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A New American Civil War?

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Experts:

A Rasmussen Report survey conducted between June 21 and 25 found that 31% of US voters believe it likely that the United States will experience a Second Civil War as early as within the next five years. The margin of sampling error was +/- 3% with a 95% level of confidence concerning data collected from 1000 respondents. That such a considerable portion of a massive, declining empire’s population is weary of the possibility of going to war with their neighbors is in itself highly worrying. Just as indicatively, the topic of a “New American Civil War” has now appeared in major Americans media headlines from the New Yorker to Foreign Policy.

Moreover, these results come on the heels of numerous pre- and post-Trump election surveys suggesting that more than 50% of Americans believe the country to be extremely polarized. While this might seem to be an obvious fact indicated by election statistics themselves, the perception of citizens is often much more potent of a force than statistics. This 50-50 division appears in other Rasmussen polls to run across all topical current issues, but these surface-level divisions should not be mistaken for being the alpha and omega. While mainstream media have sought to portray Trump as the main divisive figure, the division of America and the ominous impressions of coming civil conflict run much deeper.

In fact, the very source of why the United States of America “is” and not “are” - the American Civil War - is also a matter of extensive discord and historical amnesia. In 2015, another Rasmussen survey of 800 adults concluded that the 19th-century Civil War still remains a divisive issue between Northern and Southern Americans, yet one-third of these respondents could not answer when the civil war historically took place. If what might have been the First Civil War is overwhelmingly presented as associated with the issue of slavery, then this is meant to distract from the just as important question of states’ rights, which was the second bird killed with one stone. We cannot understate the importance of the 2014 survey which revealed that one in four Americans would support their state peacefully seceding from the federal United States of America. Thus, the federal structure of the US with regards to its state units is one potential front for a new American Civil War.

A second major front of civil war threatening nominally American society is the unavoidable fact that US society is far from unified as “American.” The US has not undergone a successful experience of ethnogenesis - there is no American ethnos. Racial and ethnic divisions in US society are likely to be exacerbated as identity politics movements and declining economic indicators make conflicts, attempts at self-exclusion or even secession, and scapegoating between ethnosociological groups increasingly tangible.

It is crucial to recognize, however, that civil wars are never givens or objective inevitabilities - they are shaped by a complex myriad of actors in whose interests they converge by choice or for lack of a better alternative. Rather tellingly, Foreign Policy itself has addressed the possibility of a new civil war in the US with a whole special “Best Defense” project launched in 2017, whose contributors have estimated the likelihood of such at anywhere from 18% to 95%, with the average, most realistic likelihood between 30-40%. Although one contributing systems analyst suggested that the US maintains “strong rule of law” and that its economy is “good enough” to keep violent conflict an unattractive political alternative for most Americans, economic stability is never a certainty, and in fact it is more certain that the US is heading towards long-term economic decline as its fictitious financial model dependent on global geopolitical hegemony is marginalized by growing multipolarity.

In other words, the question of a new civil conflict on American soil is not a mere question of president in office or the fury of the simulacrum of “democratic disagreements.” It is a genuine possibility which a statistically greater number of American constituents are recognizing. If riots, protests, and other violent confrontations on American campuses are taken as a relative, microcosmic barometer, then it is clear that the generations of Americans that will experience the US’ decline are by no means unfamiliar with confrontational politics on “public soil.”

As we have suggested, however, civil conflicts are shaped, not predetermined. What is fundamentally important to grasp is the nature and consequences of the discourse on the possibility of a new American Civil War. Discerning the increasing likelihood of civil war or the public perception of such is qualitatively different from discerning in whose interests such is or is not. In the coming period, attention should be paid to who is using the ominous rhetoric of civil war: will such be used by federal authorities to justify the increasing “militarization” of security forces and installment of a police state? Will competing Democrats and Republics threaten civil war as a leverage for public mobilization? Will deep state actors invoke civil war in their resistance to Trump’s attempted reforms? Will armed struggle become part of the political programs of race- or class-based movements? These are evermore realistic questions precisely because it is increasingly relevant that political trends in the US be considered from the long-term perspective of the US’ decline. Moreover, one of the peculiarities of liberal democratic models is that certain policies or trends seem to be, or are made to appear disconnected, related only to separate “single issues”, when in fact they are part of bigger pictures that quadrennial elections can hardly be said to cardinally influence.

Finally, it is worth clarifying that in the 21st century and amidst contemporary Fourth Generation Warfare, any American civil war, as a process, is unlikely to resemble the 19th century conflict or stereotypical visualizations of two warring factions. What is clear is that the crisis of the US as a state has all the chances to evolve into a conflict on the North American continent,  and its citizens increasingly realize such. The trends potentially anticipating a Second American Civil War can only be ignored at our own peril.

Author: Jafe Arnold