“Trump is cultural heroin. He makes some feel better for a bit. But he cannot fix what ails them, and one day they’ll realize it.”
-JD Vance on Trump in 2016
“I think he was a good president, I think he made a lot of good decisions for people.”
-JD Vance on Trump in 2021
In the 21st century, during an ongoing culture war between American conservatives and liberals over opposing cultural, moral, and religious ideals, some political commentators have characterized the polarized political discourse as either an actual Second Civil War or a potential prelude for one. According to one 2018 Rasmussen poll, 31 percent of American voters feared that the intense partisanship following the 2016 presidential election and the victory of Donald Trump would cause a Second Civil War within five years. In 2019, the national bipartisan Battleground Civility Poll by the Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service revealed that “the average voter believes the U.S. is two-thirds of the way to the edge of a civil war.”
- In the semi-satirical 1935 political novel by American author Sinclair Lewis, It Can’t Happen Here, a second civil war breaks out due to the tyrannical policies of fictional President Berzelius “Buzz” Windrip. Published during the rise of fascism in Europe, the novel describes the rise of Windrip, a politician who defeats Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) and is elected President of the United States, after fomenting fear and promising drastic economic and social reforms while promoting a return to patriotism and “traditional” values. After his election, Windrip takes complete control of the government and imposes a plutocratic/totalitarian rule with the help of a ruthless paramilitary force, in the manner of Adolf Hitler and the SS. The novel’s plot centers on journalist Doremus Jessup’s opposition to the new regime and his subsequent struggle against it as part of a liberal rebellion. Reviewers at the time, and literary critics since, have emphasized the connection with Louisiana politician Huey Long, who was preparing to run for president in the 1936 election when he was assassinated in 1935 just prior to the novel’s publication.
The immediate issue that brought on the Civil War was the expansion of slavery into the territories.
Politifact: Some states haven’t passed new election reform since the Civil War, and the phrase “worst challenge” has different meanings. Rating: Mostly True.
(Andrew) Johnson received a less friendly response from members of Congress at the end of the following month when he issued a proclamation granting amnesty and pardon “to all persons who have, directly or indirectly, participated in the existing rebellion” (with some exceptions). Johnson then issued another proclamation subversive of the goals of Reconstruction, this one authorizing the appointment (by himself) of a civilian provisional governor for North Carolina, a policy that he then extended to other Southern states.
Johnson’s plan, which the historian Allen C. Guelzo dubbed “self-reconstruction,” left it entirely to the states to write new constitutions and implement them as they saw fit. And soon enough, the Southern states began promulgating the infamous “Black codes,” deliberately designed to deny their newly freed slaves either the franchise or any path toward economic independence. The ultimate result of Johnson’s scheme would have been to create Southern state legislatures and state congressional delegations composed entirely of Southern Democrats, with nary a single representative from the Republican Party, white or Black.
Congress had been in recess while all this was transpiring, and when it convened in December 1865, it went right to work to counter Johnson’s edicts. It extended the life of the Freedmen’s Bureau, created a Joint Committee on Reconstruction, and passed the Civil Rights Bill of 1866. Johnson vetoed the measure extending the Freedmen’s Bureau and the Civil Rights Bill. Congress overrode both vetoes. Meanwhile, the Joint Committee on Reconstruction issued a report arguing that Congress could not “be expected to recognize as valid the election of representatives from disorganized communities.”
“As if on cue,” Guelzo writes in his book Reconstruction: A Very Short Introduction, “white Southerners confirmed every bleak suspicion in the report with an eruption of race riots in Southern cities.”
In Memphis, working-class whites slaughtered 46 Black veterans and war fugitives and burned “every negro church and schoolhouse in the city” to the ground, according to a Chicago Tribune account of the riot. A gun battle in Norfolk during a freedmen’s parade produced two white and at least two Black casualties. There were bloody riots in Charleston. Next, riots swept through New Orleans. When Radical Republican sympathizers of both races proposed reassembling the original 1864 Louisiana state constitutional convention at the New Orleans Mechanics Institute on July 30, 1866, a crowd of white police and well-armed white civilian thugs confronted the would-be attendees with deadly violence, and before Gen. Phil Sheridan could arrive with troops to quell the disturbance, blood was running in the streets. It was, said Sheridan (no stranger to massacres), “No riot. It was an absolute massacre by the police.”[…]
Now, a little more than half a century after the bipartisan Civil Rights victories of the 1960s—the so-called Second Reconstruction—the two political parties have exchanged historic roles, and a white-supremacist, violence-prone, extremist Republican Party now threatens to undo not only those achievements, but the American democratic order itself. Their master plan for doing so involves curtailing or eliminating the easiest and most accessible methods of voting. But the use of intimidation or outright violence, in view of the attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021—whose very purpose was to stop the counting of electoral votes—is not outside the boundaries of possibility, or even probability. The right-wing militia involved in that onslaught, by all accounts, stands ready and willing to act on behalf of authoritarian governance again. The concept of a new civil war is not, in fact, a purely notional or hypothetical one.
This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.