When the 2011 Occupy movement sparked and flared and, in short order, fizzled out, a lot of people said "well, that's that." I didn't see it that way. That such a haphazard, diffuse and relatively aimless movement had mobilized so many young Americans to come together and voice their outrage and dissent was a huge achievement in its own right. It was a failure, of sorts, but what else could it be, how else could it have wound up? That was not a "storm the Bastille" crowd. And those who wrote its obituary never mentioned one thing - the grievances that had motivated those crowds had not been resolved. The unhealed wounds would continue to fester. They would or some other movement would return only, next time, it might be a far less tranquil gathering.
Then along came the counter-movement, the Tea Party, an outpouring of profoundly stupid people who embraced everything from xenophobia, nativism, misogyny, racism, fear, paranoia and every base instinct known to humankind - in other words, Trump people. He played them like a fiddle, fed them steaming horseshit by the wheelbarrow and the Gullibillies scarfed it down with relish.
Trump won the election, barely, in an electoral-college way, but only with a lot of outside manipulation. The Russians, yeah; Wikileaks, yeah; Robert Mercer and Cambridge Analytica, yeah; voter suppression and manipulation (i.e. vote tampering), yeah; an unpopular Hillary Clinton, yeah; that uppity black guy with his fancy talk who didn't know his place, yeah; the NRA, yeah; the Klan, yeah; a thoroughly gerrymandered nation, yeah. All of this and the Mango Mussolini still lost the election by three million votes.
For years, decades, American society has been deeply divided; dangerously so at least as far back as the "hanging chads" election that brought Bush/Cheney to power. The country seemed to come together after the 9/11 attacks but not for long.
It's not easy to figure out America, to make sense of that nation-state. All countries, almost all countries, evolve with time. The constantly changing world alone sees to some of that. When I look at the United States, I see three Americas. It can look like a three act play. Sometimes it can look like a succession of three countries, three Americas: America, America 2.0 and now America 3.0.
In my mind the first is evolutionary America that spans from 1700 through the post-Civil War reconstruction to about 1900. It was when America went from colonies to a nation with an agrarian south and a mercantile north before expanding ever westward to the Pacific and the annexation of Mexico's northern territories.
That morphs into America 2.0, its greatest era. That was the 20th century that brought all the seismic events that really forged the United States and brought it to global hegemon, the uni-polar superpower. A century steeped in fire and blood. The Great War, the early progressive movement, the Great Depression, World War II, the progressive revival and the post-war emergence of the greatest, most broad-based and robust middle class the world has ever known capped off by the advent of neoliberalism, the harbinger of America's slow decline.
The new millennium ushered in America 3.0, the chapter that's unfolding now before our eyes. The arrival of wars without end, PermaWar. The military-industrial-neoconservative-Christian fundamentalist-corporate (for profit) warfighting complex. The metastasizing malignancy of inequality and the corruption of both the legislative and judicial systems. The triumph of a politicized corporate media that serves to confound, distract and manipulate rather than inform. The decline and potential extinction of democracy displaced by a modern variety of fascism. How did America become Amerika in scarcely half a century?
I was going to begin spewing out quotes from the "two Toms" - Jefferson and Paine about freedom and revolution and such but something curious happened. As I surfed around for links to my favourite quotes, the grand wisdom, I found that most everything I thought applicable to America's current contagion had already been latched onto by the Gullibillies in support of their arguments, even the wildest of their conspiracy theories.
Decades of enduring the excesses of TV evangelists should have taught me that even the Bible, especially the Old Testament, can be shamelessly cherry-picked to seemingly justify any nonsense. If you want to kill your unruly kid, it's in there. Keep slaves? It's there too.
While we come at it from different perspectives, a popular Jeffersonian injunction for all sides is his suggestion that the survival of American democracy will probably require periodic revolution. It turns out the Gullibillies are perfectly down with that idea. Then again they're probably okay with ethnic cleansing too, a means of restoration of white rule in America.
From time to time over the past half dozen years I've stumbled across news accounts and other mention of an American re-match, a second Civil War. Surely America is more divided than it has been since the bombardment of Fort Sumter in 1861. It's no simple north/south; blue/grey division this time. America today may be threatened by multiple fault lines, some of them blurry.
Chuck Thompson is his sometimes humorous book, "Better Off Without 'Em, a Northern Manifesto for Southern Secession" contends that his United States could be a much happier place if Blue State and Red State America separated amicably. One reviewer described it "as if Kevin Phillips 'American Theocracy' were being narrated by Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi." Thompson maintains that the cultural, political and social divides were not healed by the Civil War and remain too deeply ingrained, holding back both Red State America and Blue State America. The book earned mixed reviews and plenty of scorn yet few critics were willing to dismiss it out of hand. Here's the New York Times' take on Thompson's book.
Chris Hedges describes America today as simmering in a "pre-revolutionary state." Hedges doesn't advocate revolution. He knows enough about the history of revolutions to realize that they rarely end well, even if they succeed. If you need to brush up on the subject a decent early primer is found in Crane Brinton's "Anatomy of Revolution" which, handily, is available free here in pdf.
But revolution and civil war are not identical. There can be a lot of overlap but they can also be somewhat distinct, especially in this era of "new war," the confused, pile-on conflicts that can include state actors, quasi-state actors, religious and tribal factions, rebels, insurgents (no, they're not the same), even criminal gangs, each often pursuing their own and shifting agendas.
Now I understand that, to most of us, the idea of America, the most advantaged country of all transforming into a failed state, descending into another civil war must sound ridiculous, impossible. If you feel that way I won't argue the point. I will, however, list some sources you might find helpful. Or you can Google "is America heading for a civil war" and start wading through 26,900,000 results. This question is on a lot of people's minds.
"Is America headed for a new kind of civil war?" - The New Yorker, August, 2017.
USA Today asks, "Is America headed toward a civil war?" June, 2018. That same day the paper ran a story about Representative Steve King (R. Iowa) who opined: "America is heading in the direction of another Harpers Ferry," the controversial conservative tweeted Sunday. "After that comes Ft. Sumter."
Even Foreign Policy has waded into the civil war debate. The magazine's survey of "national security experts" put the prospect at 30%. In a follow-on piece, Foreign Policy tried to imagine what a neo-Civil War might look like and concluded, as I did, that it would be something of a "new war" mish-mash.
For the United States, the shape of future homeland conflicts will be asymmetrical, distributed, and heterogeneous. A contemporary homeland conflict would likely self-compose with numerous dynamic factions organized by digital tools around ideological and affinity networks. It would likely be a patchwork of affiliated insurgency groups and their counterparts engaging in light skirmishes along the overlapping edges of their networks, mixed with occasional high-value terror attacks against soft and hard targets. Such groups are much smaller than conventional militaries and where they lack in firepower, they wield transgression. As in Charlottesville and Berkeley, the fronts are less territorial than ideological.A Rasmussen poll released a few days ago claimed 31 per cent of Americans now think it likely that America will descend into civil war within the next five years.
Curiously enough, the American right sees the left as desperate to plunge the country into civil war. Why, refusing service to Mike Huckabee's kid in a Virginia restaurant is tantamount to sedition. It's all them damned lefties, they're the threat.
Could another civil war befall America? Perhaps, but I don't think it's likely. Far more likely, in my view, is something more akin to an insurgency waged more in cyberspace than a blood and bones struggle. It's hard to say but something has to give. The Republicans show no appetite for compromise and the Democrats complain that they're the ones who have been compromised already.
Who knows? Something has to give. What, when, how? You'll have the answers when it happens.