Two years ago, the tea-party meme was "Barack Hussein Obama is a socialist." And a "Muslin."
Protesters walked around with handguns on their hips and assault rifles slung over their shoulders. Amid the "Don't Tread on Me" flags was an occasional "It is time to water the tree of liberty" sign. Right-thinking Americans were to "water the tree," as it were, "with the blood of patriots and tyrants," according to the original Thomas Jefferson quote.
A year and a half ago, the tea-party meme was "Barack Hussein Obama is a socialist, Marxist Nazi who, with his liberal henchmen, wants to fundamentally subvert constitutional rule."
And "ObamaCare" was as Marxist as it got. Or as Nazi as it gets, what with all the "death panels." Even though it was modeled on a Massachusetts plan championed by a Republican governor.
SINCE, we've had Republicans in the U.S. House hold the government hostage with the threat of default. We've had Republican presidential candidates hyperventilating about "government injections." We've had another GOP presidential candidate speculatively accusing the chairman of the Federal Reserve Board of "almost treason" and suggesting Ben Bernanke's reception in Texas, were he so unwise as to venture there, would get "ugly."
The United States has lived through other eras as divided, rancorous and nasty as the present one. A century and a half ago, one such era ended with the deaths of between 600,000 and 700,000 Americans. A third of the country lay in ruins.
Having been to the abyss once and fallen in, Americans since have been gun shy when it comes to civil war. No more, not in this present Era of Bat-S*** Crazy.
Today, it's a death match between right-thinking, right-wing Americans of the tea-party persuasion and the evil liberals, whose communist plot has succeeded in subverting our culture. That's what conservative Internet mogul Andrew Breitbart told a Boston-area tea-party gathering Friday, adding that in his less-clear moments he thinks "Fire the first shot. Bring it on."
"We outnumber them, and we have the guns."
JUST IN CASE you think you heard him wrong, Breitbart makes it perfectly clear.
"I'm talking about if they want to take it to the point of a civil war and it goes to the streets, we're the guys that have the guns," he said. "The people in the military, who are not supposed to be political -- when push comes to shove, they're going to be on our side. That's what I'm talking about."
What was just a nasty political undercurrent (and ill-tempered words on misspelled protest signs) now has come out into the open. A conservative media entrepreneur and provocateur now has named That Which Must Not Be Named, and he did so in the context of:
* "Bring it on."
* "We outnumber them, and we have the guns."
* "The people in the military who are not supposed to be political -- when push comes to shove, they're going to be on our side."
CONSIDER, TOO, what is obvious but unsaid by Breitbart. Who is the present-day leader of the "liberal subversion" of all that was right and good about America? Who is at the top of the "subversive" food chain?
It can be none other than Barack Hussein Obama -- President Obama.
What Breitbart rhapsodizes about is a civil war that, given who now sits as its chief executive, would result in the violent overthrow of the U.S. government. And he suggests that it would occur with the backing of the military -- a coup. (See Title 18, United States Code, Section 2385.)
Tea-party "patriots" and those who egg them on, like Breitbart, think it's cute to wink and nod at the violent end of the United States as we've known it since the last attempt at bringing about the violent end of the United States. They think they're being conservative and culturally responsible by seeing the evil of the "subversives" (and in some specific cases, they're correct about cultural trends) . . . and then raising it.
Likewise, they think they're being "constitutional" -- law-abiding -- by walking to the edge of what could earn them up to 20 years in federal prison, toeing at that legal line in the sand and then running off to hide behind the First Amendment.
They do all this so cavalierly, so glibly. So enthusiastically.
THIS IS HOW most people condemn themselves to hell, thinking the whole time that God is on their side. This is how a small cadre of nuts, louts and fools can cast entire peoples into hell on earth. Gavrilo Princip, after all, was just trying to free Bosnia from the shackles of Austro-Hungarian tyranny, right?
He was a patriot. And as a result of his patriotic -- and successful -- double-assassination attempt, "trees of liberty" all over the world got watered with the blood of some 17 million dead and 20 million wounded.
Self-styled "patriots" usually cast us all into an earthly "lake of fire" with years of murderous rhetoric that culminate with a single stupid individual doing a single stupid -- and deadly -- thing. Then comes a harsh reaction. And an even more violent counterreaction.
Then a yet harsher counter-counterreaction . . . a whole self-perpetuating vortex of hate and violence sucking whole societies down into the netherworld.
WE LIVE, in our tenderbox society, during what the Chinese curse would refer to as "interesting times." It is here that tea-party "patriots" strike their matches and wantonly discard lit cigarettes. And it is here that "conservative" radicals such as Andrew Breitbart throw bombs at "the enemy within."
If sanity does not reassert itself -- and soon -- the bombs Americans throw won't be rhetorical ones. And the "tree of liberty" just might drown amid a crimson tide.