America’s cultural, political and social division is leading towards the balkanization of the nation – with potentially disastrous consequences.
The Balkanized States of America
What disturbs me most about using this kind of header is what it implies, especially for eagle-eyed critics on Google. The unfortunate truth is that this idea of a “Balkanized” United States has been floated before by conservative alarmists with a bone to pick during the Obama years. That’s not my aim with this essay.
My aim to highlight generally how the United States is heading in the direction very familiar to anyone living in Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Bulgaria, Romania, Macedonia, Greece, Albania, and I’m sure I’m missing many other important nationalities and sub-identities. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll just go with “The Balkans”. It’s also important to note that this isn’t prognostication in the sense that I’m saying these events WILL happen. This is just what I see a worst-case-scenario that no one is recognizing while they’re giving increasing credo to Godwin’s Law with analogies ranging from asinine and cliched to downright offensive. How anyone could even utter a term like “Einsatzgruppen” without a shred of irony (or even with it, for that matter) when discussing our current political situation is beyond even the slightest comprehension.
A Myth for the Ages:
Writing about the Balkans in 1945, Bosnian Serb and Yugoslav Partisan Veselin Masleša wrote:
“The political and cultural backwardness of the Balkan peoples prevented them from seeing the entire political complexity of their situation as it really was. This necessarily led to numerous illusions which assumed the importance of facts and which were then believed to be facts.”
This could very easily be said of the United States at any point in its history, even and especially today. And before you balk (if you’ll pardon the pseudo-pun), think about it: the United States IS backward. Not technologically, not commercially, and not even socially: rather, it’s backward culturally and politically. And that’s not a bug in the software; it’s a feature, due to the software’s youth. We haven’t been around that long and we’ve only really been around on the world stage for about 100 years. When the Balkan states began rising up against their imperial masters, they’d been under the heel of the Ottomans for nearly four centuries. But we’ll return to Balkan history in a bit.
As I write this, it’s the day after the Fourth of July, 2018, and because social media is the way it is, yesterday I was seeing lots of proclamations from people I know of how they were, in so many words, “real Americans”, and it always boiled down to specific zero sum social issues, as if they’re the sole foundations of a society. But because I have a critical eye, I noticed a trend: the phrasing, even in the positive realm, was all couched in how that’s not what the opposition feels. That’s just politics, you may say, and granted, but let me expand on this.
The fact is, the United States and its people have never had a unified vision of what their country could or should be. That is a myth, and not the important kind of capital-M “Myth” that has held our culture together for nearly two and a half centuries. What we have had, at least during the last 100 years or so, is two largely distinct groups (and sometimes more) that have competing visions for what they wish our society to look like. That is what politics is. But somewhere along the line, things started to change, and they finally culminated in the election of Donald Trump in November of 2016. This showed that we no longer have two groups with competing visions of what they wish their country to be anymore.
At the broadest perspective, we have two groups that now only have visions of what they don’t want their country to be. You may hear pundits and hopeless optimists say that they hope for the differences to be put aside so we can “come together” and create a better America for “our children.” This is largely a pipe dream in 2018 and beyond. There is no hope for shared vision to be found because there are no longer any visions at all. This is abject nihilism in its purest form.
In the broadest of terms, “Trump People” don’t want political correctness, rising immigration from Mexico or Muslim countries, inclusivity and equity initiatives and affirmative action, to be replaced by a growing non-white demographic, and a litany of other things. They may say they DO want jobs to come back and other shiny toys they believe their president can give them, but in the end their concerns are with what they don’t want (such as those jobs — as anecdote after anecdote shows — that they couldn’t be bothered to take once the “illegals” were gone).
In continuing to use the broadest of terms, “The Hashtag Resistance” don’t want the rich to keep making as much money as they’ve earned, the use of certain words or phrases, the spread of ideas they find harmful, the continued gradual pursuit of pure equality of opportunity, and the dominion of straight white men (with Trump as that group’s apex) viewed through a lens of absolutist privilege acting as mythical body armor. I’m not even sure what they do purport to want because every time I’ve managed to ask lately, it’s become about “ending” things (white supremacy, patriarchy, Donald Trump, fascism, etc).
But if this was as simple as two sides duking it out in this so-called Culture War, it would be simple to diagnose this as just more of the same. The problem is that it’s not. What complicates this further is that we have two groups that have become splintered into smaller groups, largely thanks to the rise of personalization brought to us courtesy of social media giants like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and so on. We only see what we want to see because it’s catered just for us. And the result is a splinter effect of our already-backward culture, the likes of which have never been seen before.
Everyone is in their own camp. There are Never Trumpers and right-wing politicians opposing the President and Trump People. There are libertarians and even progressives who despise The Hashtag Resistance. That’s not even to mention the political chimeras who simply shift with the times in the direction that makes them the most money; Ariana Huffington was a good prototype for that. Then there are religious subgroups with their own affiliations. There are the Christians, who typically get called “allies” to conservatives. There are Muslims, who get the same blind treatment from leftists despite completely opposing moral values. The Jews are split six ways from the Sabbath thanks to the complex views on Israel both within their communities and within the halls of power in Washington. And let’s not even get started with the atheists who are split between antitheist and apatheist, agnostic and secular, pro-feminist and anti-feminist, and the list just goes on and on. We might even have to include a completely separate category for Jordan Peterson Acolytes. All of these camps are further splintered into the splinters of individuals, all demanding equal representation of their identity and ideas, all claiming to speak for everyone when they’re really just speaking for themselves.
The point is: belief is becoming splintered. Before you tell me that belief by its very nature creates splinters, know that I agree with you. That is the primary danger of ideology. But this is where the changes to our society — the Balkanization effect — is kicking in. The fact that we’re vulnerable to this fate — not one of totalitarianism or fascism on a federal scale — is evidence enough that we’re culturally and politically backward.
The United States has always had maybe not a bullet-proof vest, but we could say a figurative Bible close to its heart when it comes to splits like this. The very DNA of the United States is one of assimilation, appropriation, and integration. At least that’s the capital-M Myth; the important Myth. I know that there are multitudes of edgelords who want to talk about the “lie” of the American Dream, but what they don’t ever seem to understand is that when they play their deconstructionist game with THAT myth, that it’s playing with fire. That myth — the American Myth — is the only glue that holds us together since — thankfully — we are a truly secular nation by design. We have no state religion. We have no monarchy or dynastic family or god-king. And we have no unified politics (which remember we’ve never had). What we have is the Myth that glued us together. That’s it.
Now, we live in an age where everyone is out to destroy that Myth and replace it with their own. The Personalized Myth. As the Myth is further deconstructed by vague cultural notions — of America being made great again or the idea that black lives matter, both without the required specific language to make any sense or be effective and honest— we are not seeing lines being drawn. Those lines have been there forever. The fear of the encroaching immigrant — “The Chinese Must Go!” now being replaced with “Build That Wall!” — and the inequities and difficulties of a slave class’ descendants — a slave class that half of the country never wanted to see liberated— have always existed.
While there are things that can be done to quell these fears and injustices, these things have typically been done within the confines of the American Myth, the idea we’re all in the same boat, that we’re all doing this by the seat of our pants and are forming our collective identity as Americans. Now that the Myth is in a constant state of deconstruction — thanks largely to dusty old 20th century utopian ideologies and nostalgia for an era that never was — the lines that have been there forever have become less fuzzy. They’re becoming darkened, blackened with lead paint instead of a washable dry erase marker.
Now perhaps the deconstruction of the American Myth is more of a consequence of these fears and injustices than a cause. I’m not entirely sure. However, I suspect a debate on this would quickly turn into a conversation about the chicken and the egg. It doesn’t matter what started it because it’s already underway and now this impulse to deconstruct and personalize is feeding back on itself. Perhaps a snake eating its own tail is better animalistic analogy. Regardless of how it started or why it started or any of the other questions that distract people when they get scared about the future, we should be asking the very real uncomfortable question: where does it end?
We’ve heard plenty of ideas, from Andrew Sullivan’s very compelling but I think mostly incorrect notion that we’re heading toward a tyrannical government due to too much democracy, to the hare-brained idea of having California — my resident state at the moment — secede from the Union, to the admittedly hilarious prognostications of an Alexander Jones about a Second Civil War. While I’ll automatically discount the more hysterical notions of a societal end game, I think that Sullivan, Calexit folks, AND Alex Jones all have something in common: they’re looking at future symptoms and not actual, potential end results. They’re looking at the tertiary stage of America’s cultural syphilis infection. I want to look further.
Here’s the truth: all of these prognostications — tyranny, secession, and civil war — are all valid ones. But they aren’t looking at a big enough picture. Let’s say for a moment that somehow Donald Trump has the aims of creating a tyrannical state that goes beyond a possible two terms. What happens then? Or let’s just say the fears of the Trump-zealot population of our country come true and the leftist backlash against the President once he’s out of office is a totalitarian Stalinist nightmare. What happens then? What happens if states like California start to vote to secede? What happens if a Second Civil War does indeed break out? What rises from the ashes of these eventualities?