There has always been a soft spot for the United States in my heart. When I was about 10 years old, I uninstalled my parents’ clothesline to attach a flag of the United States on July 4th. I sensed my father was upset, but he said nothing, probably because he was somehow impressed with my audacity. A few decades later, my feeling of admiration and appreciation remained intact, and it was important for me to visit the Gettysburg National Military Park – which commemorates the most iconic battle of the Civil War during which approximately 50 000 soldiers became casualties. During those captivating pilgrimages on the battlefield, I remember the comfort I felt in my heart that such an occurrence would not happen again. America, I like to think, will remain a beacon of the values to which I am attached for many decades to come. And I guess my heart would like to believe it will be centuries…
But the last few years have considerably shaken this conviction. You may think I’m talking about Donald Trump’s election on November 8, 2016, and you are partially right. The events that occurred on January 6, 2021, were a formidable earthquake. I would never have believed anyone predicting those terrifying images of hooligans storming the US Capitol – the very seat of American democracy. Never. But here we were.
A few weeks ago, I felt compelled to put my hands on Stephen Marche’s book The Next Civil War: Dispatches from the American Future (Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster). In just over 200 pages, the author shattered my childhood certitude. The United States is not invincible and he identifies 5 scenarios – a military confrontation between militias and the US Army, the assassination of the President, a natural disaster of gigantic proportion like a tsunami hitting New York, widespread violence and secession – which could bring about the fall of the United States – a doomsday scenario. His five dispatches “are based on the best available models with established predictive capacities.” The book is not fiction and, in that sense, the prospects evoked are even scarier because they are based on facts and serious analysis.
One of the factors of dysfunctionality that fuels America’s travails are, naturally, at the political level. Political systems throughout the world are actually under stress and their deficiencies fuel resentment and a much damaging political polarization. To that effect, he quotes “[…] a YouGov poll found that 88 percent of Republicans do not believe that Biden won legitimately.” The political environment has become toxic and it endangers the country from within. Another aspect that doesn’t help is the discrepancies in the political system itself, when “sixty-two senators represent one quarter of the American population. Six senators represent another quarter.” This form of disenfranchisement contributes to alienation and alienation nurtures frustration. On the other side, those who are unfairly advantaged will go to any length to keep their prerogatives, which breeds confrontation.
But the most flabbergasting quote is about the judicial branch of the US government. Remember what happened last June 24th when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade? Stephen Marche makes the reader realize that “five of the nine current Supreme Court justices were appointed by presidents who lost the popular vote.”
As a final example, he elaborates on the fact that “the Republican Party has become the party of racial resentment” and that the GOP “now has an elected wing and an armed militant wing.” This should come as no surprise since the United States has become “the only country in the world where there are more guns than people”. If that’s not a key ingredient of destruction, I don’t know what is.
While I was reading the book, my son asked me to watch The Tomorrow War with him. At some point, the characters of the movie realize that the aliens are not attacking from space but that they arrived on Earth a long time ago. The enemy doesn’t come from outside but has been residing within for a long time. The storyline of The Next Civil War is the same. Except for natural disasters – although created by human attitudes toward the environment – the main threats to the United States don’t come from outside. “The likelihood of a foreign government or terrorist organization killing the President of the United States is negligible. The Secret Service is simply too competent.” And if you are obsessed with Radical Islam terrorism, you be more worried about homegrown terrorism. The shooter of Highland Park didn’t worship at a Mosque but nourished violent extremism.
“Nobody wants what’s coming, so nobody wants to see what’s coming.” All the ingredients of a civil war are metastasizing in the United States. The day has not come when I will lose faith in that country I admire. But that could be wishful thinking. One can be upset at Stephen Marche to analyze that America might be on the way to joining the empires of the past, but the same human spirit that nurtured the inspiration of the City Upon a Hill can also turn things around. In the same spirit as what they did in the past, like during World War II and the dark hours of the Cold War, Americans will need to shoulder the wheel of history to move from the abyss.
The Next Civil War presents the sombre portrait of a future any admirer of America and its contribution to the world wants to avoid. America doesn’t need another Gettysburg. For that reason, and because Stephen Marche is one of the most articulate and gripping authors, this book is essential reading.
Stephen Marche, The Next Civil War: Dispatches from the American Future, New York, Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster, 2022, 256 pages.
I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to Jillian Levick of Simon & Schuster Canada for providing me with a copy of this book and to the exceptional Adria Iwasutiak for her continued and generous support.