Two weeks ago, I wrote about the possibility of a constitutional and political crisis in the US as a result of President Donald Trump’s refusal to leave the White House if he loses the election because of voter fraud. A couple of days after this prediction, which was echoed throughout US media, we saw the prominent New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman make an appearance on CNN in which he said the US could be headed toward a second civil war after the President’s refusal to commit to a peaceful transition of power should he lose the presidential election on November 3. Friedman said that he began his career as a journalist covering the civil war in Lebanon, and that he is terrified to find himself ending his career as a journalist covering America’s potential second civil war.
Recently, Trump has been increasingly giving weight to this possibility by emphasizing that there is a chance the election results will be disputed and that he will not commit to the results of the election, unless he sees the issue of mail-in voting addressed.
“Get rid of ballots and you’ll have a very peaceful – there won’t be a transfer, frankly. There will be a continuation,” Trump added.
The Democrats’ reaction was intense. They urge people to vote by mail because of the coronavirus and out of fear of overcrowding at ballot boxes and abstention. Few Republicans, such as the former presidential candidate Mitt Romney, have condemned Trump’s statements and affirmed that a peaceful transfer of power is fundamental to democracy, stressing that any other option is unacceptable.
However, polarization continues to deepen. On the one hand, there is Trump’s majority support base, primarily made up of white supporters, people living in white neighborhoods, and states where workers were left without jobs as a result of globalization and the relocation of factories to Mexico and China. The last group believes, for various reasons, that US allies have stolen their opportunities to earn a living or made wealth at their expense.
They also believe that there is a major conspiracy to change the demographics of the US by flooding the country with immigrants of color of various religions and ideologies. On the other hand, there is the rest of the US population of non-white minority groups, non-Protestants (Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is Catholic), and those who have assimilated and integrated into society, who want the America they have always known.
The first American Civil War took place from 1860 to 1865 and was fought between northern and southern states. It is commonly known that this war was about “slavery,” and this is true. However, the war was also about maintaining Confederate States and the rights enjoyed by different states. There was also a difference in values at the time. Northern states were industrial and technologically advanced while southern states were agricultural – lagging behind in most aspects – and were afraid of the libertarian values in the north.
The current geographical divide of the US is different. It is taking place between blue states on eastern Atlantic and Pacific coasts on the one hand, and central and southern states on the other. It is no coincidence that “swing” states are located in the Great Lakes region to the north (Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin). In these states, industry is mixed with agriculture, and progress mixed with ignorance.
The blue, Democratic states, which are the most populated, are where you will find the world’s most prominent universities, research centers, and the advanced Silicon Valley. Such states hosted the Oriental Institute, which produced American and global ideas for the US and the rest of the world. They are also the birthplace of Hollywood, Apple, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Boeing. From these states came the ideas of same-sex marriage, the right of abortion, state intervention in the market, and health insurance. On the flip side, other states are still relying on traditional and extractive industries, agriculture, and fishing. They are also where intolerant religious values are largely upheld, and where anti-progressive ideas are maintained.
The truth is that the issue has ramifications beyond Trump and his convictions, even in terms of his management of the current divide. Trump is practically borrowing ideas that are meant to deepen the differences, as was the case in Germany during the 1930s. The situation is also similar to what happened in Arab countries where the Muslim Brotherhood followed a logic of “either we rule, or we raise hell.” Such circumstances put into question all the ideas the Americans have lived by since World War II. The risk would become a dangerous reality in the case of a civil war, or if California, which protested to demand independence after Trump won his first term, secedes from the US should Trump win. There is also fear that other states would propose some sort of an American “Brexit.”
What I believe is that even if the crisis is real and serious, there are still traditions and common interests that would prevent any such scenarios from happening. But surprises are not far-fetched during the times of coronavirus.
This piece was originally published in Eygptian outlet Al-Masry Al-Youm.