James Fearon, a Stanford University political scientist who researches political violence, called the pundits’ warnings “basically absurd.” But he noted that political polarization and the possibility of a potentially serious constitutional crisis in the near future do “marginally increase the still very low odds” of a stalemate that might require “some kind of action by the military leadership.”
"I can’t believe I’m saying this,” he added, “but I guess it’s not entirely out of the question.”
In 2019 America, there are two clashing worldviews. One is conservative and traditional, while the other leftist and revolutionary. These worldviews have conflicted since the late 1960s, with the rise of the boomers and counterculture. They’ve intensified during the Obama years, only to further increase during the Trump presidency.
Differences appear irreconcilable. They encompass values, principles, economics, culture, and politics. The contours of this fight seem more a zero-sum game.
Some have mused that the cold civil war that has ebbed and flowed since the 1960s could turn hot. That would be the American Civil War II. But could there be an alternative? Rather then the nation splitting into warring camps and battling for control of the nation, might Americans just divorce?
A second civil war would be uglier and far more destructive than the first, for a host of reasons. Modern technology – weaponry, transportation, and communications – is vastly superior to what was available in the mid-1860s. Military and law enforcement are highly professional, trained, and primed for maximum lethality, if necessary. Those considerations alone should make a hot war unthinkable.
A new civil war wouldn’t be as neat and clean as states and sections squaring off, though that would be an aspect. Nor is the divide today dominated by one big issue – slave versus free – with states partitioned regionally, for or against.
Divisions today are critical among populations in the states. Every state has “red” and “blue” citizens and communities. Fighting would be along the lines of pre-war and Civil War Missouri and “Bleeding” Kansas, where community battled community, neighbors fought neighbors, and, occasionally, kin fought kin. This would occur in 50 states across a continent-wide nation.
The carnage and destruction of such internecine conflict would be on the order of the two world wars fought in the 20th Century. That’s in excess of 30 million casualties (dead and wounded) in World War I. An estimated 85 million deaths occurred in World War II.
But let’s say that cooler heads prevailed on both sides. Is it possible than red and blue Americans could agree to a divorce? That’s agree to a peaceful division of the nation? Two Americas, each based on their own principles and values.
Or is America too entwined to draw new borders? How would federal assets be divided? And federal debts? Natural resources? Is the nation’s economy to interdependent to split it? Would masses of red and blue citizens migrate? Huge shifts in populations would be epic.
But wouldn’t divorce be better than real war?
At this stage, this is just a thought exercise. Most Americans would oppose war or a divorce. But we live in increasingly conflictual times. Perhaps thinking what may seem unthinkable is worth the time.
So, what do you think? Weigh in!