When Domestic Politics Become a National Security Concern

I hope for a lot of things these days. I hope for better things for myself, for my friends and family and loved ones, for people all over the world at large.

But more than anything, I really just wish we could stop having history for just a day or two.

Like, fucking really. Can it just take a smoke break? I’d really like to write one of these about something else for a change instead of whatever event is sucking my soul out that month and it feels like there’s been even more of that already this year than the last couple years combined.

The big event most recently of course was the U.S. Supreme Court overturning its own prior decision on Roe vs. Wade, stripping nationwide abortion rights and immediately putting the lives of countless women at risk. As if this wasn’t bad enough in its own right, it seems that there are troubling signs on the horizon for what the majority-Republican appointee court has its sights on next when it comes to stripping away rights that many of us thought were settled at this point. Needless to say, it’s been an utterly demoralizing week for myself and just about everyone I know.

Now, you may be asking yourself: “KomodoDad, why are you writing about this here? Aren’t you a war guy? Why are you going on about domestic politics?” First of all: if you really are unironically asking that, go fuck yourself, I’ll write about what I want to. Second: all of this is fast becoming a national security issue and that’s really bad and we should all be concerned (that is, those of us who haven’t already been concerned for a long time now).

I started thinking about this on the friday that the Roe decision was passed down and it festered in my head even more over the weekend that followed. I could see it not only in the reaction of victorious right-wing forces celebrating their accomplishment and lashing out further at their opponents, or in the various police crackdowns on people rightfully showing their displeasure at this rollback of bodily autonomy. I also saw it just in the reactions of people I know, a great many of them struggling to keep from saying something that would get them banned off of social media or worse. Even more than I saw during the George Floyd protests of 2020, I’ve seen this bubbling rage coming to the surface in so many people who A.) haven’t been prone to outrage before; and B.) aren’t all necessarily leftists or as far left as some of us are online.

I look at the pattern we’re locked in, with a powerful and vocal right-wing minority continuously ramming through its agenda even when the majority of Americans oppose it, and that majority of people getting more and more frustrated when nothing seems to be done to try and roll it back, and I suddenly get very concerned. I get concerned because I am a national security weirdo, and when I look at what’s going on now and I look at what’s been going on the past five, ten, twenty years, I start to see patterns that if I noticed them in a foreign country I’d be going “uh oh, that doesn’t bode well for them.” Basically, it feels like more and more of our domestic political issues are turning into national security concerns due to their intractability and that’s not good.

I want to stress before I go any deeper that I’m going to try and not make this a doomer piece. I speak every other minute about how I abhor doomerism in all its forms and that’s the last feeling I want to encourage with my writing. But I do want this essay to be something that at least makes you feel concerned if you weren’t already and motivate you to action. I’ve actually avoided writing about this topic for a while to be perfectly honest with you. I’ve seen more than a few articles and several recent books about the possibility of Civil War II and by and large I’ve felt they’ve been scare pieces trying to make a quick fear buck. While I’ve admittedly still had a low-level concern about that sort of thing, it’s been just that: low. I hadn’t yet felt a need to address it. But after this past week, I think I’ve finally felt like it’s necessary to talk about the risk of civil conflict for everyone’s sake because I feel shit like what’s happened with Roe is only going to keep coming hotter and heavier and we need to understand what we’re dealing with if we’re going to do anything about it.

Worrying Signs

As usual, I feel the need to define some terms and explain some of my concepts a bit more. If I casually say “everything is national security now” with no context, that can be taken a lot of ways. After all, national security and national defense do touch upon or are connected to multiple corners of our economy and day to day lives, even if we don’t always see it. When I say “everything is national security now” what I mean is that more and more political issues are rising to the level of contention or intractability where they carry with them a threat of widespread violence – be that violence against civilians, the state, or whatever or whoever else. They start to rise to the level that they’re disrupting or preventing the carrying out “good governance” (or whatever might pass for it) and all the things we might consider part and parcel of being a “normal”, peaceful, functional country. Things as simple as being to go to the grocery store or go to school or wherever without the threat of getting merc’d being off the scale. They rise to that level because their intractability prevents any kind of solution through existing non-violent channels for whatever reason – such as those channels being flawed and broken, or just being plain non-existent in some cases.

This is nothing new (unfortunately). We’ve seen this before to varying degrees. The most notable and destructive instance of this in American history is of course the original U.S. Civil War, where the issue of slavery became so intractable that it could not be resolved by peaceful means and became a violent conflict when the South took up arms in defense of it (if anyone ever tries to tell you it was about “states’ rights” just ask “states’ rights to what, motherfucker?). Other examples also exist at varying scales and intensity of violence. The Whiskey Rebellion of 1791 against the Federal government and its powers of taxation is one example, which involved a large-scale Federal and state military response but very few killed or injured. There are of course, other examples that don’t quite rise to the level of civil war or outright rebellion from multiple periods of American history, such as violence against activists in the Civil Rights movement. Another pertinent example in light of the Roe vs. Wade decision is the history of attacks – sometimes deadly – on abortion providers in the U.S. (which have consequently skyrocketed over the past year in case you were wondering).

So, yes: certain political issues becoming increasingly unsolvable by peaceful political means and becoming security issues as well as political issues is not new. However, whenever it happens, it should still be cause for concern even if its “mild”, because it signals greater problems afoot. In that vein, if you start getting more and more issues that are becoming security issues all at the same time, it stands to reason you should be even more concerned. That’s why I feel it’s even more cause for worry now due to the fact it feels like more and more issues are all reaching that point simultaneously in recent years.

There’s also the matter of the way in which the issues become intractable or contended, because sometimes it creates the false impression that the problem is no one is “compromising” or finding “middle ground” like “adults” (or at least that’s what braindead columnists in major newspapers are trying to get us to believe). With many of our “controversial” issues today, there often seems like there’s actually a majority of people who are in favor of some kind of progressive change or action. We’ve seen this with gay marriage, abortion rights, gun control, and with multiple other issues that we’re told are “controversial.” The problem is that the minority of those who oppose any positive change on these issues are mostly unwilling to cede any ground what-so-ever; with more and more issues are seen by them as being hills to die on (or kill on). Even mild amounts of change are cause for outrage and screaming bloody murder, as we’ve seen with what it took to pass even lukewarm gun violence legislation in the aftermath of multiple mass shootings this year (and the reactions to said lukewarm legislation from some on the right). Every single political battle becomes one that these reactionaries want to fight to the death over (both figuratively and – increasingly – literally).

And that’s what they are: reactionaries. Don’t let these people fool you into thinking that they’re only “conservatives.” This is not to say that conservatives are necessary “good”, but this just isn’t what they are. A philosophical conservative (on paper) isn’t supposed to necessarily be opposed to all change, but only wants gradual, limited, incremental change (the subtext here for anyone on the left of course, being, that they want that change so that they can “manage” it and maintain power and privileges in the process). But reactionaries want to actively turn the clock back and re-fight past battles that they’ve lost. It’s not just good enough for them to slow down change or even halt change, they want to go back and undo change to fit their own worldview.

The Rachet Effect of Rage

Therein lies another problem, because the deadlock we’re in isn’t really even strictly a deadlock. Movement is certainly possible, but it feels as if the only movement we can achieve lurches us further to the right. You’ve probably heard this described before by people more politics savvy than I am: the idea of the rachet effect; where the design of the political system prevents moving back to the left and only allows movement to the right. It becomes harder and harder to dismiss as you have the Democratic Party – the supposed guardians against the sort of setbacks we’re experiencing (if their campaign literature is to be believed) the party currently in power, failing to do anything to substantively improve our material conditions while continuing to allow the right to drag us further into their corner despite not even supposedly being in power anymore. The Democratic Party seems fundamentally incapable of exercising power once it has notionally achieved it, while the Republican Party has spent the last two to four decades building up power and institutions in such a way that it can continue to wield power even when it is – on paper – still in the opposition.

That brings us to the situation we’re in. Where when we’re not at a standstill, we’re being ratcheted further to the right with various court challenges and other manipulations of the structures of power by the right. Any attempt to move further to the left is blocked or thwarted by the mechanisms developed by the intractable and reactionary right – be it the Republicans or various other far-right groups that have sprung up like mushrooms in the past decade – and aided by the incompetence, unwillingness, or even outright complicity of the liberal establishment. This is a situation that has left many – myself included – feeling disenfranchised and powerless to act on our own or to convince those in power to act positively.

You may not remember, but I’ve written about this sort of thing before in a different context, when I discussed insurgency and counterinsurgency and our failings in understanding it. Insurgencies, rebellions, civil wars – all the various kinds of intrastate violence, start when domestic political grievances become unresolvable by peaceful means. Eventually, at least some of those who are advocating those grievances – after it’s become clear they have no way of affecting change or even negotiating for the possibility of change under the current systems – feel that they are forced to take up arms and use violence in order to do so.  

Maybe now, if you weren’t already concerned with the buildup of impotent rage many in this country are feeling at the same time that those on the right seem more than willing to resort to violence to drag us back in time and keep us there, you might start to understand why I am.

As the right dig in deeper with their extreme stances, you have the opposing current of everyone else who want change slamming up against them. While the right stands as a bulwark against change while shoving everyone else backwards, the frustration and the rage of everyone else builds. What happens when you have more and more people who aren’t somewhere to the right of Genghis Khan increasingly feel they have no other way to try and stop it or to improve things the way the system is currently constituted? What happens when they feel voting does nothing, that politicians aren’t willing to engage with them, and where it feels like any other response ends up with them being beaten and tear gassed? You can fill in the blanks. It’s not good.

All is Not Lost

If you know me, you know I don’t like treating the future as written in stone. Time is not, in fact, a flat circle. We do all still have agency. We can still affect things in the world around us. We are not absolutely doomed to a certain large-scale conflagration of civil violence and destruction along with all manner of other misery. We are not completely powerless to stop events. There are reasons for hope. But if things don’t change in a big way, if enough people don’t act and soon, we’re definitely on the road to something bad.

I have no idea what that something could potentially be and no one else can be absolutely sure either – so if anyone else tries to give you any prediction other than a series of plausible possibilities, take it with a large grain of salt. I don’t want to get too deeply into those because I don’t want to scare or depress you any more than you absolutely need to be right now. All I will say is it could be anywhere from something as high-key and violent as the Syrian Civil War, to something more on the level of Italy’s “Years of Lead” or the Northern Irish “Troubles.” A lot of that really depends on what happens more in the years to come/years preceding any hypothetical conflict (which again, is not certain to occur). But even if only the “less bad” types of civil conflict break out, it would still be horrific for large swathes of society and the world at large. We shouldn’t want any of that in any shape or form.

Again, I try not to be alarmist or doomsaying – the exact opposite, in fact. What I’m telling you today is not meant to fill you with dread for the sake of dread; it is not meant to black pill you or turn you into a nihilist or a doomer. What I want to do is simply drive home the seriousness of the times we’re in – to reinforce what the last few years have taught us: that this is not just a game, or a temporary phase that will eventually fizzle out on its own. We are, in fact, in a real crisis. We are in a Wikipedia article that has not been written yet – or exists and is going to be retitled sometime in the near-future. How that article will read in the future is on all of us. This is meant to be a drive to action to try and improve this situation and prevent it from spiraling further out of control, not an attempt to get fear clicks and paralyze you with foreboding. We need to channel our fear, our anger, our frustration; channel it into meaningful action.  

Part of me isn’t entirely convinced we’re not already well into the early stages of what might be some kind of civil conflict. That with all the mass shootings, street brawls, and other violence, we may already be in some kind of “Years of Lead” or “Troubles” or Weimar Republic-esque disorder. If that’s the case, that only reinforces the call to action to make sure that the conflict we may or may not already be in does not progress to more destructive phases – not only destructive for us as people living in this country, but destructive for the effects it would undoubtedly have on the entire world due to the centrality of the United States in its day-to-day affairs. We owe it to not just ourselves, but to all people everywhere out of solidarity.

What are some of the things we can do now? A lot of the things we need to do are things people have already been telling us to do and that we need to double down and commit more to as we move ahead. Getting to know your neighbors and your community and participating in mutual aid; joining, starting, and supporting progressive organizations be they labor unions, advocacy groups for specific topics or general change, or organizations that help people get resources that they may not be able to usually access; participating in direct action and pressure campaigns when necessary; also, while we’ve learned that voting alone doesn’t bring about change, I’d still say that it’s something we cannot ignore as a too (I’m not going to give you an electoralism lecture because I don’t buy into that myself, but voting isn’t a useless gesture and is critical to prevent more backsliding, with some of the progressive victories we’ve seen this year being proof of that).

I know that last paragraph is a very generalized, non-specific list of suggestions. In my defense, at the end of the day, I am still a national security and international relations professional, not a domestic political animal. There are people out there you can and will give you more specific and helpful advice on this front that I can. I just want to make sure that you’re taking home that there is a real urgency to seek out said advice and guidance and act on it. All is not lost, do not despair; but know that the pressure is real and the need for action is real. I leave you with this: all of our lives have intrinsic value; when something has value, you fight to defend it.

Stay safe out there and keep on keeping on.

Photo Credit: United States Department of Agriculture (yeah I don’t know why they’re the ones taking photos of the Supreme Court either but that’s what the credit on Wikimedia said)

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