The civil war of wishful thinking

I do not think the United States is headed toward a civil war — civil wars are too much work. But it does matter that the dominant American political fantasy of our time is a dream of civil war. The mass arrests dreamt up by Q and the massacres envisioned by its rivals may be exercises in wishful thinking, but what Americans are wishing for matters.

So why this?

One of the functions of conspiracy theories — and of the histrionic mode of political discourse more generally — is that they give us something to talk about while we are assiduously not talking about what is actually going on. And what is actually going on is, more or less, this: The two main currents of American life — the rural-religious-conservative and the urban-hedonist-liberal — have always been at bottom incompatible, but that incompatibility seldom was felt urgently when those two ways of life were in effect independent sovereignties within the context of a regime that was federalist, local, and customary. But the big changes of the 21st century — globalization, political centralization, and the transformation of cultures by the Internet — have all pushed community life in the direction of standardization and homogeneity: Where there had been hundreds of wildly diverse newspapers there is now a handful of likeminded technology giants; where there had been tolerance and even celebration of regional variety in both public administration and personal manners, there is now an exacting political and social puritanism, so vicious that it cannot even leave room for Dr. Seuss; where there had been a complex ecosystem of institutions and relationships, there is a series of crude symbiotic oppositional pairs: Donald Trump populism and Bernie Sanders populism, Fox News and MSNBC, QAnon and people who get their political news from Saturday Night Live.