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Would A Donald Trump 2024 Win Spark a Civil War?

Donald Trump speaking with supporters at a campaign rally at Fountain Park in Fountain Hills, Arizona. Image Credit: Gage Skidmore.
Donald Trump speaking with supporters at a campaign rally at Fountain Park in Fountain Hills, Arizona.

Months back, the Washington Post’s noted its expectations for “Phase 1” of a potential second Trump term – and its deleterious effects on democracy. A short recap: Trump would “seize control of the government” by appointing loyalists, ignoring the Senate, and creating a MAGA-dominated civil service.

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A quick disclaimer before we get into Phases 2 and 3: Take all mainstream media Donald Trump-related analysis with a grain of salt. And with that, let’s dive into the Post’s analysis. 

“Phase 2: Donald Trump deploys the military aggressively at home, while retreating abroad.”

As with the first phase described by WaPo, phase 2 consists of several sub-steps. First, Trump would use the military to promote his own political power.

The concern here is that Trump would carry out similar actions to what he did in June 2020, during the George Floyd protests, when he brought military officials to a photo op in Lafayette Square. 

Similarly, Trump could use the military for a big Veterans Day parade. He wanted to do this during his first term, but aides talked him out of it. 

“More substantively,” Montgomery wrote, “Trump…could restore Confederate symbols to military bases, reinstitute an effective ban on transgender people serving, and dismantle ongoing diversity and inclusion efforts that his Senate allies already lampoon as ‘woke.’” 

Also, Trump could use federal troops to quell protests – “a dramatic and potentially deadly breach with tradition” that “could be unpredictable.”

“There’s a very real possibility that giving an order like that leads not to protest being put down, but it leads to some Americans in uniform firing on other Americans in uniform, with the people on both sides being convinced that they are doing the lawful and correct thing,” Steven Levitsky, Harvard professor, said.

Second, Trump scales down U.S. military involvement and presence abroad.

“As for the use of military power abroad,” Montgomery wrote, “Trump mostly favored withdrawals during his term…Trump wanted to pull U.S. troops out of South Korea, Germany and Somalia, but critics warned that those moves would be devastating to global security and alliances.”

Montgomery writes of an issue by issue restoration of “Trump’s isolationist version of an ‘America First’ foreign policy” – from the Gulf to Ukraine

“Another four years of Donald Trump, and what that could do to faith in government, our institutions, our political stability and our values, would fundamentally open…a more permanent set of questions about America. What does this country stand for now? Is it so deeply divided and polarized that it can’t create a coherent image to the world?” Aaron David Miller, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said.

Third, “intelligence work is harmed.”

The primary concern here is that “a Trump loyalist ensconced in the director’s chair could damage intelligence efforts at the most basic levels.”

Michael Hayden, former CIA director, said that another four years of Trump might result in other countries becoming hesitant to share intelligence with Americans. “If Trump is in power again, after four years, many of those people won’t ever trust us again.”

“Phase 3: Political violence and democratic collapse”

First, “ideological, racial and ethnic tensions ramp up.” 

“America is already gripped by an unprecedented level of what political scientists call ‘pernicious polarization’ – stoked and exploited by Trump – and a second Trump term could make it dangerously worse,” Montgomery wrote. “No other established democracy since at least 1950 has been so polarized for so long.

“‘It’s extremely worrisome; we’re in uncharted territory,’ Jennifer McCoy, a political science professor at Georgia State University, said. ‘If Trump does come back, I think it would severely deepen the crisis that we face.’”

Trump would likely “return to the issue that first built his following in the GOP and still animates the party: harsh measures to counter illegal immigration,” Montgomery writes. (Of course, Trump’s immigration policy is quite similar to Biden’s – Biden is even resuming construction of Trump’s Border Wall – but okay.)

Second, “the bonds that bind the Union loosen.”

Namely, people will lose faith in U.S. elections. 

“How Trump gets re-elected matters…the intensity and immediacy of the backlash would vary depending on those circumstances, but serious damage to the democracy may be inevitable either way if Trump is on the ballot,” Montgomery wrote. 

“’We have a significant percentage of the American electorate right now who have been lied to about the integrity of our elections, who believe that elections…are rigged unless their candidate wins,’ David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation & Research, said. ‘Yet it’s nowhere close to 50 percent of America overall. But if Trump were to win a narrow victory again, I could see [election denial] ideas…infecting a larger percentage of the electorate. And if a large segment of a democracy’s electorate loses confidence in elections, that democracy probably is unsustainable.’”

(Okay, but wouldn’t Donald Trump losing the election have a similar, or more powerfully damaging result?)

Three, “the chances of civil war increase.”

“‘Some of the preconditions for civil war – a weakening democracy with hindrances to popular participation and divisions along identity lines – are brewing in the United States,’” according to Barbara Walter, a political science professor at UC-San Diego. ‘Those dynamics could intensify with Trump or a similar figure in the White House.’

“’A modern civil war wouldn’t be state v. state like in the 1860s, Walter said. ‘The type of war we’re going to see is an insurgency…[Participants] are going to fight a type of guerrilla war, a siege of terror that’s going to be targeted very specifically at cetain individuals and certain groups of people, all civilians.’

“Could it happen here? Would it be that bad? The message of prophets of democratic doom can sound over-the-top,” Montgomery wrote, “but to dismiss it, they say, would be naive – and they urge vigilance and civic engagement to prevent the nightmare from coming true.”

Harrison Kass is the Senior Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. He lives in Oregon and listens to Dokken. Follow him on Twitter @harrison_kass. 

Written By

Harrison Kass is a Senior Defense Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison has degrees from Lake Forest College, the University of Oregon School of Law, and New York University’s Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. He lives in Oregon and regularly listens to Dokken.