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Is America headed for another Civil War? No, it’s not.

Posted by / November 5, 2018

In the past month or so, the media has latched onto the notion that civil war may be brewing once more in the United States. Extreme partisan outlets have actually advocated for breaking up the nation before the inevitable bloodshed. Some outlets see the shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue as further evidence that war is coming.

Other recent events might lead you to agree with these outlets that another civil war is on the way. In Texas, for example, militia groups are heading to the border to help stop the migrant caravan––even though no one has asked for their help and the military certainly doesn’t want it. It’s easy to interpret the mobilization of militias as the first sign of conflict.

What’s causing this civil war mania? A short interview with Stephen Marche in the video above is a good way to begin the conversation. Marche, a Canadian, wrote a piece arguing that conservatives and liberals in America “occupy different societies with different values, and the political parties are emissaries of those differences—differences that are increasingly irreconcilable.” The United States is, according to Marche, on the brink of chaos and collapse.

Liberal and conservative die-hards agree with Marche. They believe that America isn’t big enough for both parties, that the two will never reconcile, and that war may be inevitable. Michael Vlahos, writing for The American Conservative, wrote a (painfully) long (and highly speculative) piece suggesting that war was on the way. Its upshot is this:

A possible path to kinship disengagement [one step in the civil war process]—a separation without de jure divorce—would here likely follow a crisis, a confrontation, and some shocking, spasmodic violence, horrifyingly amplified on social media. Passions at this point would pull back, but investment in separation would not. What might eventuate would be a national sorting out, a de facto kinship separation in which Blue and Red regions would go—and govern—their own ways, while still maintaining the surface fiction of a titular “United States.” This was, after all, the arrangement America came to after 20 years of civil war (1857-1877). This time, however, there will be no succeeding conciliation (as was achieved in the 1890s). Culturally, this United States will be, from the moment of agreement, two entirely separate sensibilities, peoples, and politics.

Seeing articles about a potential civil war is terrifying. Vlahos isn’t some crackpot, for example, he’s a lecturer at Johns Hopkins and used to lecture at the Naval War College. When you start seeing NPR cover the talk about civil war in America, the panic might become real. Don’t let it.

America is absolutely not on the brink of another civil war. With all due respect to Vlahos, the nation’s partisan divide is not as extreme as he makes it sound, and it’s far more complicated. He’s right in saying that we, as a nation, are turning into tribes. And according to a recent study called “Hidden Tribes,” we are indeed extremely polarized at this moment in our history. But Vlahos and likeminded fear mongers are wrong about the possibility of war. The “Hidden Tribes” study reveals that three out four Americans feel that our differences are not so intense that we can’t work together. The fringes of American society––the extreme poles––make up only about 15% of the nation. A whopping 67% are an “exhausted majority,” who are fed up with the political strife in our country.

So next time you see an article suggesting that another civil war is on the way, remember that it’s hard to have a civil war when nearly three-fourths of the population is fed up with partisanship and the same number believe that we can overcome our differences. Instead of falling for the fear mongering, reach out to someone you know from across the aisle and let them know that you respect them and their love for this country. Take the road of Ainsley Hayes from The West Wing, who reminds us that we can respectfully disagree with people when we just remember that we are all Americans:


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