Although some protesters like to describe their campaign against President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) as a "cultural revolution," it might be more aptly described as a democratic civil war. The crowds and media organizations are firmly divided on the issue of whether to oust the president, and there is little common ground left between the two sides.
This has temporarily brought civilized dialogue, respect for diversity and legal process, rational thinking and democratic procedure to a standstill. People are becoming ever-more entrenched in their red and green opinions and have dug in for a long stalemate. In their excitement, they are set off by the slightest provocation to verbally attack their opponents, scream provocative and inflammatory slogans and even cause physical harm.
Each political faction has devised its own tactics in response to this new social divide. Some people are trying to ride the coattails of the anti-Chen bandwagon, some people are trying to suppress their angry outbursts, and some people are waiting patiently for the most opportune moment to attack. This situation is nothing if not absurd.
But there is more to this "democratic civil war" than the agitation of anti-corruption protesters. If the performance were not directed and supported by certain "facilitators" -- such as a biased media and its blatant efforts to back the anti-Chen camp -- the campaign could not have maintained its intensity for so long.
Many people have high expectations of the anti-Chen campaign -- they hope it will transform from a simple movement to depose the president to a broad-based effort concerned with protecting social values and a truly "new civic movement."
Their hope is that the movement will be able to transcend partisan divisions and bring civic thinking into people's daily lives instead of letting them be influenced by ethnic rifts manipulated for political motives. This kind of civil society wouldn't need to formulate an "exit strategy" or pre-establish a termination date as the current movement does.
At the same time, a democratic populace should also be able to tolerate differing opinions, have respect for others and be capable of self reflection. It should seek justice and embrace reconciliation through realization of an enduring civil society.
But right now the movement has entered a difficult stage and is running out of time. The problem is how to figure out how to get people to emerge from the "red trenches" that they have dug for themselves, return to normal life and begin a truly convincing civil movement instead of remaining hung up on their current narrow agenda.
As protesters become more set in their ideological positions, a resolution to the controversy seems to become more and more unlikely. Whether staging a sit-in in Taipei or traveling the country, this remains a problem for the red-clad protesters. Even though it may succeed in encircling Taiwan, that will still only be an extension of the red trenches.
The unfortunate consequence is that the red and green brigades become increasingly entrenched in their positions and their engagement with broader society has fallen by the wayside. As a result, the ideal of a "new citizenry" also becomes more difficult to achieve.
Up to this point, the "democratic civil war" has been "democratic" insofar as the protests have remained peaceful. Violence has been quickly condemned and contained, but the language used by some so-called "senior media workers" has been very provocative. They drop hints, fabricate stories, mis-report, take sides and rile up emotions -- actions that a professional and responsible media wouldn't even consider doing. This is probably the biggest setback for media ethics since the end of martial law.