Many people like to compare America’s present political situation to that in the 1850s, predict an impending Civil War, and then boast about their desire to fight for liberty in said war. While I do expect the present order to eventually deteriorate into violence, I also believe that there are going to be some radical differences from what happened last time around.
There is a belief, prevalent among the American Right, that the United States is diverging into two nations, whose values are incompatible with each other. Within a generation or so, the country Ewill break into conservative and liberal halves. This process is likely to involve warfare; hence, among a certain community, crowing about one’s desire to fight for liberty in Civil War 2.0 is a good way to boost one’s patriotic credentials.
Since I’ve said before that I expect the United States to have its territorial integrity breached during my lifetime, you might expect that I follow the same line of belief. I do not.
It isn’t that we’re not headed for collapse – we certainly are. But when the breakdown comes, it won’t come because the Right and the Left decided to duke it out the way the Union and Confederacy did a century and a half ago. It will be quite a bit messier.
On the surface, our time looks a lot like the 1850s. The parties hate each other. They can no longer find any common ground. Each is guilty, according to the other, of horrific human rights abuses.
Trump-haters wish that non-Trump-haters would just die. Seriously, when I published a letter in support of Trump in my local paper during the last election, I got online comments saying such things as “I’m glad that people like you are gracing the obituary pages more and more frequency.” Apparently the poor fellow on the other end thought I was a baby boomer; actually, I was just nineteen years old at the time. But I digress.
We have plenty of hate in this country. And the folks on the ground are waking up to the fact that what one of my readers calls the ‘basic doxa’ of conservative intellectuals, that “change, if it comes, will be slow, peaceful and not too bad,” is nonsense.
If that was all you knew about the present situation, you might say that war was on the horizon, that the patriots just needed to find their Sam Adams and George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, and then they’ll be well on their way toward restoring the Constitution.
But wait – I haven’t yet gotten to the differences between our time and 1860. And that’s where things take a weird turn.
Back then, the two ideological factions were neatly separated along geographic lines. Nobody in the North voted for John C. Breckenridge. And no one in the Deep South voted for Abraham Lincoln. Also, turnout in 1860 was 81 percent, higher than in any presidential election before or since.
Nowadays, things aren’t so clear-cut. In 2016, in 37 out of 50 states, neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump got more than 60 percent of the vote. Nationwide turnout was only 56 percent. So in a typical red state, you’ve got 33 percent for Trump, 22 percent for Hillary, and 45 percent for “don’t care.” Blue states are the other way around. Neither side is going to mobilize an army to fight for its respective cause.
Policy is largely homogeneous throughout the country, and every part of it is moving leftward. When an ostensibly conservative state like Texas can’t be bothered to do something so basic as pass a law against changing children’s genders, you know that resistance isn’t in the offing.
Lots of conservatives like to say that abortion is the biggest moral issue in America today, as important to us as the slavery controversy was to our forefathers. Once again, there is a big difference between then and now. Back then, the states where the majority of the people were against slavery did not tolerate slavery. The same cannot be said about abortion in modern America.
“Well,” say most people, “the Supreme Court has ruled that banning it would be unconstitutional.”
Those of us who are historically literate know that the Supreme Court also tried to create a constitutional right to own slaves. That right was fairly short-lived.
In the North, resistance to the fugitive slave laws was the rule rather than the exception. Local law enforcement flatly refused to cooperate with federal mandates. When the federal courts ruled that this was illegal, their decisions got overturned in the state courts.
(What did you say? It doesn’t work like that? Well it does when the state militia outnumber the federal marshals a hundred to one. Lots of people get released from federal custody who, legally, shouldn’t be released. Just look up Sherman Booth.)
Nowadays, we have the March for Life. Yesterday, for the 47th time in as many years, half a million or so protesters gathered outside the Supreme Court and asked the Justices to pretty, pretty, please reconsider their decision to greenlight the nation’s largest program of mass-murder. As always, the Justices had nothing to say. And so the protesters put away their signs and went home, and will doubtless do the same thing next year.
One need not share these people's belief that abortion is murder in order to find the mismatch between their rhetoric and their actions disconcerting. One only need wonder whether they would be just as submissive if somebody in government decided to carry out a real, Nazi-and-Communist style genocide. Or to reinstate slavery. Or to do anything else along those lines.
A library could be filled with all the erudite prose arguing that Roe v. Wade was badly reasoned and has no basis in the constitution, and that America would be better off if its laws were still made by its elected legislature. And, of course, the people who write that stuff are correct. Also, none of that really matters when they're not willing to have a revolution because of it.
Methinks that these people are like the mathematician in the old joke, who wakes up to find that his room has caught fire, grabs a pad of paper, furiously rushes through a bunch of calculations, exclaims “I have proven that this fire can be put out,” and then goes back to bed.
Having the right ideas, and not acting on them, is a way of life these days.
I think that the reason a lot of people like to see the present situation in terms of hate is that it lets them think they’re in familiar territory. We’ve dealt with hate before. The trouble is, what we’re up against now isn’t hate, it’s indifference.
You can revolt against a government that hates you. You cannot revolt against an indifferent public. And that’s the reason why Civil War 2.0 is going to look so unlike the last one, and why it will require a very different strategy.
Indifference, not hatred, is what is presently doing us in. Consider, for instance, the fact that the majority of conservative Republican gun-toting Trump voters allow their children to get their education from the same leftist schools and leftist media that have been moving America to the left for the better part of a century. It’s not that they’re compelled to – we actually still have a lot of educational freedom in this country – it’s just that doing anything else would take too much effort.
For those who are not yet convinced that America’s public schools are uniformly awful, I invite you to consider a different fact. It is increasingly common to see child custody cases, like this one, that hinge on the question of whether the child should be raised as a boy or a girl. In today’s America, there’s no telling ahead of time how such a case will be decided. But I have yet to see a single news story about a man with enough bravery to appeal his case to the venue where it belongs, namely, an asylum court in Moscow.
So what will become of America? What happens to a nation divided into two political factions, which thoroughly hate each other, yet which are distributed nearly evenly throughout the country, and which are too lazy to revolt, or even flee the country when their children are in danger of being castrated?
Well, for at least the next few decades, we’re not going to get a halfway decent war going. And we’re not going to reverse our decline. The federal government will eventually lose power, but it won’t be overthrown in an intentional revolution. We’ll just have a slow slide into anarchy as the government runs out of resources to keep order.
That includes natural resources like oil. I don’t expect to see global peak oil until sometime in the second half of this century, but the system of monetary gimmickry and military intimidation that lets the United States consume a quarter of the world’s oil will fall apart much sooner. With mass unemployment and decaying infrastructure, the country will become much harder to police.
The shortage will also extend to human resources. The military is struggling to recruit from a generation of youth who are increasingly unfit to be soldiers. Right now, we have garrisons in South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Germany, Poland, and all over Africa. But there will come a time when we struggle to hold on to our own southern border.
Already much of the west has been settled by Spanish-speaking peoples who have little in common with the declining population of anglophones. As long as the central government can keep order and provide basic services, most of them will obey the laws and stay out of trouble. When the regime in Washington can no longer afford to do so, I expect them to shift their allegiance to local warlords, who will divide their corner of the country into rival chiefdoms.
The same thing will happen in much of English-speaking America, especially in rural places. Those whose convictions were never strong enough to pry them away from the regime in Washington while the comforts lasted will, in the end, be left to fend for themselves in a world of rampant crime, as drug cartels transform into independent statelets.
In short, America will become like Mexico. It will be a slow, uneven process. If you expect that when Civil War 2.0 comes, you can join the militia, fight for a few years, and then return to a country which is run according to your values, then you are quite mistaken.
While some people don’t realize it, Mexico is not, currently, a third world hellhole. Life expectancy there is 77 years. The mean income is higher than the global average. The universities are competitive at the global level.
Also, everything I just said is only relevant if you live in a part of the country where the central government still holds power. Much of Mexico’s territory isn’t actually Mexican; rather, it is run by various drug cartels. Military campaigns to retake this territory are liable to end in defeat: see Battle of Culiacan. As the cartels have gained territory, they’ve had to diversify out from their original line of business; much of their economy now consists of fisheries and avocado plantations.
The whole situation is closely paralleling the fall of Rome. As the Germanic robber bands who had been pillaging the empire found that their source of income was running out, they had to take up farming. Their agrarian enterprises eventually transformed into the proto-states that in due time became England, France, Spain, and Italy. For a while there was even a kingdom of Vandals ruling over Tunisia, headquartered in what was left of Carthage.
What happened in Rome back then is happening in Mexico now, and will happen in America eventually.
But even though the end product isn’t nasty, it still takes at least a century for a band of criminals to transform itself into the sort of dynasty that you would want to live under. So if the goal, in Civil War 2.0, is to avoid being ruled over by a hybrid of Atilla the Hun and Walter White, then the example to look to is the municipio de Cherán.
A decade ago, Cherán was a typical Mexican town of about 16,000; its people were, for the most part, indigenous and poor. They dealt with typical Mexican problems: the drug cartels, and corrupt police and federal officials who harassed them and looted their town, but were nowhere to be found when the drug cartels attacked.
In 2011, a local militia revolted and expelled the representatives of the central government. Cherán has governed itself as a de facto independent city state ever since. Neither the drug cartels nor the Mexican government have proved willing or able to recapture the city.
It will be a few decades before the United States is ready to have a Cherán. But we can prepare now. Own a rifle and know how to use it. Live frugally, and make your voice heard in local matters. If you have children, be choosy about where you send them to school. If you have land, learn to grow something on it: hunger as well as robbers will be an enemy in the times to come.
People on the Right have been talking about rising up to restore the constitution for half a century by now. If it was going to happen, it would have happened already. Civil War 2.0, when it comes, won’t be a nationwide campaign to recover our lost national glory. It will be waged at the local level, and it will be a war for survival.