Civil War Redux?
November 9, 2020

Peter Turchin offers a sobering analysis of the state of America in 2020. He thinks we're in a potentially revolutionary moment.

Revolutions are products of structural instabilities combined with triggering events. America's structural dislocations are serious: “increasing popular immiseration (declining incomes, falling life expectancies, growing social pessimism and despair), elite overproduction and intra-elite conflict, and failing state (growing state debt and collapsing trust in state institutions).”

Worse, no major leader addresses these issues. No one offers amelioration.

Writing on November 1, Turchin says the election could be the trigger. If one or the other candidate wins decisively, calm might follow. If it’s close, “it is unclear to me how either party could be convinced that they lost the elections.” In case you haven't heard, it's close.

Absent a “clean win,” various trajectories are possible, including ones that, Turchin admits, seem outlandish, including civil war.  Unlike many observers, he doesn’t think the riots of the last nine months are likely to escalate into a civil war.

Revolutions come from above, not below: “Just about the only way in which street violence could directly escalate to a revolution is if revolutionary crowds break into the White House and depose Trump. But even this trajectory requires collaboration from the top (the police and the army standing aside to allow this to happen).”

Other scenarios are possible. If Trump is declared winner, demonstrations against him might turn violent enough for Trump to call on the military to bring order.

If Biden is officially declared the winner and Trump refuses to leave, Trump might be arrested and tried. If voter fraud is proven, Biden could be tried.

Regional rebellions are possible. Western states might declare independence and call on the National Guard to defend against a second Trump administration. Southern states might secede from a Biden-led U.S. (I offered my thoughts on secession here.)

In the Civil War, churches were intensely partisan, whipping congregants into a bloodthirsty frenzy to kill fellow countrymen who were, more importantly, Christian brothers (see Harry Stout, On the Altar of the Nation).

If civil war or something like it is in our future, the churches must avoid that tragic error. We must instead be sources of calm, seeking the common good. No one will benefit from civil unrest or civil war.

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