The prospects of another American (un)civil war

Trump, the GOP and corporate media are pushing America to the brink. Can they be stopped?

An explosion caused by a police munition is seen while supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump riot in front of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington,
An explosion caused by a police munition is seen while supporters of US President Donald Trump riot in front of the US Capitol Building in Washington on January 6, 2021 [File: Reuters/Leah Millis]

There are probably nicer ways to say it, but when I read that in a 2021 national poll, 46 percent of Americans believed that “another civil war is likely” compared with 43 percent who did not, the only words that came to mind were mutually assured destruction – “MAD”.

Watching from the war-torn Middle East as America forecasts doom and gloom makes me wonder if the country has gone off the rails.

I mean seriously, America, what are you thinking? Instead of acting fast to prevent such a calamity, you continue to fan the fire, recklessly moving towards civil strife, eyes wide open.

If you have forgotten the horrors of your own devastating civil war, take a look at our ongoing bloody and disastrous civil wars, which have collapsed states under the yoke of violent polarisation.

Thing is, you never had it so good in terms of prosperity, freedom, and wellbeing, so why throw all of it away over differences of opinion? Why not manage your disagreements democratically? In other words, why not put democracy back at the centre of your domestic policy, instead of pretending to put it at the centre of foreign policy?

As my all-time favourite American satirist, the late George Carlin put it, civil war is an oxymoron. Indeed, not only war is not civil, but what we call “civil war” is the worst kind of war because of the way it tears apart the national fabric.

Yet, more than 150 years after the American civil war ended in victory for the federal union and the abolition of slavery, more than a few “nitwit hillbillies” are itching for another fight.

Now that is not to say that all those responding in the affirmative in the 2021 opinion poll want a civil war, many are certainly worried, even fearful of such a scenario.

But as Carlin often reminded us, America is a warlike nation and when there are no brown people to bomb somewhere else, it turns inward, applying “war” to anything it hates. So, there is the American war on poverty, the war on drugs, the war on crime, and of course, the war on cancer, the war on AIDS, and of late, the war on COVID-19.

Now that Americans are split, polarised into two extremes feeding into each other, there is an intensifying “war” on fascism and an ugly “war” on liberalism.

These cultural and ideological “wars” are fuelled by racism and inequality and are sure to have bloody manifestations in the form of violent nationwide demonstrations, attacks on public property, bombings of clinics that provide abortions, etc – all of which the country has already experienced in the past. Some even reckon armed militias may appear and engage in mass violence.

All of this begs the question: What role does the media play in all of this? Is it radicalising society and polity through its hyperbolic “journalism by opinion”, deepening the right’s obsession with “liberal tyranny” and the left’s obsession with “fascism writ large”?

Suffering from “Trump withdrawal symptoms”, corporate media is clearly complicit as it compensates for the loss of its golden goose by pushing sensational, even apocalyptic coverage of the divided country he left behind. The same goes for social media platforms which continue to fuel division.

At any rate, the high degree of polarisation, beliefs in alternative realities, and celebration of violence in American society suggest “we are at the brink of conflict”, in the words of one Yale University historian.

According to this scenario, Donald Trump is the perfect catalyst for the cataclysmic dangers facing America, including its outright dissolution, as masses of people move towards friendlier regions of the country to escape intimidation and violence.

Trump’s main rivals for the party nomination to the 2024 presidential elections are his former minions, Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida and ex-secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, who do not pose a serious challenge.

The former president’s sinister populism and solid popularity on the right, coupled with his powerful grip over the Republican party, make him the likely candidate to preside over and escalate the next national crisis come 2024. Trump seems determined to recapture the White House by hook or by crook, and to rule as an authoritarian leader, Vladimir Putin style.

Midterm congressional elections in November 2022 will prove an important stepping stone for Trump, as the candidates he supports may well win primaries against the 10 Republican detractors, who voted to impeach him.

If Biden fails to pass major bills through Congress this year, especially his voting rights agenda, this would weaken his presidency and diminish his popularity even further. Meanwhile, Trump’s supporters in some 18 state legislatures have already changed the rules to gain more control over voting and the outcome of the next elections.

If Republicans win a majority in Congress in November, which seems likely at this stage, Biden will become a sitting duck president, further clearing Trump’s path to the White House.

One cannot overstate the danger of a Trump candidacy, let alone a vengeful second presidency, as I discussed in October. He has captured the imagination of the American white right, stripped the Republican elites of all pretence of decency, and turned the GOP into an authoritarian party, all the while radically polarising the country.

An astounding 80 percent of Republican voters say they believe Trump’s big lie about the rigged 2020 elections.

If Trump & co escape accountability for the January 6 attack on Congress and for their violent attempts at undermining the democratic process, they are likely to feel invincible and empowered to exploit the current tensions and the increased state of insecurity across the country to sow chaos if they lose the vote once again.

Nothing captures the meaning of a Trump “second coming” for America and its ramifications the rest of the world, better than the verse of the late Irish poet William Butler Yeats from his poem “The Second Coming”:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

But then again, nothing is inevitable and all is still preventable. The challenge for America is to wake up to the creeping danger and prevent the brewing cultural and ideological fight from devolving into an all-out uncivil war come the 2024 elections.