Every Fourth Turning or great crisis identifies enemies--foreign, domestic, or both--and persecutes them. That spirit usually persists into the subsequent High for a few years before giving way to renewed consensus. In the Revolutionary War the enemies were Tories, many of whom lost their property after the war and had to flee to Canada, and at the end of the 1774-1794 crisis, the emerging Federalist and Republican parties began to treat one another as deadly enemies linked to foreign powers--the Federalists to Britain, the Republicans to revolutionary France. In the Civil War the internal enemies were unionists in the South and southern sympathizers or Copperheads in the North, and animosities persisted through Reconstruction. In the 1929-45 crisis the chosen enemies included "economic royalists," the Nazi and the Japanese governments (and by extension, Germans and Japanese-Americans within the US), and then, from 1946 or so until 1954, Communists and other left-wingers. We are watching the same pattern in this Crisis, but we have failed to agree on enemies, and still lackl the consensus that could bring this pattern to an end.
If one believes, as I do, that the crisis began in 2001, then the first enemy, obviously, became foreign terrorists. The Bush II administration created whole new bureaucracies and legions of private contractors to fight them at home, while going to war against them abroad. The FBI tried to infiltrate them at home and sent a number of people to jail who had done nothing but discuss possible terrorist acts with FBI informers. The FBI meanwhile cut back its efforts on a number of other crime fronts, including domestic terrorism and white collar crime. A few individual terrorists did perpetrate attacks in the Bush II and Obama years--the killing of federal employees in San Bernardino and of soldiers in San Antonio; a failed bomb in Times Square; and the Marathon bombings in Boston in 2013. Islamic terrorism within the US has faded as a threat, however, while our attempts to defeat it overseas, while changing regimes we claimed had supported it, have led to endless wars and foreign catastrophes.
Oddly, when Donald J. Trump came into office in 2017 with a new enemy in view--illegal immigrants--that population had already become the federal government's number 1 enemy under George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Such deportations climbed steadily from about 180,000 in 2002 to a peak of 432,000 in 2012, before falling quite steeply to about 300,000 in 2017. They increased again under Donald Trump, but have not reached the 2012 peak. Meanwhile, the Trump administration also made it much harder for potential immigrants to come into the United States and seek asylum. The Biden Administration now wants to pass a law granting a path to citizenship to illegal immigrants within the US--that is, to potential deportees--but we do not know whether such a law has any chance of passing, or how much the new administration will change the asylum rules again. Trump also tried to turn ANTIFA into a prime domestic enemy in the eyes of the public, but apparently without success.
Now, because of the attack on the US Capitol, a new enemy, right-wing domestic terrorists, have taken center stage. Hundreds of them will rightly be indicted and prosecuted for entering the building, and the FBI is reportedly focusing more on their networks. The assault upon them has extended to a sympathizer in Congress, Marjorie Taylor Green, who has been stripped of her committee assignments by the Democrats in the House (with a few Republicans joining in.) Interestingly enough, this never happened to any of the few pro-Communist legislators in the Congress during the late 1940s, such as Vito Marcantonio of New York. The spirit of proscription lives today, just as it did in earlier crises and their aftermath.
Unfortunately, in one key respect, this crisis is different. Most of the earlier enemies--Tories, Copperheads, and postwar Communists---represented genuine enemies of the United States whose defeat became apparent to all, or nearly all, of us. The internment of Japanese-Americans who had done nothing wrong was a terrible mistake, but when Japan was defeated it was logical to release them and they resumed their lives as citizens. But so far, none of the enemies upon which we have turned the federal government in the last twenty years really represented a deadly threat that was overcome in a clear American triumph. Such triumphs in earlier eras created some kind of new national consensus and reaffirmed national unity. That is still lacking today. We must hope that the COVID-19 virus might play the role of a truly serious enemy that a determined government and public managed to defeat.