Marianne Williamson: America's Cold Civil War | Opinion

A cold war is a state of political hostility that stops short of open warfare. America has entered a cold civil war, a redux of our Civil War beginning in 1861, in which the philosophical battle lines are eerily similar to those of the 19th century.

Yet this is a very different kind of war. What some generations had to deal with externally, we now have to deal with internally as well. It is aspects of our character as well as aspects of our politics that will be required to achieve victory.

A stroke of a presidential signature and a constitutional amendment could abolish slavery but could not eradicate racism, just as passing the 19th Amendment could give women the right to vote but could not eradicate misogyny. We're going to have to deal with the root causes of our problems, not just treat their symptoms, if our democracy is to survive.

Our founding principles are engraved on marble walls and written on parchment protected behind glass, yet that's not enough to keep them alive. They're truly alive only if they're alive in our hearts, passed down from generation to generation by those who recognize not only their importance but also every individual's responsibility to protect and further them in our time. Too many of us, for far too long, did not do that. And for anyone with even a modicum of regard for the lessons of history, it is clear that nothing could reasonably have occurred as a result of that except exactly what is occurring now. The only thing shocking about this moment is that so many people are shocked.

The pillars of American democracy are often represented by marble columns, but those aren't the ones that are falling down. They are merely symbols of the pillars that hold up our freedom, and we've kidded ourselves that if those were erect, then we were OK. But we are not OK, because the pillars that are the real foundations of our democracy are philosophical and spiritual as much as legalistic and material. They are courage, devotion, love of country and the selflessness to pursue something bigger than just the betterment of our own material circumstances. And those pillars have been rotting slowly for decades, to the point where they are creaking. Too many accumulated layers of slavish devotion to the false god of mammon among the empowered, and political disengagement among the disempowered, now threaten to destroy us. Millions of us are afraid, and legitimately so, that the roof might, in fact, come down on this magnificent edifice whose strength we so childishly took for granted.

No one thought one man could do so much damage in such a short period of time. No one thought so many intelligent people would disregard any shred of integrity in order to support him. And too many underestimated the importance of Thomas Jefferson's warning that the only safe repository of power in this country is in the hands of its people. Silly us. We thought it was lawyers.

And now we're in a catastrophic moment, with millions of Americans almost paralyzed with fear that the foundations of our democracy—which now that they're threatened, many realize really do matter—might be demolished in front of our eyes. For the enemy is not just at the door. The enemy has the keys. And way too many Americans are actually inviting him in.

Any optimism we once had is now faded, like relics in a museum. First, there was the thought that we didn't have to worry because Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump would rein in his worst instincts; then there was the one where Robert Mueller would surely be able to bring him down; and then there was the one we held onto the longest: that our institutions would surely hold. Sadly, none of those things have come to pass, and it's up to the people now. Our democracy has a stage 4 cancer, and all our political establishment is offering is a topical ointment. No one is going to save us but ourselves, and that will require us to dig deep. We ourselves must be the healers now. We ourselves must be the immune cells that fight off the disease and dysfunction in our body politic.

The healing will not be simple, or easy, because the major opposition to our democracy is not relegated to a particular institution. We're not dealing now with operable tumors, such as the malevolent institutions of slavery, suppression of women or segregation. Today, we're dealing with a cancer that has already metastasized and wrapped itself around healthy organs. The opposition to democracy isn't coming from someone bombing our cities from afar; hell, he's our attorney general.

We need to summon layers of personal power now, from a deeper intellectual understanding to a meaningful amount of courage. We need a holistic paradigm of societal and political change now. For who we are in this moment is as significant as what we do, and we'll have to transform ourselves if we're to transform our country. We need to be braver than we have ever been before.

If you're afraid to say it because it might put you on some list like a McCarthy-era blackballing of suspected communists; say it anyway. If you're afraid to do it because your customer base might not like it and you could lose some revenue; do it anyway. If you're a politician afraid to vote courageously because you're still playing the old political game, have some chutzpah, for God's sake, and vote your conscience. If you're afraid to take a stand for the ages because they might come and get you; stand tall, stand proud and keep standing.

Of course, we need to identify our problems in the present; but we need to identify with the problem solvers in our past. We've had magnificent role models throughout our history. We're dealing with what's simply the latest iteration of a contest that has been with us from the very beginning: a struggle between the most enlightened aspirational principles of liberty and justice for all, and forces that would oppose, nullify and extinguish those principles.

Proud Boys and Protesters Clash
A member of the Proud Boys fires a paint ball gun into a crowd of anti-police protesters as the two sides clashed on August 22 in Portland, Oregon. Nathan Howard/Getty

We're not the first generation to have to deal with violent, politicized forces that would overwhelm our most treasured ideals. But other generations triumphed over those forces and so can we. From abolition to the women's suffrage movement to the civil rights movement, brave generations of Americans pushed back against domestic enemies of liberty and justice. It's simply our turn. We're not facing a challenge greater than what others had to face in their time. Let's pray we won't be the first generation to wimp out on doing what it takes to fortify the pillars, fix the roof and save our democracy from collapse.

Speaking on the hallowed ground of Gettysburg, Abraham Lincoln said the battle had been fought to determine whether a government "conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal" could long survive. Whether a government "of the people, by the people and for the people...would not perish from the earth." We're living the exact same struggle today, for such a government is perishing now. It will take all our courage, all our patriotism, and all our love to bring it back to life.

Our nation has strayed from our founding principles and abandoned the tenets of our democracy many times before, but let's not forget that our historical tendency has been to course-correct. God knows we have strayed again and strayed profoundly. But a grand course correction is now in play. A tremendous battle in that war will be waged on November 3. Individually and collectively, we the people must now step in.

Marianne Williamson is a Newsweek columnist, best-selling author, political activist and spiritual thought leader. She is founder of Project Angel Food and co-founder of the Peace Alliance, and was the first candidate in the 2020 presidential primary to make reparations a pillar of her campaign. She is the author of 13 books, among them Healing the Soul of America and A Politics of Love.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.