Last week, President Joe Biden announced a blizzard of new executive orders. He effectively mandated COVID vaccines for the entire federal workforce as well as all federal contractors and anyone who works at a company that has more than 100 employees. He didn’t consult Congress on any of this even though — and this is what truly separates the boys from the caudillos — both Houses are controlled by his own party.
So while we still technically live in a free country, it looks a bit different than it did before. The executive branch is Joe Biden, the legislative branch is the multiple Joe Bidens Joe Biden sees in the mirror just after taking his prescription Zestril, and the judicial branch is when Joe Biden lurches awake at 3 a.m. barking ‘I am the law!’
We’ve had imperial presidents before, but unlike with George W. Bush’s security state or Barack Obama’s DACA order, Biden’s vaccine decree will be viscerally felt. The imagination reels: unvaccinated Americans losing their jobs, long lines of the ashen-faced outside vaccine centers.
Refract that through Twitter’s psychomanteum chamber and you get what you so often do: more speculation about a coming civil war. It’s mostly red America that isn’t fully vaccinated, after all, and some of that same red America believes the guy telling them to get vaccinated wasn’t legitimately elected. Throw in the coercion that must result from the Biden policy and you’ve admittedly got a rock thrown at a hornet’s nest.
One of the most frustrating things about this pandemic has been the inability of civil servants to balance public health with other values like liberty and civil cohesion. Now Biden is continuing with this monomania. Still…a civil war? Blood in the fields? Brothers fighting brothers? Slow your roll, boys. There are nations that exist on a pinhead, that struggle every day to prevent bloodshed between unalike tribes and cultures and tongues and sects. America isn’t one of them, yet whenever something divisive happens, we insist on scribbling fan fiction about finally bayonetting the pink-haired neighbor next door.
It’s a bit creepy, this, a bit wanton. That’s why its natural home is social media, which abolishes our sympathy and fraternity by flattening everyone into two dimensions on a screen.
There are several breeds of Twitter civil war LARPer. There’s the just-asking-questions observer: it sure does feel like a civil war around these parts, huh? There’s the tendentious academic: it falls upon me to inform you that out of Stephen Ambrose’s and Thucydides’s 210 conditions for an impending civil war, America meets 209 of them. And, of course, there’s the veteran of several World of Warcraft campaigns who’s already dabbing black watercolor onto his cheeks: the time for deliberation has passed!! My side has all the guns!! We shall fight on the subreddits!! Yaaaaahhh!!
Except then the damned civil war keeps on not breaking out. Hence the neologism ‘cold civil war’, which I think most people would just call ‘Facebook on a Tuesday’. In fairness, to anyone who grew up in the 1980s or 1990s, as I did, these times can seem unusually turbulent. But the reality is that those times were unusually serene. Civil war? There wasn’t one during the labor unrest of the late 19th century. Or amid the anarchist violence of the early 20th century which saw a president assassinated and Wall Street bombed. Or when Woodrow Wilson was fomenting hostility against German Americans and pacifists. Or during the upheaval of the Sixties.
There also wasn’t one during last year’s antifa struggle sessions or after the riot at the Capitol. Instead, despite our rowdy and often bloody history, a civil war has broken out only once, and only then for the most defensible of reasons. Even allowing that America today is as tense as it’s been in decades, to insist that the next one starts NOW seems not just sloppy but self-indulgent. C.S. Lewis defined ‘chronological snobbery’ as the belief that the present was by default superior to the past; its inverse, just as narcissistic, is that the present is so much worse than the past, that this is the moment when all internal contradictions begin to collapse on themselves.
Such thinking thrives on Twitter, which exists hermetically in the current outrage, bereft of historical memory. So if there is a civil war, it’s likely to be confined to that medium. It’s also likely to be the most idiotic war in human history:
My dearest @LiberalSlayer446,
It brings me great grief to report that we were routed today at the Battle of OnlyFans after our brave forces were ratioed by the enemy. I have grown weary of this flame war, and I pray that divine providence may bring me back into your loving mentions once again.
As for rest of the country — a mere 2 percent of whom are active on Twitter — they’ll muddle on as they always do. What, then, of Biden’s executive orders? Republican governors will sue; Republican-appointed Supreme Court justices will lie in wait. Civil disobedience will be commonplace. Local police will ignore them, as they have with other COVID mandates. OSHA, which is tasked with compliance, will be found unequipped for widespread enforcement, as it has throughout the pandemic. Grand Moff Biden will prove not so imperial after all.
And many will get vaccinated. That will include in particular the 9 percent of the country that has one shot but not yet two. America is always more durable and self-correcting than our demonic online mirror would suggest. And just because it can happen here doesn’t mean that it will — or should.