Is Civil War Possible?
Will the boogaloos drive America into a new civil war if President Trump were to lose reelection in November? Or even if he wins?
In 2013, which seems a century ago, I was visiting my Trump family near Lake Conroe, Texas. They had built a magnificent new home in the piney woods. My stepsister said, “Look at this.” She opened a secret door in the walk-in pantry that led to an entirely new complex with a bathroom, bedroom and canned goods. I thought it was an excessive shelter from hurricanes but came to realize that they were on the frontlines of the preppers, a growing movement of Americans deeply afraid that the federal government will swoop in and take their guns.
Back in the kitchen, my fifteen-year old nephew said blithely, “Civil war is coming.” I exclaimed in complete befuddlement, “What are you talking about?” Now I know.
There has been a long and steady drumbeat from armed Americans promoting white supremacy and fascism. Trump is our racist in chief. He stoked the fires of birtherism with Obama and is doing it again with Harris. He’s called Mexicans rapists and locked their kids in cages at the border. He calls black and brown nations shit hole countries. Trump has banned Muslims, and he is building a wall (even if it cannot withstand hurricanes).
Trump mobilizes federal law enforcement against Americans protesting peacefully against racial injustice. He ignores armed militia members that threatened the Democratic governor of Michigan calling them very good people which is what he also called the KKK in Richmond three years ago when a member drove his lethal car into a crowd of protestors.
In a Fourth of July address, Trump said, “Our nation is witnessing a merciless campaign to wipe out our history, defame our heroes, erase our values, and indoctrinate our children.” Trump’s supporters are shredding our democracy, but that is not what he had in mind. Trump fuels white supremacist grievance.
After Mitt Romney lost in 2013, the Republican National Committee concluded that the Republican party “must in fact and deed be inclusive and welcoming.” Instead, Trump has doubled down on a strategy of racism and xenophobia that swept him into office despite losing the popular vote. It could happen again, and he is not alone in that impulse.
But does Trump’s racism, the rise of armed militias and political virulence mean that we are approaching a second civil war? Does the eroding trust in government institutions, also fueled by Trump, lead to rebellion? Does the distrust in our democracy sown by Russian troll factories and amplified by far-right cable and social media provide the tinder for war? Is the spark that ignites the nation a call to arms by Trump after the 2020 election?
There are several troubling scenarios on the horizon in November. Trump could steal the election, with Russia’s help, by manipulating the results, or Trump could suppress votes by making it difficult for Americans to vote in person or by mail. Trump’s megadonor postmaster general is rounding up mailboxes in Democratic cities. This would lead to massive and sustained protests that Trump would meet with his band of thugs, both federal and militia-style.
Biden could win the election, but Trump would claim fraud and not accept the result, leading to litigation, forcing the Supreme Court to once again pick sides. Biden could win the election and Trump could refuse the leave office. In each of these scenarios, Trump could stir up the very good boogaloos to enforce his will.
One hopes that these doomsday scenarios would be met with government officials who would escort the Supreme Dear Leader off of the premises. That is what their constitutional oath would require. Local law enforcement should be prepared to arrest armed militia who threaten violence in Trump’s name.
The enduring task will be to address the civil unrest unleashed from Trump’s pandora’s box. The anti-government fascists, conspiracists, and racists cannot be put back into the box, and they shouldn’t be. We need to address the lawlessness head on. The civilized response to corruption, unregulated militias, and nationalist crimes is due process.
A new Administration must restore democracy to our elections so that the promise of one person one vote prevails, reset the public discourse so that the public square hears facts again, and target Russia and other foreign adversaries with technology that prevents them from attacking our constitutional pillars. America is long past due for a reckoning on racial justice. A truth and reconciliation process could help, but it should not delay racial justice action now.
Years ago, I attended an exhibit of Winslow Homer watercolors depicting the civil war with my stepmother, who lives in the house with the prepper pantry. She said, “That is the one we lost.” I immediately replied, “No we did not. Lincoln saved the Union.” She doubled down, “That is the one we lost.” Our democracy has withstood severe tests before. I have faith our democracy can prevail again.