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How Can America Avoid the Bloodshed & Chaos of Civil War?
There is an active movement within the United States trying to start a civil war -- and we have two and a half years before the 2024 election to put this country back on track
Congressman Adam Kinzinger is worried about a second American civil war. “I don’t think that’s too far of a bridge to recognize,” he said earlier this week, adding, “It’s going to be armed groups against armed groups, targeted assassination and violence.”
There is an active movement within the United States trying to start a civil war. They’re armed and serious, having already tried to kidnap and murder the Governor of Michigan and the Vice President of the United States.
You may not recall names like Pat Crusius, Anders Breivik or James Fields, but members of a dozen different white supremacist groups in America can tell you details of the lives of the El Paso murderer of 23 Hispanic people, the Norwegian killer of 77 “liberals” (most children), and the man who killed Heather Heyer and injured dozens of others at the “Jews Will Not Replace Us” rally in Charlottesville. All are heroes to the movement.
They’re also students of how to start civil wars. They believe that when a certain threshold of mistrust and grievance is hit, all it takes is a small event to trigger much wider bloodshed. They’ve internalized the lessons Barbara F. Walter lays out in her seminal book How Civil Wars Start.
Kentucky Republican Congressman Thomas Massie and his gun-loving friends get it, too. Massie recently argued that the tipping point will come when “30 to 40 percent could agree that [the American government] was legitimate tyranny and it needed to be thrown off” and openly argued that people should be sufficiently well-armed to take on the US Marines. (The clip’s at the bottom of this story.)
Finishing that sentence, Massey added, “they [those trying to bring down the American government] need to have sufficient power without asking for extra permission – it should be right there and completely available to them in their living room in order to effect the change.”
His buddies on the podcast where he made this assertion went even farther, saying that Americans should be able to possess nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons to, presumably, fight against America’s police and military and take down our government.
So, how did we get here, and what’s the best way to avoid bloodshed and chaos?
The “how we got here” part began in a big way with the Reagan Revolution in 1981, when Republicans took over the government and flipped us out of FDR’s New Deal and into Milton Friedman’s neoliberalism.
Reagan’s neoliberalism not only took a meat-axe to unions and working people, it began the destruction of the most critical currency a government has: trust.
That decade also saw the first generation of non-white immigrants allowed into the US because of immigration law reform in 1965 as well as a 3-million person immigrant surge that Reagan “legalized” in 1986 getting “the browning of American” underway.
And around that time came the GOP’s “voter fraud” hysteria, along with Reagan’s assertion that “Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.”
Those two memes together have destroyed the faith once held by millions of Americans’ in our government itself.
Reagan cut taxes on the morbidly rich from 74 percent down to 25 percent while raising taxes on working-class people 11 times, massively widening the American inequality gap.
There wasn’t a single billionaire in the country when he took that unprecedented step: today there are hundreds, and their money bins are so overflowing that they’re shooting themselves into outer space with the loose change spilling out.
Working people were totally left behind by the Reagan Revolution, as Republicans in business, state governments, and on the Supreme Court went gunning for labor unions, which had been a traditional base of support for the Democratic Party. Within a decade we went from a third of Americans having union job and wage protections to fewer than ten percent. Today it’s under six percent.
As a result, income at the bottom 90 percent of the wage scale have been functionally frozen since the 80s and, in many cases, have actually declined; the standard of living a single wage-earner could provide a family in 1980 now requires two people working full time jobs.
People will tolerate a lot of privation and pain if they’ve grown up with it, but when you take things away from people, they notice it and react with rage. In this case, Reaganism stole a middle class lifestyle from millions of working class white people, and they’re pissed.
As the white working class woke up to how they’d been screwed, Limbaugh and Fox came along to tell them who was responsible: all those dark-skinned people they were seeing in increasing numbers.
As Walter documents in How Civil Wars Start, when an ethnic, language, or racial majority of a population experiences a rapid (one or two generation) significant loss of status and wealth — as happened in Northern Ireland, Bosnia and Syria — grievance politics come to the fore and revolutionary groups made up of the newly disenfranchised appear.
Pretty soon you have armed militias and open rebellions against the rule of law; it often happens so fast that afterwards people say they never saw it coming.
That’s where we’re at in America now, and it was first set up by the election of 1981.
Reaganism (aka neoliberalism) took a huge bite out of the wealth and power of working class white people, reducing millions from the middle class to the working poor.
Reagan also negotiated what became NAFTA and the WTO, which led to over 60,000 factories and tens of millions of jobs moving offshore, and no president since has taken a significant action to stop or even slow the process.
Then came Donald Trump, not only pointing out how Republicans in his billionaire class were ripping off working people but doubling down by telling Americans all the way back in the 2015 primaries that our entire political system is “rigged” against working class white voters.
Pointing out the truth about how Reaganism gutted the middle class (America’s middle class, once around 65% of us, slipped below the 50% of the population mark in 2015) let Trump wipe the floor that year with his primary opponents, and today his Big Lie about the 2020 election is believed by more than half of all Republican voters.
And, while not usually mentioned in the mainstream press, just attend a Trump rally or ask any of his followers: they believe all that “voter fraud” is being committed by Black people in big cities, a meme Trump hammered for five years and continues to spout with lies about “busloads” of people crossing state lines to vote twice.
When there’s a shared sense of grievance combined with mistrust of government, these white supremacists know, small events can flare into a wider civil war without warning.
The idea isn’t new within the white supremacist movement; they just haven’t yet hit a critical mass. Tim McVeigh thought he’d trigger a war against the Clinton administration when he blew up the Oklahoma City Federal Building in an imitation of the inciting incident in the white supremacist novel The Turner Diaries.
In that book — now the “bible” of the white supremacist movement, according to the FBI — the hero Earl Turner blows up a Federal Building but the government overreacts by sending agents out to confiscate guns from the good, patriotic white people across the nation. They rise up and begin an orgy of chaos and death; in the end the “mud races” are all dead (including Jews) and the white supremacist hero helps run the new “European culture” nation.
All of this racism, outrage, and anger has also been amplified since around 2008 when Obama was elected president, coincidentally with the near-universal adoption of smartphone-based social media, whose algorithms were described yesterday by Tristan Harris on Brian Stelter’s On The Media show as a “civil war for profit business model.”
So, what do we do?
Walter and other political observers point out that the way to diminish the power and appeal of rightwing terror movements and recover trust in a government is at least a two-step process.
First, Americans have to trust that their democracy works. That means adopting systems and laws like virtually every other developed nation in the world has to inspire and retain trust in their political system.
Canada, for example, has an independent, nonpartisan national voting agency (“Elections Canada”) that’s transparent and makes sure the vote is available to all citizens. Canadian law also puts a cap on money in politics that limits the influence of both the morbidly rich and giant corporations, and funds education in civics and critical thinking.
Second, the Americans who’ve been the victims of Reaganism’s gutting of the middle class have to stop feeling like they’re constantly on the edge of panic. When more than half the country would be crippled by an unexpected $1000 expense, you’re sitting on a power keg.
Other advanced democracies have solved this problem by expanding union rights and the social safety net, including free or low-cost medical care and debt-free college/trade school education.
When people have a good job and income, they tend not to become terrorists. America’s slogan could become, “If Canada can do it, why can’t we?”
And, finally, as I lay out in my new book The Hidden History of Big Brother, Congress must come to terms with the damage caused by social media algorithms designed to maximize outrage and profits at the expense of rational discourse, shared facts/reality, and democracy itself.
We have two and a half years before the 2024 election to put this country back on track and the Biden administration has offered legislation that would have done much of this, including Build Back Better that would restore the American middle class, along with serious voting rights reforms that would restore trust in the integrity of elections.
They were blocked by every Republican in the House and Senate along with two turncoat Democrats in the Senate, but if Democrats can expand their majorities in the election this November, America will have another chance to avoid Kinzinger’s nightmare scenario.
It may be our last.