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Has A Second American Civil War Begun?

Americans, very clearly, are extremely polarized at the moment. Does that mean we are on the verge on in a sort of second civil war?

Former Vice President of the United States Joe Biden speaking with attendees at the 2019 Iowa Federation of Labor Convention hosted by the AFL-CIO at the Prairie Meadows Hotel in Altoona, Iowa. By Gage Skidmore.

A Second Civil War? Americans, very clearly, are extremely polarized at the moment. Americans often believe contradictory or completely opposite things, based in part on the media they consume and the politicians to whom they listen.

These divides, more than they should, have sometimes manifested themselves in real-life violence, while one official, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) has even called for a “national divorce.” 

Even amid all of that, descriptions of the situation as an incipient “civil war” remain overstated. 

A Civil War? No.

First of all, in times of actual war, such as right now, it’s kind of irresponsible to say “This is a war” about things that are not actually wars. 

Beyond that, it’s not clear how a new “civil war” would work. It wouldn’t form the same geographical lines as the original Civil War, between North and South, especially now that Georgia is a blue state. Not to mention, there are minorities of Democrats in every Red State and Republicans in every blue one. 

Plus, the Civil War, the one in the 1860s, was about slavery, and about whether Southern states could continue to have it. Today’s conflicts are about many different things, not about one big one. 

“We are living in a time of great division where the left is bullying and abusing the right and basically forcing the right to accept the left’s ways whether we like it or not,” Greene said in calling for a “national divorce.” 

There are some moments that are dispiriting. This week, Rep. Tom Emmer (R-MN), long a solidly conservative member of Congress, had his bid for the House speakership derailed, in large part because Donald Trump opposed it, and because Emmer had voted to certify to the 2020 election. The next Speaker-designate, meanwhile, is Rep Mike Johnson (R-LA), who played more of an active role in the effort to overturn that election. 

Therefore, it certainly says a lot that one party absolutely demands not only faulty to one man in order for another man to lead them in Congress but to submit to an alternate set of facts about what happened in an election three years ago. 

But no, a civil war that does not make. 

Last fall, the New York Times op-ed page hosted a discussion on this topic, between op-ed columnists Jamelle Bouie and Jane Coaston and journalist Tim Alberta. 

“I think we probably start with what civil war is not in this context. We’re not talking about armies of red and blue fighting another Battle of Antietam,” Alberta said during the podcast. “We’re not talking about the forces of Charlie Kirk clashing in the streets with the forces of Keith Olbermann, or pick your figurehead. We’re not talking something anywhere near I think the scale or anywhere resembling the organization of what we saw in the mid-19th century.”

“What we are discussing is some significant scale of semiorganized, lethal, civil conflict that is organized around not just political and ideological disputes but perceived threats to economies, and livelihoods. And I don’t know that we would recognize it in the U.S.,” he added. 

Bouie, the Times columnist, agreed. 

“I think that if we’re going to define civil war as basically being low-intensity civil conflict, then we shouldn’t refer to it as civil war. Because I think that when you look at what civil wars generally look like, they do involve organized factions or if not armies, then military forces,” he said. 

“They may not necessarily involve entities trying to themselves become states. It may be a struggle for control of the existing state.

But there are organized armed forces, there are organized political entities, and they’re vying through armed conflict for control of the state. And that I don’t see happening in the United States any time soon.”

Author Expertise and Experience:

Stephen Silver is a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive. He is an award-winning journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Stephen has authored thousands of articles over the years that focus on politics, technology, and the economy for over a decade. Follow him on X (formerly Twitter) at @StephenSilver, and subscribe to his Substack newsletter.

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Stephen Silver is a journalist, essayist, and film critic, who is also a contributor to Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review, and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.