146 Comments

True civil war is a nonstarter for all the reasons you identified, most especially geography.

However, the federal government is completely sclerotic and getting worse. At some point, a red state (or a few of them) will say "we've had enough". Today, a federal judge in Austin ruled that Gov Abbot has to remove his border barrier. What if Abbot simply refuses -- "let's see them enforce it" style. What happens when the Army Corp of Engineers goes to remove the barriers and the Texas National Guard refuses to allow it? And that's just one of many examples. We could have had something like that with the states that legalized marijuana 10 years ago, but the feds wisely decided not to go to the wall over it. The Left will go to the wall over immigration and most of the culture war.

Secondly, what happens if Trump actually manages to win 2024? Unlikely, I know. But the Democratic Party has spent 7 years convincing themselves that Trump is Hitler, and you CAN NOT turn over power to Hitler, even if he does win an election. Would the Democratic Party peacefully transfer power back to Donald Trump? If the leadership decides to, how will they talk their armed wing (that's what antifa actually is) off the ceiling? I don't know. I don't think they can.

The long-term solution is federalism, a return to "live and let live" on a wide variety of issues. I believe the Right could get there. It would be hard on LGBT and abortion, but there's a strong states rights and limited government tradition among conservatives. The Left has a harder time. Progressivism believes they're pursuing the "best practices" to run society, a universalism that makes any return to "live and let live" very hard.

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Sep 7, 2023Liked by Noah Smith

How would you take into account the behavior of Senator Tubberville with halting military promotions? The pro-authoritarians may use the instrument of promotions to place their own Francos in place or hinder those opposed.

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It's worth noting that even in the Spanish Civil War, the initial putsch from morocco was largely a matter of Spanish ultra-right-wing officers leading Moroccan Regulares, who had no love for Spain. And even then the process of invading was initially stymied by the Navy remaining loyal to the republican government - they were only able to reach Spain with the assistance of the fascist governments in Germany and Italy.

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The notion that a civil war was possible seems to have been pushed by the left, not the right.

This is the same crowd that characterizes the January 6 riot as an attempted coup and ignores the years of Russia-gate cooperation between the Dems, the DOJ and the Intelligence community by dismissing these outrageous actions as acceptable politics rather than the calculated attempt to undermine a legitimately elected President. Your endorsement of the tech platforms concerted efforts to censor opposition voices at the direction of the government, government entities and government financed NGOs marks you as a member of the managerial class which endorses a form of totalitarian control that is contrary to what once was democratic republic.

I'd suggest you ignore your hysterical fevered nightmares of Trumpist plots and focus on the 2024 election, which is likely to leave the country only more fractured as neither Presidential candidate is qualified to serve and none of the alternatives offered by either party have the capacity to do so either. This will end up in a world war, not a civil war.

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The average American citizen is way too old to wage civil war. That helps matters.

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My opinion is that I don’t think we will see organized violence. Disorderly conduct? Some. I think we are seeing the phenomenon now, which is “quiet quitting.” This is much more insidious and can be difficult to identify. Even though the US is at full employment, the labor participation rate says otherwise. There are probably solutions to this, but the current administration hasn’t recognized a problem. They have only partially addressed the populist movement, which is not a wholly American phenomenon (Brexit and other European discontent).

I feel the heart of the matter is the Western governments are all plutocracies. Moreover, the governments create their plutocrats. The government chooses who will be the plutocrats. The government also maintains the plutocrats who work with it. The plutocrats don’t share its wealth with the commoner, as noted in the hightened Gini index for the US.

The public was never taught this about their system, nor has there been any course correction in their education. Many things in their formal education was incorrect, and allowed to propagate. Hence, there is public frustration and the conservative movement to change things back to the ideal, which is impossible at this point.

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Yes, obviously a literal war is absurd [1]. What we should be worried about the end of the norms that allow us to have rule governed elections rather picking leaders by last minute congressional intervention or by just arresting your opponent.

Unfortunately, both right and left are putting those norms under threat. Trump's actions and their defense by the GOP are inexcusable. But it horrifies me almost as much that a party that claims to care about safeguarding our democracy won't consider the possible negative consequences of prosecuting Trump.

Sure he deserves it. But it's obvious that almost half the population does and will continue to believe it's politically motivated. Doesn't matter if it is or isn't. If the voters and members of the next republican admin believe it's now fair game to use the DOJ against opponents what do you think will happen? [2]

And it doesn't help that the Dems talk about impeaching members of the supreme court or stuffing the court because they are upset with their rulings. I hate many of the rulings too but those justices were selected by the political process w/o hiding their judicial philosophy and intervention will just result in tit for tat reprisals. And don't say the rights of such and such group are important enough to risk it: in a system that swings back and forth every 8 years no one will have any secure rights.

Ultimately the us constitutional system is more norm based than we like to admit and I fear we are well into a game of chicken. Break either the norm about political prosecutions or even the norm about packing the court and I see no mechanism to prevent a slide into a significantly less democratic system.

This isn't a new problem in America. Adams passed the alien and sedetion acts to effectively make it illegal to campaign against him. Let's take a page from Jefferson, the target of those laws, who didn't try to punish or retaliate against Adams when he won.

1:. There just isn't anything at stake most people care enough about to die for, there isn't a clear enough geographic distinction and (most importantly) many of the angriest people have children or parents on the other side

2: While I'm sure there are some good justifications the standard arguments are laughably bad. It can't be about deterrence because if you accept a loss you might get prosecuted but if you steal a victory you won't. It can't be that it's just morally necessary, the justice system let's literal murderers skate all the time if we believe larger national needs justify it (eg witsec).

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I think the big concern is more riots.

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It's always strange hearing the tales of despair over in the States if you follow particular news outlets. Thanks for being a voice of reason. All these point to a very low (but non zero!) chance of civil war.

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All good arguments. But isn't even a "low" risk of another American cicvil war a scary thought?

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"The squeeky wheel gets the most grease." Some politicians command a large media presence, but they are few in number, but loud in voice. Because a few like MTG make outlandish statement doesn't mean that most or very many conservatives believe as she does. Her comments are foolish, but do drive ratings. The media doesn't care what damage they do to our democracy, they only care about ratings and ad revenue.

It is one thing to talk about fighting, but it is another thing to give up your job, your home, and put your life on the line. One positive thing that came out of Jan.'6 was that no where elese did we have violence. It could have spread, but it didn't.

I have complete confidence in our military that they will follow the consitution they were sworn to uphold, even if they may have some regrets. I also view Tommy Tuberville's position as a positive. Any thinking member of our military will note that he doesn't care about them or the damage he is doing to their lives or our military posture. All he cares about is his political position. None of his colleges are willing to openingly criticise him or even support him. Are these the type of people you want to give up your career for? I don't believe that many will be willing to support people who don't care about them. Their actions or lack of actions speak loudly to their lack of moral couage.

Relatively speaking, there are few Proud Boys and White Supremists, but very many true Americans who may differ with their neighbors, but are not willing to start killing anyone. As the legal proceedings continue, people will see Trump's supporters abanding him, as facing years in jail prove to be a high barrier to overcome. Additionally, Trump has no loyality to anyone except himself. So I see a race between his supporters and himself as to who abands who the first.

No matter what your feelings are about John McCain's politics he refused to leave his fellow service menbers and spent many additional years in prison becuase of his sense of loyality. Trump denigrated him becuase he was captured - how many service men and women will support a man who did this one of their own? A true American hero! How many Trump supporters have anywhere near this much courage to support Trump?

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I don’t think a North v South or similar conflict was ever in the cards, but some kind of sustained insurgency has, at times, felt plausible. Thinking armed militas blowing up Amazon trucks and logistics infrastructure. Lots of IEDs and makeshift drone strikes.

I think Robert Evans probably has the most clear eyed take on the topic.

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The GI Bill, great training for careers/trades outside the military; discounts on housing, groceries at the PX, full health and dental insurance, & etc. What exactly would military factions be fighting over? The closest we’ll get to this is the annual Army vs Navy football game.

As for Trump and his band of Banana Republicans. With 20 million newly registered voters in November 2024, voters more than 90% don’t like Republican Party policies -- with a decent turnout, I think Trump loses by more than 7 million votes. I think independent voters who voted for Trump in 2020 won’t do so again,!or they’ll sit this election out at home because of no incentive. Guys like former Arkansas Governor Huckabee boast if Trump loses because of “indictments and trial” the 2024 election will be settled by “bullets not ballots.” No doubt Huckabee will grab his spear, put on his horned buffalo hat, and lead Steve Bannon’s “army of 50,000 angry patriots” into battle. These cranks play tough guys on talk radio.

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I feel like Afghanistan is the better model for a civil war between blue cities (with national institutions) and red counties (with militias).

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I think we are presently in a civil war of sorts. Republicans can't win on a national level, so they're not interested in competing in the same game any more. They're working outside of the system.

Ask yourself whether we are at war with Russia right now or not. It's not such an easy question to answer, right? I think the same is true of domestic politics right now: the leader of one of two major parties is actively trying to undermine the rule of law, and the "soldiers" are playing along, lest they give up their remaining power base.

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Don’t forget about Wall Street. The money men and women don’t want the American consumers distracted from consuming. They control our politicians. They want the profits flowing, not guns a blazing.

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