Could America be inching closer to civil war?

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Graphic by Caroline Dinh

If Biden wins the upcoming election and Trump refuses to step down, civil war could be in the cards.

Rohan Dewan and Athira Nair

For the past four years, America has been at war with itself. The United States has reached a point in which the divisions between Democrats and Republicans far outweigh what unites us as a country. Taking the politics out of the 2016 election, Trump directly wielded racism and xenophobia as the driving forces behind his platform. He then used his first term in office to expand the chasm in our nation, exposing the hostile division that had always been present. The 2020 election will be the most consequential in the recent history of the United States, determining whether America will be fractured under Trump’s fascist government or united under Joe Biden’s more progressive one. 

After experiencing the disaster of Trump’s four years in office, many independents and moderates who previously voted for the president have shifted their support to former Vice President Biden. Not only does he maintain a commanding national lead over Trump, but he is also ahead in key battleground states and presents himself as competitive in the historically Republican state of Texas. However, even if Biden can secure the electoral vote, the possibility of civil war may loom in the country’s future. 

For the first time in presidential history, Trump has refused to explicitly state that he would accept the results of the election and allow for a peaceful transition of power. Continuing his ploy of deeming anything that questions him fake, Trump has used the last stage of his campaign to portray mail-in ballots as fraudulent and inaccurate. This has produced paranoia among his supporters around the validity of the election, setting up the possibility of Trump contesting the results of a Biden victory.

Trump’s refusal to leave office would be the largest contributor to this “civil war,” but the attitudes of many Americans would also play a pivotal role. Trump has been able to create a base that idolizes him irrespective of his actions and finds a way to excuse him for any of his controversies. No president has ever held this level of support, and it leaves many concerned about the possible response of this massive group if Trump refuses to leave office. 

According to the Washington Post, there has been a major increase in gun sales, chatter about civil war in right-wing extremist online forums and an embrace of violent language by President Trump and other Republican government officials. Since Trump’s supporters often buy into his tactics of crying “fake news,” they will likely believe him if he did the same with the election, introducing the chance of militia-controlled regions that claim Trump as their leader. Though, recent surges in movements such as Black Lives Matter prove that Democrats and liberals will respond to Trump supporters with an equally powerful force.

Beyond the undying support of voters, Trump has managed to force almost all Republican government officials to fall in line with his agenda. While Democrats do not shy away from voicing their opinions and attacking party leaders, Republicans have now become the party of Trump. Senators like Lindsay Graham, who had opposed Trump’s entire campaign in 2016, are now vocal defenders of his policies, tweets and speeches. If Trump refuses to leave office, governors and senators may align with their respective leader leading to a checkerboard fragmentation not dissimilar to what occurred in the 1860s.

After the election of Lincoln, a controversial figure at the time, many pro-slavery Democrat states felt so strongly about their stance on the ownership of African Americans that they refused to accept him as their president. In the decades leading up to that election, the country constantly fluctuated its stance on the practice of slavery. In modern times, the U.S. experiences the same shift back and forth on social issues. In 1973, Roe v. Wade represented a milestone in the fight for women’s reproductive rights, but half a century later, America is plagued by sectional differences and continually flips on abortion. Since Biden is seen as a defender of the rights of marginalized populations as Lincoln was, Republicans could have a similar reaction to 1860 out of fear that a Democratic administration may erase their backward policies.

An outsider grabbing power is not a new phenomenon and has been seen in the history of other nations. During Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in Germany, he used a group of people as a scapegoat for all of the problems within the country. Similarly, Trump often places blame on Democrats and liberals for immigration, economic and domestic issues. Just as supporters of Hitler devoted themselves to him with no regard to his ethics, Trump’s followers also refuse to see how they are being misled.

If Trump can mobilize his base and provoke a civil war, the country will be torn apart at its institutions and governmental bodies. In control of the full government, during a lame-duck period, Trump could use his executive and Republican senate powers to dismantle many agencies and existing bodies, eroding the current system. Biden, however, would have a legitimate claim to control of the government and not back down, resulting in the formation of two simultaneous administrations. This is not likely to result in a civil solution, leading to armed conflicts.

 Biden would hold the advantage over Trump as many generals have already pledged their support for his campaign. And, the military has always been patriotic in the sense that they serve their country, not a fascist ruler that ignores Constitutional procedure. However, Trump may possess a pull with National Guard units commanded by conservative governors. With the addition to heavily militarized state militias, a civil war would ensue.

America is more divided today than it has been in the past century. This election represents a choice between two alien nations, and there will undoubtedly be civil unrest regardless of who is named the victor. However, Donald Trump has proved that he has no appreciation for the systems that prevent the U.S. from falling to tyranny, and he will do anything in his power to clutch on to power. No one can say for sure what will occur following the election of Biden, but considering everything over the past four years we must brace for the worst.