Is a civil war likely? It’s already started

Bex Heimbrock, Opinion Editor

Illustration by Payton Davies.

In Nashville, Tennessee, two Black Democratic legislators were ousted from their seats in the State Legislature by Republican leadership. In Massachusetts, Governor Maura Healey vowed to keep the abortion pill mifepristone available, openly defying a federal judge’s ruling, which stayed the FDA approval of the pill. In Florida, after news broke that former President Donald Trump had been indicted by a grand jury, Governor Ron DeSantis refused to assist in any hypothetical extradition request against Trump. And, of course, in numerous locales across the country, Proud Boys and other fascistic street gangs are engaging in daily acts of violence against their perceived political enemies. 

Amidst the deluge of daily political violence, one is forced to wonder: how much of this is just routine political posturing? When does it cross a line further into the possibility of serious political unrest that rivals the violence of the January 6 insurrection?

Since the election of former president and current extremist Donald Trump in 2016, commentators and analysts have increasingly given serious consideration to the potential for a second American Civil War. Intelligence and terrorism experts Karen and Gregory Treverton wrote a chilling indictment of our current political atmosphere in 2021.

“It seems plain that a civil war is coming, and the only question is whether it will be fought with lawsuits and secessions or with AK-15s,” they write. 

Some experts have even gone so far as to say that we are currently in a so-called “cold civil war.” In an interview with NPR, former top Russia expert for the Trump White House Fiona Hill warned that the United States was “teetering on the edge of violence,” stating, “we’re already, I think, in a cold civil war.” 

Then, there are those who turn to the future to explain the present. Author of “After the Revolution” and creative force behind the podcast “It Could Happen Here” Robert Evans imagines the United States in 2070, twenty years after the civil war, as a Balkanized region. 

Evans draws on his knowledge of militant groups in Syria to illustrate what a modern civil war might look like in the United States. In an interview with “The Lone Star Plate” podcast, he states, “what I’m envisioning when I think about (…) a large scale civil conflict in the U.S. is quite a few sides at once.” 

In terms of understanding how geographic and cultural boundaries play into the issue, Evans says, “Balkanization is the name of the game, in terms of what I think is potentially realistic. I don’t see the South seceding from the United States.” In this Balkanized husk of the U.S., California is a police state and the Northwest is “doing its own thing,” while the Southwest is a patch-work of city-states and failing states. 

For Evans, the modern civil war will begin when people start trying to purge or replace the government. The title of Evans’ podcast, “It Could Happen Here,” was thus proved scarily accurate in the wake of the January 6 insurrection, which saw multiple efforts to kidnap and exterminate Democratic and “Republican in Name Only” (i.e. traitors to the GOP’s fascist cause) lawmakers. 

Still, Balkanization requires distinct cultural tensions throughout geo-political boundaries in the United States. Unfortunately for our country, these divides exist and are only deepening. 

Perhaps one of the most jarring instances of this phenomenon takes place on TikTok. On TikTok, users choose music to lip-sync or dance along to, creating the opportunity to watch themselves become one with cultural signifiers like music and clothing. During the 2020 elections, and for some time after, the Kansas City Chiefs’ theme song, “Red Kingdom” by Tech N9ne, trended on TikTok. The song functioned as a dog-whistle for conservatives who smugly lip-synced the lyrics “Welcome to the Red Kingdom.” They were anticipating, no doubt, the imminent reelection of “their president,” Donald Trump. 

The TikTok trend is more sinister than it may first appear. TikTok user @rackdaddies posted a video depicting a massive version of Trump 2020 carved into a field, visible from an airplane, with the song in the background. The ideology of the “Red Kingdom,” is thus literally marked on a geographic location – creating a tie between land and politics, which, while certainly not new, is still fundamentally destructive.

A modern civil war will happen slowly. It will start with a few lone wolf acts, growing cultural tensions and worried discussions about the state of the country. Eventually, it will become hard to distinguish between normalcy and violence. Maybe this will happen soon, but maybe it has already happened.