Waiting for the next American civil war? It’s already here

The U.S. is heading for a new civil war, some believe. It will be bloody beyond belief, as is the American way. They have to do something with those 400 million guns.

If this seems implausible, look more closely. As the divide between red and blue states widens — they can’t legislate, compromise, plan — the nation appears to be collapsing, not in slow motion but hyperactively, and in ways not previously considered. Canada looks on in horror. Why can’t we do this, too, thinks Pierre Poilievre.

There is now security fencing at all three branches of U.S. government. It was normal at the White House, essential at the Capitol during the Jan. 6 attempted coup but at the Supreme Court, where all they do is talk?

The court has become the “horse loose in a hospital” branch of American government. That’s how comic John Mulaney used to refer to President Trump. “No one know what the horse is going to do next, least of all the horse. He’s as confused as you are.”

It’s different this time. Americans know exactly what the horse is going to do next: overturn Roe v. Wade based on personal opinion. Unlike Mulaney’s horse, this court isn’t (Clarence Thomas excepted) stupid. Next, it may allow a ban on contraception or votes for women.

You may think that could never happen, but as Mulaney said as the horse galloped towards the baby incubators, “we’re well past that.” Every mortared brick in the American edifice is shaky right now.

Robert Reich predicts secession with the red states splitting off from the blue, “analogous to Brexit — a lumbering, mutual decision to go separate ways on most things.” Nonsense. That horse has bolted.

In a fascinating new book “The Next Civil War: Dispatches from the American Future,” Canadian journalist Stephen Marche maps out the worst American future with five scenarios for a spreading disaster. Why not two? Or 17? We just don’t know.

The basic problem is extremism. Americans have always oversold their country to themselves. It was the shining city on a hill, united under one flag, to be worshipped, obeyed, boasted about internationally, the biggest, the best, the richest. So its next civil war has to be the biggest and best, too.

The lit match may be climate change. We’ve already seen the first timid episodes bring drought to California and the Midwest, and floods to the coastal areas including New York, the country’s beating economic heart. Infrastructure has deteriorated grievously. Racism flourishes, periodically exploding into greater violence as police forces have militarized.

Was COVID a crisis? Marche says no. “COVID has been like an easy pop quiz before a punishing final exam.” Masks? Mere costumery in a nation where red v. blue has made mass death a sideshow.

Marche agrees Trump was a symptom, not a cause, and that the rot began long before that: “the hyper-partisanship, the bifurcation of the country … the rise of the hard-right anti-government patriot militias,” and decades of vitriol against the federal government.

Other features appall us: a growing disrespect for learning, the social media coarsening of discourse, the realization that not everyone could become rich and famous, a backlash against women’s rights and a love of violence that has led to Americans buying 12 billion rounds a year for their personal armouries.

Marche quotes a military historian as saying the next civil war won’t be about battlefield manoeuvring. “It would very much be a free-for-all, neighbour on neighbour based on beliefs and skin colours and religion. And it would be horrific.”

Marche says America is already in a state of civil strife. But it doesn’t sound like war to me. It sounds like more of the same. Doesn’t civil war have to be organized to take place?

Marche offers us screenplays. War could start with angry whites fighting over a rotting bridge closed by the feds for repair which inconveniences people. Americans are not used to being inconvenienced. They lack patience. And then the fight races ahead online.

Marche is very good on context.

“The American hard right operates on a spectrum from the criminally insane to law enforcement officials.”

“Hatred drives politics in the United States more than any other consideration.”

“Both the right and left have structural advantages,” the right being ferocious and the left having more voters and much more money.

What about assassination? Have you ever seen so many Lee Harvey Oswalds as you see now — white, male, ill-educated, brooding and gunned-up? Spot the one difference: Oswald was beardless.

And then Marche gets right down to it, a split nation, a dead president, an emotionally incontinent population, and a dysfunctional government catering so assiduously to the ultra-rich that it didn’t prep for catastrophe-like drought-caused hunger and the flooding of essential cities.

So Americans are left to their own devices. Marche’s book is a short one, a butterfly when it could have been an anvil. It offers relatively little consideration of women, who would react very differently to the crises described here, or of race, the great boulder in the American throat. Perhaps his sequel will have more to say.

Look, the American experiment will end in calamity. The question is how Hieronymus Bosch-like it will be. I greatly enjoyed the book, so flatly written yet smelling so tangy of future blood, perfect pandemic reading.

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