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OpEdNews Op Eds    H1'ed 1/8/22

Will America Have a Second Civil War?

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Confederate Reenactors -- Boonsboro (MD) Civil War Reenactment
Confederate Reenactors -- Boonsboro (MD) Civil War Reenactment
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With Trump's Big Lie largely unchallenged by Republican lawmakers, the Republican Party has swung almost entirely into the Trump camp. Over 70 percent of registered Republicans believe Trump won the 2020 election. Trump has worked to purge from the state and national party anyone he considers insufficiently loyal to him. His closest supporters have become so extreme that they are openly supporting authoritarianism and talking of Democrats as "vermin."

Meanwhile, more than a third of Americans now say violent action against the government is sometimes justified - considerably more than in past polls dating back more than two decades. But a plurality of the people who feel this way are Republicans. Only 23 percent of Democrats think violence is sometimes justified, while 40 percent of Republicans say it is.

Some fear a violent clash in the 2024 election if Trump runs and loses. Three former top generals recently warned in the Washington Post of their increasing concern about "the potential for lethal chaos inside our military, which would put all Americans at severe risk."

Talk of potential civil war can be dangerous and distracting. As Fintan O'Toole recently wrote in The Atlantic, in a critique of a new book "The Next Civil War" by the Canadian novelist and cultural critic Stephen Marche, such prophecies can be self-fulfilling and corrosive, making people more fearful of one another. They also distract attention from chronic but less spectacular problems the country faces.

Even without a violent civil war, the chasm separating red and blue America has become so wide that the question arises: Can we continue to inhabit the same nation?


Let me thank all of you for your extremely thoughtful comments. I'll offer a few thoughts of my own at this point, take your questions, and respond to your comments.

First, I don't think it will come to civil war. Our governing institutions are still strong. Most of our media is still responsible, in terms of reporting facts. Most of our political, nonprofit, and business leaders are doing their jobs as best they can. Even careless talk about civil war can be dangerous and destructive.

But I do think we are in a civic crisis. Trump is the symptom. The underlying cause is that many Americans - mainly those without college degrees and living in the heartland - have been abandoned. The bottom 10 percent by income is still struggling but by-in-large are better off than they were 40 years ago. But the 40 percent just above them have been losing ground. That has made them susceptible to someone like Trump - claiming to be an anti-establishment "strongman" who can turn their despair and humiliation into hope and pride, even though he is pure bombast and narcissism.

Why hasn't the Democratic Party responded better to the needs of the working class? Even before it went on life support, "Build Back Better" had been whittled down to the point where it would do little or nothing for the bottom half. I'm old enough to remember when the Democratic Party attracted those with less education and the Republican Party attracted those with more. Today, people with less education vote for Republicans and those with more vote for Democrats. The Democratic Party has gone from being a worker party to a party of intellectual and professional elites. Since the Republican Party continues to cater to the needs and wants of business on economic policy, this has left millions of working people without any effective political voice. Hence, policies that would change the structure of power are opposed by the likes of Joe Manchin, the senior Democratic senator from West Virginia.

We won't have a civil war, but we are in imminent danger of losing our democracy to a dangerous alliance of big business oligarchs, on the one hand, and Trump-like populist-fascists on the other. To me, that's the fight ahead of us - to foster a countervailing alliance of the poor, working class, and middle class that will make our democracy and economy work for them as well.

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Robert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor and Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, has a new film, "Inequality for All," to be released September 27. He blogs at

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