Will America Have A Second Civil War?

On 12th August 2017 Heather Heyer attended a protest against the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia By the end of the day she would be dead; The victim of a car deliberately driven into a crowd of liberal demonstrators by a self confessed Nazi

President Trump blamed both sides for the violence in Charlottesville, and a year later liberal and conservative pundits appear to be drawing lines in the sand, echoing rhetoric last seen in 1865 But are the policies of the President really that divisive? Is Trump’s America heading for a second civil war? According to a June 2018 Rasmussen poll, approximately 31% of voters believed a second civil war was likely to occur in the next five years This is reflective of the deep divisions within American society along lines of class, wealth and race A 2017 Harvard study found that 57% of Americans viewed the civil rights movement Black Lives Matter unfavourably Trump’s declaration that journalists are “the enemy of the people” has contributed to increased distrust of the media, to the extent that according to a June 2018 Gallup poll, 44% of Americans believe the news they see is inaccurate

A barometer of this clear division down the middle of America is the election of Donald Trump in 2016 An aggregate of all his approval polls suggests 525% of the electorate disapprove of his performance Alt-right leader Richard Spencer has credited Trump with his movement’s revival in several states across America, the number of right wing militias like the Three Percenters grew by a third between 2015 and 2016 Journalist Sarah Leonard suggests liberals have responded by radicalising

Certainly Antifa members have advocated violence against Republican and alt-right targets, and the New York City group’s Twitter following quadrupled in January 2017 In an environment where there is no moderate standing, another event like Charlottesville could lead to disaster On 2nd April 2018, Sean Hannity announced on his daily radio show, “This country is headed towards a civil war… If Robert Mueller is so pompous and so arrogant… he’s going to ignite a battle that we’ve not seen in this country before” According to Keith Mines, a State Department specialist in civil conflict, the chance of the US

descending into war in the next ten years is 60% Mines cites entrenched national polarisation, a divisive press and weak public institutions as contributing factors to a potential war More pointedly, Mines says the willingness of both sides to resort to violence to solve issues could lead to war As well as the deplorable car attack in Charlottesville, there was an equally horrifying shooting of Republican lawmakers 100 miles away in Alexandria in June 2017 Political statements are no longer made with words, but violence

This strongly echoes the disintegration of political parties and the ideological violence seen in Kansas in the 1850s, when ordinary people decided to take action independent of the authorities The events of Bleeding Kansas were severe enough to make a compromise between pro and anti slavery elements next to impossible, and led almost directly to civil war Today, remarks from conservative and liberal pundits on the Mueller investigation into Russian interference in the US election of 2016 generate similar fervour

During the 1850s, the US had weakened institutions, as it does now, and strong, deep seated opinions on both sides, as Americans do now However the difference, according to historian David Blight, is that the central issue of slavery tore the two political parties apart, as loyalty to state trumped loyalty to party and country The same cannot be said of today Following Trump’s refusal to outright condemn the radical Right in Charlottesville, and his willingness to follow Putin’s lead in Helsinki, politicians on either side of the aisle condemned him This is in addition to strong national forces, such as an integrated, modern military and economy that is fully under the control of Washington, D

C It is hard to see how America’s armed forces would not swiftly put down any civil uprising, or how they might become sufficiently divided to wage war on themselves One of the contributing factors to the sudden growth of the Confederacy was that the standing US army numbered only 16,000 and they were spread out on the frontier

Individual secessionist states however could call on large local militias Today however the National Guard is integrated into the regulars, leaving no state with the ability to call on a large standing force And the differences between Trump supporters and liberals are not insurmountable Glenn Harlan Reynolds from the University of Tennessee suggests, once people break out of their political media echo chamber, they quickly come together Judith Giesberg, editor of the Journal of the Civil War Era, believes instead of a Civil War, the United States is entering a cultural one, with more in common with the nationwide but very focused violence seen during the 1960s, rather than the 1860s

With the benefit of hindsight, it’s easy to overlay a map of red states on a map of the Confederacy and suggest nothing has changed However the unique environment that led to the American Civil War, a world of slavery and muskets, doesn’t exist today Deep chasms have always marked public opinion, stretching back to the very founding of America itself Yet often common ground, and common sense, has been found These are uncertain times and if war does break out, the odds are the Union will survive just as it always has

The question is whether the outcome is worth the price of the generation that would be lost fighting for it

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