Some see it coming, some don’t.
Experts say it’s obvious years beforehand. They view the daily constant horrors these countries are living as a sign of a total meltdown happening soon. To them, a crack-up seems, if not obvious, then far from unlikely.
They can see the signs emerging at a fast rate: “The United States is coming to an end,” writes Canadian novelist and critic Stephen Marche. He’s referring to a possible, and perhaps imminent, civil war. But the question is how. And more importantly, when?
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In Toronto’s Globe and Mail, Thomas Homer-Dixon, a scholar who studies violent conflict, recently urged the Canadian government to prepare for an American implosion. “By 2025, American democracy could collapse, causing extreme domestic political instability, including widespread civil violence,” he wrote. “By 2030, if not sooner, the country could be governed by a right-wing dictatorship.” What’s more, John Harris, a British journalist, writes in Politico, “Serious people now invoke ‘Civil War’ not as a metaphor but as literal precedent.”
Of course, none of this is guaranteed to happen. Most of it is speculation, even wild guessing. Harvard political scientist Josh Kertzer wrote on Twitter saying that few of the civil war scholars he knows think the United States is on the precipice of a civil war.”
In The Atlantic, Fintan O’Toole writes that “it’s one thing to acknowledge the real possibility that the U.S. could break apart and could do so violently. It is quite another to frame that possibility as an inevitability.”
Most likely, he’s right.
It’s absurd, even silly, to view a forthcoming civil war in the US or Europe as a foregone conclusion. Nevertheless, judging by the signs, it does seem distinctly possible, Michelle Goldberg wrote in the New York Times on January 6. “It is still pretty bad,” she says. Although the talk about an imminent civil war in Europe and the US hasn’t gone mainstream yet, there are too many signs of civic unrest, which is an indication of how broken these countries are.
And if it happens, it won’t be two armies facing each other on some battlefield. It will be a guerrilla insurgency, a major armed conflict that, by definition, could cause at least 10,000 deaths per year. This is dangerous, way too dangerous even to predict. Both Europe and the US are currently in a state of civil strife. Extremists and mass shootings are evidence of that.
Barbara Walter, a political scientist at the University of California, argues that civil wars have predictable patterns, and these patterns are now playing out in both continents. Warning signs include the rise of intense political polarization.
If a civil war happens in the US, the right-wing will be mostly to blame. “It’s no secret that many on the right are both fantasizing about and planning civil war,” writes Goldberg. Most of those who swarmed the Capitol more than a year ago wore black sweatshirts emblazoned with “MAGA Civil War.” For those outside the US who are not familiar with the term, MAGA is Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again’ slogan.
Besides the increasing talk about a possible civil war in the US, Republicans in that country are increasingly throwing around the idea of armed conflict. In August, Representative Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina said, “If our election systems continue to be rigged and continue to be stolen, then it’s going to lead to one place and that’s bloodshed.”
If that’s not a direct call to take up arms, then what is!
If modern history taught us anything, it’s that civil wars start with vigilantes like these. They start with armed militants who take violence directly to the people. Until now, there are no signs of that happening in the US, nor in Western Europe.
But the fact that the US, as an example, has fallen into mass civil violence doesn’t mean that its right-wing won’t rebel soon against its loss of power. If they do, an outright civil war would be likely. If they don’t, there’s a great chance that America might return to the sort of democratic stability many Americans grew up with.
As Abraham Lincoln once said: “America will not be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedom, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”