Opinion: Jim Brown, Are We Headed for Civil War or a Civility Revival?


Are we headed for civil war or a civility revival?

by Jim Brown, Guest Columnist

“God is on our side!”

“No, God is on our side!”

“Trump is wrong about everything. I hate him!”

“Trump is the best. He’s saving our country!”

And so it goes – in Nashville, across Tennessee and our deeply divided country.

Last year, I wrote “Ending Our Uncivil War: A Path to Political Recovery & Spiritual Renewal.” Since then, some are saying we’re heading toward actual civil war. There’s evidence they may be right. 


States are banning travel to other states, and some are threatening secession. Intolerant business owners are forbidding service to customers, based on political or religious views. Congressmen have been shot.

Undeniably, Hammurabi’s Code has taken root. Many want an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. 


Surveys and polls are showing that people are concerned that incivility is rising greatly. That has an effect on Americans’ politics and ability to sustain democracy. 

Oddly, churchgoers on both sides of our national mess are reluctant to turn a cheek, fine with abandoning the least of our brothers or condemning anyone who is wealthy, and adamantly opposed to loving their enemy. In fact, some want blood. They want Barabbas.

We’re in a Binary Age, where nuance is rare, complexity is verboten and sharp political battle lines are drawn. One side blames Pelosi and Schumer. The other side points fingers at McConnell, Ryan and Trump.


To these combatants, it’s an either-or game of political conquest, not fixing immigration, Social Security or healthcare. And I’m sorry to say, the next election, while important, won’t change much.

Our leaders are not to blame, that much. We’re to blame, mostly. We have been baited, gamed and hooked by powerful institutions and people who revel like the devil in recycling one-sided accounts sated with certitude and fear, blame and shame. 

When will we spit the hook and embrace life’s complexity? When will we join neighbors who are more curious and less furious, more scout than soldier? When will we stop believing everything we think?

If we are to end our uncivil war, and God forbid, prevent another civil war, we have a choice as individuals and as a nation.


It requires joining a movement of civility and greater civic engagement, speaking truth to power and making Congress, Our Collective Voice, strong again, seeking diverse viewpoints and proven facts, and celebrating what binds us. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The Bill of Rights. Freedom with responsibility. A republic, if we can keep it.


It means realizing the other guy may be right, as Tennessee Republican Senator Howard Baker said,

President Ronald Reagan and Senator Howard Baker of Tennessee

and that everyone is entitled to his own opinion but not his own facts, timeless wisdom from New York Democrat Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan.


It means heeding the words of a great president, at his first inauguration before civil war ensued, to be better angels.

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies.Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

The path to political recovery and spiritual renewal requires work. We can turn the cheek, but not be weak. We can lift up the least among us, as uncorrupted religions teach, while we respect and improve our laws. We can love our enemies deeply – “agape,” as the Greeks, Christ and Dr. King encouraged.

If you’re still reading, inspired or bewildered, there is very good news, away from the noise, away from one-sided reports of detestable comments by Maxine Waters on Fox News or the obsessive 24/7 negative coverage of our president on MSNBC.

A great bipartisan sea change is underway. I’m seeing it at rotary, book and civic clubs across our state. A rise in civil discourse and civic engagement. People leaving their bubbles. The formation of diverse circles. The regular practice of deep listening. Are you part of it? My plan includes living and sharing a way.

Serve regularly.

Grow spiritually.

Protect speech.

Reform the government.

Make Gandhi and yourself happy, and our country better. Be the change you wish to see.

Jim Brown of Nashville is the author of “Ending Our Uncivil War: A Path to Political Recovery & Spiritual Renewal.” Contact him at jim@endingouruncivilwar.com, on Facebook at @endingourununcivilwar and on Twitter at @enduncivilwar. Learn more about the Civility Tennessee campaign at civility.tennessean.com.