On April 11, 1861, war was in the air. Secessionists from the South were preparing for the inevitable, as were their Union counterparts from the north, though perhaps not quite as vociferously. By this point, though, the impending war was on everyone's mind, made clear by the increasing defections through 1860 of one southern senator after another from their posts at the Capitol.
And now, here we are, 150 years later, at a similar juncture. War is in the air, whether we like it or not. Perhaps because the most recent wars we've fought were able to happen out of eyesight of most of us, we don't tend to associate war with our daily lives, but that's about to change. No one knows what a "civil war" would look like now; would it be an all-out assault of two sides against each other, or a series of skirmishes in pockets of resistance, or something in between? I think it will be the latter, but there's no denying that Something is happening that doesn't bode well for our United States.
The President of the United States, upon his inauguration, makes the following oath with his left hand on the Bible and his right hand raised:
"I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."
Interestingly, the Presidential oath is the shortest of of any elected federal official. The oath taken by the Vice President and members of Congress is longer:
"I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God."
The italicized part of this second oath complicates matters when the very senators and representatives taking such an oath mean different things, depending on what side of the aisle they find themselves on. But given the wholesale departure that most on the Right have made in regards to their commitment to the Constitution in favor to their fealty to Donald Trump, it stands to reason that only those on the Left mean what our Founding Fathers meant. What do you do, then, when the very wolves that threaten the sheep are not only gathered outside the door of the pen, but are mingling freely among the sheep themselves?
The call-out by the owner of the truck in the picture above pretty much says it all. And with this level of outright anger, it's not too difficult to imagine blood being spilled, and not necessarily by people like me (a white middle-aged male, though I would not be automatically exempt), but first and foremost by people who don't look like me. This is why Dietrich Bonhoeffer, after years of wrestling with what a faithful Christian should do in the face of the demonic spell that Hitler had cast upon his country, decided to engage in a plot to assassinate the man. He knew that millions of Jewish lives hung in the balance.
I am not suggesting Bonhoeffer's approach, but I am suggesting that our military consider changing the rules of engagement for the sake of those who stand to suffer most from the totalitarian regime that Trump and his supporters are advocating for. 9/11 changed the rules. So should 1/6. The rules were changed after 9/11 because the perps didn't play by the rules, and the same is true of 1/6. Biden must therefore not be afraid (nor must our sane elected leaders who took the oath above) to defend against the domestic enemies that are hell-bent on sacking the Republic for the sake of their demented vision of a white-dominated, militant Christian State. We cannot become the monster in our attempts to defeat it, but we cannot remain sheep while the wolves are plotting our nation's demise.
People like the truck driver, whose truck was parked in a local store's parking lot the other day, are not folks you reason with, in the same way you don't reason with a drunk. The truck driver is drunk on hatred, someone who is beyond reason because he has fallen under the spell of Donald Trump's personality cult. It is a spell of hatred and fear, of division and rancor, of anger and deceit, and me must wake up and prepare for the war they will inevitably wage against us before it's too late.
My niece was quick to point out that the owner of the truck was calling us "fucking sheep" while driving a Ram. Hilarious irony, and one that points to a deeper truth beneath all the news: that the real sheep are those who blindly follow their Dear Leader, even at the expense of their own lives (no masks! no vaccines! no democratic elections!). The reason you can't placate someone with nothing to lose is because the outcome for them isn't the point. It's the fight itself that matters, a fight they want to wage because of their miserable lives, and now they've found someone to blame, and their seething hatred has been given credence by, of all people, a former President. Now that they have their Man at the helm, they are willing to do anything to realize his vision, no matter how utterly banal and insane and nihilistic it is, even if it means destroying everything this country supposedly stands for, and what most of the rest of us actually do stand for: justice, equality, fairness, civil disobedience, rule of law, recourse through a fair judiciary, compromise when necessary, a willingness to honor the inherent dignity of the Other, a basic trust in our elected leaders' decency and their desire for all of the above. It's called a Democracy.
But with spells like the one cast by Trump and his abettors (the Evangelical Church, chief among them) on largely white and disaffected rural America, you don't try to respond in the form of laws and mandates and then pray that it works. C.S. Lewis didn't call the last book in his Narnia series, which was essentially an allegory of the Christian faith, "The Last Battle" for nothing. No, spells like the one cast by Donald Trump are meant to be broken, shattered into smithereens, and sometimes the only way to do that is to stand up against your enemy, like you might against an unrelenting bully, and swing for the fences.