America must learn to keep its cool
Published: Feb 10, 2024 12:39 PM
Illustration: Chen Xia/GT

Illustration: Chen Xia/GT

Editor's Note:

In an election year, the world is witnessing a "tale of two Americas," with a growing number of controversies within the US escalating. What has caused the deep divisions in the country? Where are they headed? The Global Times has invited scholars from both China and the US to explore the issue. This is the third article of the series.

A little more than three years ago, America stared into the abyss. On January 6, 2021, a group of rioters could have started a civil war. Rioters - acting on the illogical belief that unknown and unseen forces had stolen the presidential election from Donald Trump - stormed the Capitol. What they accomplished is well documented. What they could have accomplished is chilling. 

America backed away from the abyss immediately following that cold January day. However, the country still remains dangerously close to it. The potential for another spark to be lit is real, yet no one can predict who might light the match.

Before we consider a few possibilities, let's state loudly and clearly that America cannot - must not - come anywhere close to a civil war. The consequences for the country now would be immense and the global ramifications also would be horrible. 

Common sense says that the US cannot afford another civil war. However, in the current dangerously polarized political climate that exists right now, common sense has little chance to prevail. 

With the political parties being pulled ever further apart, we must admit that the executive and legislative branch of government may inadvertently take actions which could spark a dangerous internal conflict. As liberals and Democrats remain locked within an echo chamber, they hear that Republicans want to undermine decades of advances for women and minorities. The simplified message: The Republicans want only White people to again be the rulers of the land. As conservatives and Republicans listen to their echo chamber, they hear that Democrats want to flood the country with illegal immigrants and force diversity down everyone's throat. The simplified message: The left is desperate to destroy the values that made America great. To seek compromise on legislation, a hallmark of Western democracy, is interpreted as a sign of weakness and of trampling on the "values" of that politician's party. It is not ridiculous to suggest that a politician, perhaps in a moment of madness, commits an act so egregious that it leads to widespread violence.

Then again, the caustic relationship between Washington and many of the 50 states might cause the rupture that triggers a war. As just one example, remember that the convoy of people, dubbed "Take Our Border Back," is streaming into Texas, where they appear ready to defend the state from "Brown" people who are seeking entry into the US. A recent Supreme Court decision that required Texas remove barbed wire set up at the US-Mexico border to prevent illegal immigrants from entering the country was interpreted by these people as proof that elites were destroying the country. With the governor of Texas not urging them to back down, one can see how a conflict relating to states' rights could launch chaos. What would happen if one of those well-armed militia fatally shoots a Border Patrol agent? Could the ensuing firefight spread? Do not shake your head and suggest something like that cannot happen. It could happen in America and it could happen this year.

Or might media celebrities be responsible for taking the country over the edge? No credible journalist would seek to inflame tensions, but current and former talk show hosts - consumed by radio or television ratings and online clicks - might. One such person recently posted on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, the following after the aforementioned Supreme Court ruling: "So it's unanimous: everyone in power, from the White House, to the hedge fund managers, to the Supreme Court of the United States has decided to destroy the country by allowing it to be invaded. That leaves the population to defend itself. Where are the men of Texas? Why aren't they protecting their state and the nation?"

A few years ago, such a message might have been met with this response: "Son, those are fighting words. Cool off, apologize and do not say anything like that again." But right now, for roughly half the population, such screeds on social media are deemed to be speaking the "truth."

There is no other way to say this: The dangerous rhetoric being heard around the US these days must stop. And the political class ought to be the ones setting the example. But until those two things happen, the country remains on a knife's edge.

America is still healing from the scars from January 2021. People remember that January day as one that could have started a civil war. To borrow a cliche, cooler heads prevailed then. Will they the next time?

The author is an associate professor at the Department of Communication and Organizational Leadership at Robert Morris University. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn