We are in a cold civil war

America after the conventions

On this morning after the end of the party conventions, I woke up with this feeling: This is how it gets right before the end — or before a new beginning.

I had woken up early to make some notes for a television appearance. More notes than usual came out. I thought I would share them, more or less as is:

My sense after watching these two conventions is that we live in two countries impermeable to each other.

We are locked in a cold civil war.

Each country feels the other is an existential threat to America. Each sees itself as the carrier of truth and freedom and righteousness. Each sees itself as honoring the founding values. Each says it will keep you safe. And the problem is that we have become a society where persuasion is nearly impossible, where people live in their own castles of reality.

I watched Fox News a little last night to understand what it looks like from inside the death cult. And it is a complete, coherent, airtight, fascistic world.

I agree with Michael Beschloss, who said on TV last night that we may be a year away from losing our democracy. This is not me saying it or AOC saying it or Joe Biden saying it; it’s Michael Beschloss saying it. A presidential historian. A year away from losing our democracy.

Until lately, I haven’t really thought that Donald Trump would win. But after watching these conventions, I dread that he is indeed going to win — until you hear otherwise.

FOCUS

If this cult is going to be defeated, it is going to take the most heroic effort and focus between now and November.

And that’s hard because a lot of the progressives with real passion don’t feel it for Joe Biden. And, frankly, it’s more his fault than theirs. And the passion and energy that you see in Black Lives Matter don’t necessarily land on Joe Biden’s shoulders, because of his record on criminal justice and mass incarceration.

Plenty of people are lecturing those folks to come into the tent and focus.

But, far more important, I think, is Biden coming to them. To speak to the Black Lives Matter movement folks, to speak to progressives, to make promises that, fair enough, do not hurt him with the broad coalition he feels he needs to build, because this is a work of coalition-building, but that ignites loving fury and passion like we have never seen.

I live in Brooklyn. Half the people on the street in the primaries had a T-shirt of some candidate or other. In the general election, I have seen exactly one Joe Biden T-shirt among thousands of people.

This is not the time to blame the non-T-shirt wearers. Between now and November, Joe Biden needs to do everything in his power to ignite a righteous political fervor like we’ve never seen before.

And, yes, in this many-way marriage, we’re all going to have to give something. The progressives are going to have to shift from negging Biden to pushing and pressuring and summoning him. 

These beautiful protests, when they’re at their best, have drastically moved public opinion in their favor. We need public opinion to keep moving that way.

CONSOLIDATION AND OUTREACH

This campaign for the rescue of the American republic needs to fight on two distinct fronts. We need a passionate consolidation and enlivening on the left. And there have been a lot of missteps here — but there is still time to repair it.

And then in terms of outreach to the other side, the approach shouldn’t be the courting of never-Trumpers at the cost of your own party’s soul — but rather a careful study of the right’s ways.

What I saw over four nights of the RNC was a party that is still the most gifted in American politics at reframing increasingly bizarre, dangerous, destructive, nihilistic policies and prescriptions in the gauzy, stirring language of faith, family, heroism, bravery, and liberty.

In modern times, the Republican Party has forced itself into the extraordinary challenge of selling policies that would serve ever fewer people to a majority. So they have learned how to speak to people. This is the moment for the left to really step up on speaking to people.

Speaking to people in a commanding language that is not wonky, that is not hyper-woke, that is not college-sounding, that is not exclusionary and hard to ramp onto, that strums the chords of widely shared values, not ideological stands. Joe Biden is already better at this than many others, but there is much runway still.

It is existential work right now to find the language that will stoke the fire of those who believe most ardently in the cause, and will call in those who believe least in it but patriotically fear the loss of the republic — this language is hungering to be found.

This is how it gets right before the end — or before a new beginning.


Photo: MediaNews Group/Orange County Register via Getty Images