US Civil War 2.0: A Horror Scenario That Is Becoming Increasingly Likely? – OpEd


In recent years, the American public has been fiercely divided. Divisions are based on ideology and political orientation. On one side there are left-leaning liberals (Democrats), and on the other side right-leaning conservatives (Republicans). Although the divisions between left and right in today’s politics are quite flawed and sometimes confusing, Americans are still divided that way. As a rule, liberals vote for candidates of the Democratic Party, and conservatives for Republican candidates, although they are often disappointed when they come to power.

The former president of the USA, Donald Trump, is a special person in many ways. With all due respect to his unconventional political talents, Trump’s strongest legacy, or lasting effect, is the fierce polarization of American society. Although it existed before, with Trump in the White House, the polarization of America has skyrocketed. Thanks to Trump, divisions have further escalated, but he is not the cause of these divisions. The cause can be found in the US political system. The level of outrage in American society in the late 2010s and early 2020s can only be compared to the time leading up to the US Civil War in the 1850s. Until ten years ago, the idea of a new civil war in America seemed like a science-fiction scenario, but in recent years, this scenario is being talked about more and more openly in public, and it is becoming a real-political possibility. An increasing number of political scientists, sociologists, historians and journalists are talking about the possibility of an US Civil War 2.0, which would be a conflict between blue (liberal) and red (conservative) America.

The civil war is already being waged informally

Five or six years ago, some experts like University of Tennessee law professor Glenn Harlan Reynolds went so far as to claim that the Civil War was already “well underway.” In 2018, political scientist Thomas Schaller wrote that America is “at the beginning of a soft civil war,” and author Tom Ricks wrote that the country appears to be “sliding” in that direction. Earlier in 2017, clashes erupted in Charlottesville and Berkeley where radical right-wing and left-wing groups such as white supremacists, neo-Nazis and the alt-right clashed with the Antifa movement, socialists and anarchists. Occasional clashes between the radical left and right, with injuries and deaths, continued in the years to come.

In 2018, some Democratic members of the US Congress called for boycotts and confrontations with members of the Trump administration in public places such as coffee shops, hotels and restaurants. This is frightening for a democratic country and something similar happened when a radical follower of Bernie Sanders wounded Republican Congressman Steve Scalise in 2017. Although right-wing incidents are condemned by everyone, left-wing excesses go uncondemned by the liberal public. And therefore it is not strange that celebrities such as actors and athletes (usually liberal-oriented) send unpleasant messages to Republican politicians. Business Insider published a poll in October 2020 that said most Americans believe the US is already in the midst of a “cold” US Civil War 2.0.

Big promises and lack of change

It’s evident that there is a stratification of society on a socio-economic basis. Police and armed violence, an inadequate health system, extremely expensive tuitions, minority problems, problems of the white population, problems of poverty and inequality, the disappearance of industry, an increase in the number of exclusive rich people and more poor people, are just some of the social problems which Republicans and Democrats have little interest to solve (at least most politicians in office). However, major problems lead to the radicalization of disenfranchised groups who are seduced by radical groups as well as by leading politicians.

Both Obama, Trump and Biden used some of the mentioned problems in order to come to power through promises. But little has changed in practice. This is primarily due to the “deep state”, which does not allow major changes to the existing political order, which has been in force for more than 200 years. Although the two big parties win about 99% of the vote, they do not solve the problems, the people still choose them because it is interesting that as people get older, they neglect many social activities and find their identity precisely in politics. The “us or them” narrative has gripped ordinary Americans. Fiery divisions weakened the institutions of the American state, so Congress often became very ineffective and the judiciary was slow. These are problems that fuel passions further.

Partition factors

Movements like white supremacists, Antifa, and the Black Lives Matter movement are increasingly radicalizing everyday American political life and leading to tensions. Violent protests led by left-wing movements lead to the destruction of city infrastructure, public and private property, cultural and artistic monuments and religious buildings. Throughout most of 2020, the US was rocked by the George Floyd protests, and in early 2021, the Trump invasion of Capitol Hill took place.

The US Supreme Court ruled in June 2022 to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that decriminalized abortion on the grounds that the right to abortion is not “deeply rooted in the history or tradition of this nation.” That controversial decision did not ban abortions, but left the issue up to the federal states. Two months later, the FBI raided Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence for alleged illegal possession of classified documents. There is also the right to arms as an object of conflict. The result of these events is an additional gap between blue and red America.

Blue and red America

Blue America is mostly urban, racially and ethnically diverse, and mostly young. Red America is mostly rural or suburban, mostly white and mostly older. The geographical divide is widening. Red zip codes are getting redder and blue ones are getting bluer. The number of districts in which the presidential candidate won a convincing victory with 80 percent or more of the vote is growing. The number of such districts jumped from 6% in the 2004 election to 22% in the 2020 election. Research shows that it is increasingly important for Americans to live with people who share their political values and ideology. Hostility towards those in the opposing party is greater than it has ever been in the respondents’ lifetime. 42% of registered voters believe that Americans who support the other party are “totally evil.” Almost 40% of respondents would be upset at the prospect of their child marrying someone from the opposite camp.

Over time, the two Americas have developed two distinct legal systems. Red states want to make abortion almost unaffordable, while at the same time they want to make it as easy as possible to buy guns and work to prevent vote stealing. In Florida and Texas, “election police” teams were created to prevent vote theft. They prohibit teaching the history of American racism. They require transgender students to use bathrooms and join sports teams according to their birth gender. They create legal obstacles to make it harder for the unemployed to receive unemployment benefits or other forms of state assistance. They try to prevent the formation of labor unions and make protests difficult.

Abortion and gender ideology at the center of the conflict

Blue states are moving in the opposite direction. Several, including Colorado and Vermont, codify abortion rights. Some help cover the cost of abortions for people outside their state. When Idaho proposed an abortion ban that would authorize relatives to sue anyone who helps terminate a pregnancy after six weeks, nearby Oregon approved $15 million to help cover the costs of abortions for out-of-state patients. Maryland and Washington have expanded legal protections for abortion patients outside their home state.

One proposed package of bills in California would expand access to abortions to American women from other states and protect abortion providers from legal action outside of California. After the governor of Texas ordered state agencies to prosecute parents for child abuse if they send their children for medical sex reassignment treatments, California lawmakers have proposed making their state a sanctuary for transgender children and their families. California is also preparing to implement a ban on privately manufactured handguns and assault weapons with a $10,000 reward to encourage lawsuits by private citizens against anyone who sells, distributes or manufactures those types of weapons.

Blue states better coordinate their policies. During the pandemic, blue states have come together on policies that red states have rejected—such as contracts to buy personal protective equipment, strategies for reopening businesses, and vis-à-vis other states with high levels of Covid. At one point, the blue states of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut required travelers from the red states with high infection rates, Arkansas, Florida, North and South Carolina, Texas and Utah, to quarantine for two weeks before entering the country. California already prohibits anyone who receives a salary from the state of California from being reimbursed for travel to states that its authorities believe discriminate against LGBT+ people.

Two separate worlds

The media is increasingly divided into two sharply divided camps, so those who watch MSNBC and ABC won’t necessarily follow Fox News and Breitbart. TV networks and web-sites often invite biased guests who look at events and processes from only one angle. That is why those from the other camp often call such performances or news fake news or propaganda.

Like pedestrians on the street who only look at one side of the road, the left or right media only look at certain things while ignoring others. The left media will thus talk about the problems of racism, armed violence and climate problems, but will ignore problems such as the weak integration of immigrants into society, the shortcomings of globalization, discrimination of the white majority and the problems of entrepreneurs. They will be emphasized by the right-wing media, ignoring the previously mentioned problems. It is safe to say that the USA is no longer a nation made up of 50 states, but a dual nation where every America, both blue and red, thinks that itself is an authentic representative of the real America.

The intertwining of blue and red America

However, both blue and red states have a population of minority political orientation. Most often, it is a division into urban-rural areas. A blue state like Maine has populous coastal counties that voted for Biden in 2020 and less populated inland counties that are big supporters of Trump, enough to give him a majority in one congressional district in the state. By contrast, in the red state of Nebraska, one congressional district anchored by the city of Omaha went for Biden. In California, where coastal cities are known as ultra-liberal, the rural counties of the Central Valley are still far more conservative. In Texas, Biden won in the six largest metropolitan areas, largely thanks to the growing numbers of black and other minority communities. However, most of the state’s 254 counties are outside these metropolitan areas. In Texas, the Republican share of the vote is still unquestionably dominant.

Trump won 2,588 national districts that cover most of the U.S., as Republican candidates usually do (which is why election maps are predominantly red even when Republicans pull in poorly). On the other hand, Biden won only 551 counties. However, the districts where Biden won had a total population of almost 198 million, while Trump’s had only 130.3 million. That’s a difference of almost 68 million people. In other words, Biden won districts where 60% of the total US population lives. The trends of the last decades are on the side of the Democrats, and the Republicans have a chance to win the presidential elections mainly because the electoral votes, that is, the Electoral College, are still valid, and the total number of votes is not considered.

American support for political violence

Even before the controversial 2020 presidential election, when asked, “Would violence be justified if the other party won the election?”, 18.3% of Democrats and 13.8% of Republicans said yes. A national survey released in July 2022 found that one in five Americans believe that “general” political violence is at least sometimes justified. That figure was only 1% in 1990. Also, 42.4% of respondents agree with the statement that “having a strong leader is more important for America than democracy” and that “white people who were born in America are being replaced by immigrants”.

Most troubling is a fall 2021 survey that found 80% of Biden and 84% of Trump voters believe that elected officials from the other party “pose a clear and present danger to American democracy.” Also, the survey found that 41% of Biden voters and 52% of Trump voters support secession of red or blue states from the US to form their own separate state. In other words, the majority of Trump voters support the secession of red states from the rest of the US, and only slightly fewer Biden voters want that their blue states secede from the US. As many as 30% of Republicans and 11% of Democrats are ready to resort to violence to save the integrity of the country. That’s roughly 20 million Americans ready for war in a country with more than 434 million guns in civilian hands (1.3 guns per person). The resulting data was collected before the US Supreme Court’s anti-abortion ruling and the FBI’s invasion of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, two events that have further electrified both sides of the political spectrum.

Risk of civil war

Interestingly, in 2017, an American officer who served for more than 15 years in US Army special forces and UN missions, Keith Mines, estimated that the risk of a new civil war in America is 65% in the next 10 or 15 years. Although some may imagine American Civil War 2.0 as a conflict between two political factions that would take over parts of the US military and police and fight on strategic fronts, such a conflict in the 21st century is unlikely to happen. Today, a hybrid war is much more likely, which will be asymmetric and heterogeneous, and a good part of it would be fought on the internet. Of course, a lot of violence would accompany any war, and a good part of the warfare would be guerilla warfare without real front lines. Violent protests that resulted in a state of anarchy in the style of Black Lives Matter and George Floyd protests, and the attack on Capital Hill, showed the direction of a possible conflict. Mines defined civil war as high-intensity violence that involves the rejection of traditional political authorities and requires the intervention of the National Guard. Therefore, it can be concluded that a civil war would arise from protests and street riots from one or more locations and spread throughout the country.

USA – from an exemplary to a fragile democracy

The louder the war drums are heard, the more realistic they become. The American Civil War of the 1860s cost the lives of at least 620,000 Americans and contributed to the deaths of thousands more. It devastated the South economically and left most of those who were emancipated living in misery. The poor remained poor anyway, including blacks who were no longer slaves but free people who worked for low wages. Moreover, the war did little to resolve the constitutional issue of “states rights,” which remains a sticking point in American political life to this day.

In December 2021, the Harvard Kennedy School’s Institute of Political Science released a poll showing that half of eligible Americans under the age of 30 believe that American democracy is “in trouble” or “collapsing.” A third said they expected a “civil war” to occur in their lifetime. And a quarter thought that at least one country would secede. These are devastating figures, but they are consistent with the opinions of American international relations experts, who correctly conclude that the USA once had a level of democracy equivalent to that of Sweden, Norway, and Switzerland, but now it has fallen to the level of partial democracy like Latin American countries (Argentina, Ecuador) which are famous by coups and civil wars.

From slavery to abortion

The biggest similarity between the first and potential second civil war is the issue of slavery and abortion. Slavery and abortion have similarities because they are issues that concern human ethics and the concept of man. With an essential paradoxical difference. It was liberals in the 19th century who claimed that blacks are people who should be treated as persons and not as animals. Paradoxically, the liberals of the 21st century do not want to recognize such rights for fetuses, or unborn children. Conservatives claim that it is about people and not some kind of accumulation of cells as liberals claim. Another similarity of America is that Americans in 2023 are armed to the teeth much like they were in 1861.

The political war between liberals and conservatives in the USA is certainly ongoing, and time will tell whether it will turn into something more. The polarization of America could be resolved through a peaceful way like Brexit. The two entities (red and blue states) could reasonably agree to separate in most things, but remain connected in a confederal union in a few important areas such as national defense, monetary policy, electoral system, foreign trade. Considering the 21st century and the hybrid conditions of warfare, it is very likely that US Civil War 2.0 would not be a conventional civil war like the one in Syria or Yemen, but it would definitely be a war. And war is war no matter what. It deprives people of their lives because of politics which is the tragedy of humanity. When talking about a civil war in the most powerful country in the world, then such a war concerns the whole world.

Matija Šerić

Matija Šerić is a geopolitical analyst and journalist from Croatia and writes on foreign policy, history, economy, society, etc.

2 thoughts on “US Civil War 2.0: A Horror Scenario That Is Becoming Increasingly Likely? – OpEd

  • August 31, 2023 at 8:37 am

    Splitting up a country into more natural parts does not have to involve war.

    For example, Czechia and Slovakia used to be lumped together in one country, but peacefully separated a few decades ago.

  • September 29, 2023 at 2:12 pm

    Very good article; however, it fails to discuss the divisive effect of identity politics which was brought to the forefront by Obama. Obama, more than any other politician, is responsible for driving a wedge between left and right.


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