The Upcoming American Civil War
And the end of American Exceptionalism.
The upcoming 2020 election will be bitterly fought, attracting more campaign dollars and aggressive tactics than any in US history. The result is a forgone conclusion: Mr. Trump will lose Wisconsin, Florida, or Michigan, by a small but meaningful margin, tilting the electoral college to Joe Biden and deciding the result. He will lose the popular vote in a landslide.
President Trump has spent the past 4 months publicly questioning the electoral process, casting doubt on the security of voting by mail (mail-in ballots and absentee ballots are the same thing). He has already stated that he will not necessarily accept the result if he loses. Due to the politicization of the coronavirus pandemic, liberal voters are far more likely than conservatives to mail in their ballots this year. The outcome in one or more swing states will be decided by a margin smaller than the number of absentee ballots.
When President Trump refuses to accept the result in November, claiming fraud and bias…what happens next?
A Captive Judiciary
In a single term, Donald Trump has appointed the 7th most District Judges of any president in history and the 6th most Circuit Judges. If his September nominee is confirmed, he will have appointed one third of the Supreme Court. Attorneys General Bill Barr is a fiercely loyal defender of President Trump and his allies.
The Presidential election has ended up in the Supreme Court only once, in the year 2000, and a recount of a disputed Florida result was thrown out by a 5–4 decision. American voters (and candidates) now know that nothing is sacred and any election result can be litigated. A Trump-stacked judicial system could overturn a close result in one or more states, but I think this is unlikely. The courts are more likely to let an election-night result stand.
Proud Boys, QAnon, and the Boogaloo
Heavily armed, radicalized militias are typically viewed as a threat to national security…when they look foreign (non-white) or have strange religious views (non-Christian). The mainstreaming of the “Alt-Right” has led to the rise of private militias, established to ostensibly protect American values. In reality, these groups exist to intimidate those who don’t share their ideologies.
The Proud Boys, founded to protect against the constant cultural assault on Western White Men, was labeled a domestic terrorist organization by the FBI, who then walked this back two weeks later under political pressure.
The Boogaloo movement, who quite literally wants to have a part in inciting a second civil war, has had a presence at the George Floyd and COVID lockdown protests. These idiots would never make it in the armed services, but they do seem to have access to military-issue gear and weapons that look the part.
These white far-right groups share an enthusiasm for conspiracy theories. QAnon is a favorite. Adherents of QAnon, of which there are now between 1 and 3 MILLION nationwide, believe that a cabal of Satan worshipping pedophiles, who control the country, is out to get Trump. This is laughable stuff. Except that there is now a “follower of Q” headed to Congress.
The commonality between these groups is that they are all heavily armed, heavily conservative, and 100% aligned with President Trump. QAnon followers see him as the savior.
Avoiding the Worst Case Scenario
The judiciary certainly might hand Trump a win in a contested election. This would subvert the will of the American people, but it is by no means the worst outcome. Worse would be an uprising of armed militias who feel that Trump has somehow been wronged, resulting in military action. The US military should be able to deal with some mullet-wearing Hawaiian shirts with army surplus gear. But a worst case would see a military schism, where military leaders find themselves failing to align on a new commander-in-chief, leading to large-scale armed conflict on American soil. Right now it’s hard to see where the military brass will end up.
Destabilization has long been the end-goal of the information war being waged against the West by Russia and China; some of the most virulent conspiracy theories were originally started and amplified by foreign powers. The rise of social media echo chambers has further divided American opinion. Rather than just disagreeing on specific policies, liberals and conservatives now actively hate one another.
Regardless of the outcome in November, this current trajectory is not how a functional democracy works. Divisions along state and party lines have become stark and scary. COVID-19 has highlighted the failure of this messy American experiment. We have been unable to to find the collective will to control a virus that doesn’t care about politics. Diversity of beliefs has long made this country great, as compromise, understanding, and acceptance were seen as virtues. But now the potential for violence is there; we are way beyond civil discourse and headed for civil war.