Avoiding a Post-Election Civil War

The Civil War was perhaps the most devastating conflict in American history. It was preceded by years of racial tensions that eventually boiled over into militant violence when Abraham Lincoln won the presidency without a single southern state. This made it clear to many Democrats in the South that the political structure of the United States could no longer protect their interests and democratic process. They decided that the system was rigged against them, and so they opted out, and the battle that preceded was the bloodiest our country has ever seen. Unfortunately for us, the current political landscape is beginning to look more and more like that of the Antebellum.

Racial tensions are currently fueling angry (and sometimes violent) protests hosted by both sides of the aisle. Similar to 1861, we face a jarring recession that is exacerbating an already anxious America. And, like before, we are approaching one of the most controversial and provocative elections in the history of Western democracy.

This election is unique in that more Americans plan on voting by mail than ever before. The majority of these mail-in voters come from one party. FiveThirtyEight’s Nathaniel Rakitch recently reported that about one-third of voters plan to cast their ballot via mail and that Joe Biden carries a 63 point lead with them[1]. In contrast, Donald Trump is projected to hold a 33 point advantage among in-person voters. As Rakitch goes on to explain, this could result in a provocative election day where Trump appears to have a strong lead in almost every state. Then chaos will ensue when mail-in ballots roll in and the election swings heavily in Biden’s favor. If this were to happen, many Americans, especially the hypothetically losing Republicans, would be suspicious of mail-in voter fraud. The GOP is, of course, already very concerned by ballot stuffing rumors propagated largely by the party’s head. Although a surge in Democratic votes is expected from mail ballots and makes sense based on current polls, it might not seem that way to the recessing, upset, quarantined, protesting citizens who feel their America slipping away from them. A recent study conducted by political scientist Larry Bartels found that half of Republicans feel that “the traditional American way of life is disappearing so fast that we may have to use force to save it” (emphasis added)[2]. How might this group of people feel if they see the most radically liberal ticket in recent history take the White House based on what looks like voter fraud? Violent disapproval is certainly not a given, but neither is it improbable, especially in a country where violent outbursts are currently a common occurrence. 

As New York Times columnist David Brooks points out, the special circumstances of this election could give Trump an opportunity to reject the election results outright. This could cause months, if not years, of political confusion and turmoil that the United States might not be able to bear. Whether or not Trump loses the election and leaves office, there is sure to be frustration this November. A presidential election affects everyone in this country and thus gives everyone a very personal reason to fight for a fair outcome. In this, what political analyst Bill Schneider has called “the most divided [time] since the Civil War,” it is not hard to imagine our rifted America taking to the streets to dispute an unwanted election outcome [3]. If violence conflict became a possibility, we can be sure that foreign powers would love to help widen America’s divide. The Washington Post, among others, has reported that Russia is already spreading misinformation about voter fraud in an attempt to stir up conflict [4]. If post-election protests turn violent, we can expect that Russia will play true to colors and help to further divide our country. Few wanted or even expected the Civil War before it broke out, but once it did the chaos rose uncontrollably to devastating levels. Similarly, we may feel that a revolution this November is never going to happen. Facts and historical precedent argue otherwise. 

It may be a chance, perhaps even a slight chance, but if we will hide at home behind surgical masks based on the off-chance of catching a virus, we can take extra precautions to avoid the off-chance of a much more deadly civil war. If we are not careful, we could all too soon find ourselves once again fighting “brother against brother.”

This is certainly a dim and dreary prediction for the future, but it is far from our only option. The path to peace and safety has a simple first step; we need to vote in person. Dr. Faucci has stated that socially distanced voting is safe and appropriate. I know that our COVID concerns are rational and justified to the utmost degree. However, in this case, mail-in voting may help us win the battle that starts the war. So, if you are planning on voting by mail, you may want to reconsider. After all, there is no ventilator that can stop a civil war.



[2] https://www.pnas.org/content/117/37/22752

[3] https://luskin.ucla.edu/the-art-of-shaping-opinion-lessons-from-three-experts


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