Get ready for a second U.S. civil war

Major divisions will be along economic, political, secular and theologial lines.

The Washington Post recently ran an interesting three-part series of articles regarding political divisions in the United States. Two families were profiled in the story, the Stein family in Sugar Land, Texas, and the Harrison family in San Francisco. Both families are strikingly similar: white, Catholic, married heterosexual households with children and homes.

Yet, the ideological location of the families in the story is significant – the Steins are conservative Republicans and the Harrisons are liberal Democrats. The en vogue shorthand expression for these ideological/geographical division lines is the red states versus the blue states – the red states for the Republicans and the blue states for the Democrats. The red states are largely Southern and Western. The blue states encompass both coasts and the Midwest. Alaska is red. Hawaii is blue. Since the 2000 presidential election, journalists and social commentators have talked ad nauseam about the political divisiveness in the United States today, made visible by these color lines.

While I agree the United States is a country divided (more by class, education and income than anything else) I am not so sure the divisions are anything new – meaning, our constitutional/representational democracy fosters opposing sides. And while I also agree the number of purple states (ones mixing red and blue – such as Minnesota) have largely disappeared from the union, I do think too many trivial differences are read into the 50-50 split along party lines. Case in point: The Steins and the Harrisons are effectively the same affluent family type. What I think is absolutely crucial to recognize in the red and blue geography is, as The Washington Post story reported, “America is engaging in voluntary political segregation.”

Quite simply, people are moving to parts of the country where they think their party politics will be embraced and not necessarily challenged. This isn’t a particularly revelatory point. Most people, given the chance, would seek out an affordable place to live, matching their politics. I do it.

But something else about the self-segregation of the U.S. population bothers me, and it is a concern I first started contemplating while attending both pro- and anti-war rallies last spring.

I think the United States is headed toward another civil war.

Historians have made a significant mistake over the years by calling the Civil War our last domestic conflict. We Americans would only help ourselves by thinking of that moment in time as “a” civil war. And even though the moment I am thinking about was 140 years ago, a number of the issues raised about the divisions between the North and the South have never been resolved.

The civil war I foresee involves East, West, North and South battle lines in which a confederacy of each region forms around socio-political interests, similar to the differences now among the rural, suburban and urban areas. The major divisions will be along economic, theological and secular lines as U.S. party politics increasingly fuses religion with governance. Too many U.S. conservative Christian religious leaders are demanding a theocratic nation that prepares the way for the return of Jesus Christ. Too many secular groups scoff at how serious conservative Christian groups are about reading the Bible as a literal text. Affluent suburban liberals and conservatives pay little serious attention to the debilitating poverty in the rural and urban United States.

As the red states begin to exert their sovereignty in creating local laws banning gay marriage, most kinds of abortion, access to health care, immigrant rights, etc., the blue states will do the exact opposite and populations will shift. National corporate executives will then face a choice regarding whether their companies’ employees can work in certain states when employee benefits change region to region.

Once corporations begin to move, so do the jobs and so does state income generated by trade. As trade between the states becomes more hostile, so will the political and religious rhetoric. The rhetoric from both red and blue states can easily use patriotism as a rallying cry while simultaneously modifying nationalism with regionalism.

Ultimately I think another civil war might need to happen in the United States, and I expect to see this war in my lifetime. Without question I understand how destructive such a war would be for the modern American nation-state: Millions of people would die and the damage done to the country’s infrastructure would be catastrophic. So I’m not advocating for a war, but I don’t see how it can be stopped. While other nations, so much older than our own, have decided armed conflict is not the route to take when settling disputes, I don’t think we Americans have learned the wisdom of that lesson. Not yet.

John Troyer welcomes comments at [email protected]