Judging from the comments on my response to Andrew Blais' question, I failed to make myself clear. Let me try yet again. Andrew asked me how I would imagine a conversation beginning between myself, or those on my end of the political spectrum, and those at the other end. I thought it was a good question because it seems to me that the persistence in contemporary American society of bitterly opposed factions unable to come to any sort of mutually acceptable composition of their differences is dangerous. Since the American political system is designed to resolve conflicts of interests, I suggested that whenever and wherever possible, it would be fruitful to separate out disputes that could be construed as conflicts of interest from those that are manifestly conflicts of principle and cannot be viewed in any other way by the opposed parties.
Several people, in emails and in blog comments, argued that underlying even what appear on the surface to be conflicts of interest lie conflicts of principle, with the consequence that my suggestion would likely fail to bear fruit.
I quite agree, though that is not, in my view, a good reason for not trying. But although I can imagine a conversation between defenders of opposed secular principles that might result in some mutual accommodation or eventual agreement, perhaps by identifying deeper underlying principles on which they could agree, I simply cannot imagine such a result from a conversation with opponents whose principles are grounded in religious conviction.
It has also been suggested to me that those on the extreme right, despite their brave talk of secession and nullification and Second Amendment remedies, are extremely unlikely actually to take up their guns and start shooting. I certainly hope that is true. But I have lived through two-thirds of the twentieth century and as much of the twenty-first as we have seen thus far, and I must say that I am not reassured. Here in the United States we have seen bombings of medical clinics and fatal assaults on doctors who perform abortions, and in other parts of the world irresoluble conflicts of religious conviction have proved vastly more violent.
I am not desperate, although I am angry, because demographically and in other ways things seem to me to be moving in a direction of which I approve. But that tendency makes those on the other side even more desperate and bitter, and therein lies the potential for real trouble. I know there is no very useful comparison to be drawn between contemporary America and Weimer Germany in the 1930's, but I am haunted by the awareness that those living in that sophisticated avant-garde world could not imagine what was about to follow.