism” and declaring: “White Americans need to do a better job of listening.” (Only white Americans?) That kind of rhetoric might impress a panel of CNN political commentators, but it is exactly the wrong message. It frames racism as the fundamental problem in American society, and encourages people to interpret events through that lens. It sows seeds of mistrust, when racism had largely been overcome.

In his Sabbath sermon, my rabbi — who works closely with police here in Santa Monica, where the chief is a black woman — lamented the sudden decline of race relations as a throwback to the past. We all went through a common experience, when things improved — why are we being dragged backwards?

And the answer is that our leaders made a deliberate choice to radicalize our politics, unnecessarily. The racism and mistrust followed, because they are necessary to sustain that radicalism.

The Tea Party arose not because of racism, but because President Barack Obama made clear he was going to push through his agenda regardless of the wishes of the opposition or the constraints of the Constitution, and because voters realized that the Republicans, left to their own devices, were not going to stop him.

That’s all. That had nothing whatsoever to do with racism, but Obama and his party found it convenient to invent it — like the lies about the N-word being shouted at black legislators in 2010.

The reason Donald Trump exists as a political phenomenon is that there is a sizable constituency of conservatives who are tired of losing to that. They were tired of losing in 2000, too, but Republicans worried at the time about the moderate middle, and so a “compassionate conservative” like George W. Bush was their response.

The left demonized Bush anyway — partly because the 2000 recount convinced them they could, because he was “illegitimate” — and Obama rode that wave to office.

Trump fights back (though his statement about Dallas was remarkably measured, even presidential). The problem is that there is only so much more fighting the country can take. We abuse social media to fantasize about a dystopian America, and  in the process we are bringing it about.

There is only one way to stop this: to find racial harmony where it exists, and to show it to each other, in every medium — to make Dr. Martin Luther King’s vision competitive again in the free marketplace of ideas.


How We Got to the Brink of Civil War
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