Un-American, The New Patriotic
Over at Salon there is a worried entry about the increasingly close association between American Evangelical Christians and secessionist kooks, exemplified by Bobby Jindal’s recent waxing poetic about a coming violent overthrow of the Federal Government. With high-level public officials feeling increasingly free to state, publicly and explicitly, that they would like to dismantle this country for not being Jesusy enough (and presumably exterminate the ideologically non-conforming, which is what Jesus buried all those fossil fuels in Red States for), I can see how one can become nervous about a possible violent insurrection. But I am going to go out on a limb here and say: relax, it’s more likely to be an infuriating slow burn than a big scary explosion.
Much as I hate to predict the course of history — because history is essentially unpredictable, except in retrospect — I would cautiously say a civil war is extremely unlikely. If the whole Cliven Bundy incident looks like a wingnut success, it’s because the Federal Government never really put those blowhards’ feet to the fire. Look at American evangelicals, how they live, what they say, and ask yourself how far those people would be willing to stick their necks out if push really came to shove. For all their anti-government bluster, no group is more deeply invested in maintaining the status quo and upholding their privilege by means of governmental coercion.
It is unlikely even if you allow for the very real possibility — as I do — that fanatics do not always act in their own best interest. I have a hard time picturing those misshapen sacks of half-digested meatloaf take on real hardships of war — the privation, the discomfort, the constant threat of death with no end in sight. Can those people really do anything except run their filthy mouths? As far as killing things, they are all about shooting those who can’t shoot back. That, and mock warfare, of course — ridiculous Civil War reenactments, where the biggest danger is someone getting winded from lack of exercise or experiencing an acute case of sodium withdrawal. They spend a day or two playing these childish games, which normal people outgrow by their teens, then get back into their air-conditioned SUV’s and drive (along a safely paved, government-maintained road) to the nearest Cracker Barrel, to talk tough over cheesy dips and country-fried steak. No way in hell are those people going to accept hunger, discomfort and a real threat of death — not for Jesus, not for anything.
(I am often told most people who actually do have military training in this country are conservative. That may be. But there is a big difference between being a political rage monkey and being prepared to suffer and die selflessly for a cause. If people are willing to serve in the US military, I think major factors informing their decision include some measure of economic security, the finite scope of their service, and the existence of a relatively comfortable place to return to. Take the money and the bennies and a peaceful homeland out of the equation, and see how radically it will change the calculus. Fighting an indefinite, interminable war, likely underfed, underclothed and unpaid, on your own soil, in exchange for banning science in schools and securing the right to flog people in the public square for how they use their genitals? Plus, if you lose, disgrace would be the least of your problems. If that prospect ever became real, I doubt too many soldiers would get excited about it.)
Religious conservatives may long for martyrdom — the necessity of personal martyrdom is, after all, hardwired into the Christian ethos — but given how acutely they react to mere disagreement, I’d say their bar for what amounts to being martyred is comically low. Most of them consider themselves martyrs just by virtue of people saying mean things to them, so I don’t think they’d feel a religious duty to make bigger sacrifices than being subjected to a difference of opinion on the Internet.
There is also the fact that, for all the vocal bluster of religious conservatives, American society is increasingly secular. True, atheism is still viewed askance, but more people than ever admit to not practicing religion and to have essentially no sincere belief in God. Acceptance towards the non-observant (if not avowed atheists), people of other faiths and gay people is at an all-time high. There does not seem to be a critical mass of fundie conservatives necessary to topple the American government or to effect a secession.
What I do believe is likely is an increased incidence of random acts of terrorism. Conservative pundits direct their violent and rapey talk to the woods, hoping to rile that one blockhead lurking among the multitudes enough that he will blow up a clinic, or shoot up a school or murder a CDC worker, so that their conservative base, firmly ensconced in their Lay-Z-Boys, can have a collective orgasm. And then, a blissful afterglow along the lines of “Something something women sleeping around instead of getting married off at 15 like in the blessed Old Days, something something Hollywood, something something taking God out of schools, something something blax, blah blah blah he was really a liberal even though he wasn’t, no he totally was, kill all Muslins, the end.” That, combined with enacting reactionary and blatantly unconstitutional legislation at state, municipal and county levels, is the pattern to which American religious conservatives have grown accustomed, and in which they are most comfortable. They’ll go with that for the foreseeable future.
In sum, they will take disrupting America’s society and undermining its government from within, while openly calling for its violent dissolution, over the inconvenience of an actual armed rebellion. Though, to be quite honest, I am not sure which is worse.