Our ‘Cold Civil War’

Angelo M. Codevilla has written an important article in the current issue of the Claremont Review of Books. The piece is generating a lot of attention. It should.

Codevilla sharpens -- and amplifies -- an argument American Thinker has been making since January 10.

Angelo M. Codevilla is a retired professor of international relations at Boston University. Apart from his wide-ranging (and voluminous) academic writings, Dr. Cordevilla publishes frequently in CommentaryForeign Affairs, National Review, and the The New Republic. His op-eds have appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post.

“The 2016 election and its aftermath,” Codevilla writes, “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.” He elaborates:

“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. “

Of course, we see this attitude every day – most recently in the differing attitudes displayed by the U.S. senators towards former acting attorney general Sally Yates' testimony this week. Similarly, in the oral arguments on Monday before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit on the president's proposed travel ban.

Dr. Codevilla elaborates that, since the inauguration:

“Well-nigh the entire ruling class -- government bureaucracies, the judiciary, academia, media, associated client groups, Democratic officials, and Democrat-controlled jurisdictions -- have joined in “Resistance” to the 2016 elections: “You did not win this election,” declared Tom Perez recently, the Democratic National Committee’s chairman. This is not about Donald Trump’s alleged character defects. The Resistance would have arisen against whoever represented Americans who had voted not to be governed as they have been for the past quarter-century. It is a cold civil war against a majority of the American people and their way of life. (emphasis added).

The task confronting statesmen, Codevilla writes, is to keep this “cold civil war” from turning hot. And that, he says, may require a new, pre-Jacksonian definition of federalism to take root. Specifically, Dr. Codevilla argues that:

“Now that identity politics have replaced the politics of persuasion and blended into the art of war, statesmen should try to preserve what peace remains through mutual forbearance toward jurisdictions that ignore or act contrary to federal laws, regulations, or court orders. “

We need, he writes, to limit “the U.S. government’s reach to what it can grasp without wrecking what remains of our national cohesion.” Specifically:

“Much of the heat in contemporary American politics comes from the attempt, principally from the Left but increasingly from the Right as well, to force the entire nation to live in precisely the same way with precisely the same values. Statesmanship should begin by questioning and moderating that tendency.”

The solution, Dr. Codevilla contends, is a return to federalism – including on several issues on which the federals courts have decreed that there must be constitutional uniformity.

Codevilla's prescription would allow red and blue states -- especially California -- to go their own way on red and blue issues, rather than trying to impose a particular side's views on the whole nation via the federal government.

Something Codevilla omits to mention is that the term “cold civil war” was originally coined by the Left in response to Mr. Trump's election. And, be it noted, author Elie Mystal's description of the two sides -- prepare to be insulted, folks; we're “deplorable” -- fully bears out Codevilla's analysis. It was published on January 30th.

Writing in abovethelaw.com, Mystal states:

“It might seem like Trump and his executive branch are conducting a war against immigrants, or against Islam. But that’s just the spin the Trump administration wants you to believe. They’re confident they’ll win a war against immigrants. They know that their bigoted base -- people who are too cowardly to seek truth or nuance about our real threats -- will support that war.

“No, Trump’s real war is against us. His real battle is with American cosmopolitans. His targets are our sense of inclusiveness, our separation of powers, and our belief in the rule of law. Trump is fighting a civil war, and like the first one, the battle lines are regional. Once again, it’s urban versus rural. Once again, it’s people who think that discrimination against others is integral to “their way of life” versus elites who think America is better than that.” (my emphasis).

Mystal, a double-Harvard, states that he quit the law “to pursue a career as an on-line provocateur.” Good luck to him. And now let's get back to Professor Codevilla's thesis -- and especially his prescription.

To be frank, I don't know what I think of Codevilla's solution. As an initial reaction, it seems certain to accelerate what Bill Bishop in 2004 labeled “the Big Sort” of the American people into red and blue states. This is reflected, among other ways, in the steady rise over the last twenty years of so-called “landslide” Congressional districts.

Second, Codevilla's prescription could be labeled as the counsel of desperation. He sort of acknowledges this when he says:

“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… 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.”

On the other hand, we may have no choice. Because, if he's right, we may be running out of time.

For example, much of what Codevilla identifies as the sources of “the heat” would be eliminated if a conservative Supreme Court overruled many of its social issues precedents and simply let the states go their differing ways. Whether that could be accomplished in time to hold the Union together is a matter worth pondering.

So is Dr. Codevilla's analysis.

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