Is America Hurtling Straight into Another Civil War?

Former vice president Joe Biden and current president Donald Trump are in one of history’s tightest and most contentious races as they both vie to win the 2020 presidential election. The COVID-19 pandemic and other recent political events have slashed the United States into two extremely polarized groups based on left-wing or right-wing beliefs, and have left centrists and third-party members struggling as to who they should support. Each group shows an astounding content for the other. Strangers who have opposing political views break out in public violence; people end long-lasting friendships over beliefs on politics and human rights; online users spread information on social media that varies in accuracy but aligns with their perspective. However, members of both parties share at least one thing in common: they’re considerably worried that no matter what the outcome of this election is, violence and chaos will break out as a result.

Due to COVID-19, a large portion of American voters have already sent in their ballots by mail (if you are able to vote, do NOT mail them in now as they won’t be postmarked in time; vote in person or drop off your absentee ballot in your local ballot box). As a result, on election night, we may see a trend in who is getting more votes, but until all the votes are compiled for every state over the following days, we won’t have a final result. This happened in the 2016 election: in the beginning, Hillary Clinton was leading by a large margin of votes over Donald Trump. However, overnight it flipped, and even though Clinton won the popular vote by more than two million votes, Trump garnered more electoral votes. Experts are concerned that this discrepancy between early and final results will cause violence between members of each major political party. 

The Transition Integrity Project put together a board of 67 members to play out “war games” that predicted what would happen after the election. After playing out four different scenarios, they found that every single one, except for the situation where Biden wins by a landslide, “ended in violent protests and a constitutional crisis.” The nonpartisan project, while not decisively stating the specific violence that may result after the election, succeeded in proving that a constitutional deadlock could occur if either candidate’s campaign abused legal ambiguities in key battleground states like Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, that have Democratic governors and majority-Republican state legislatures. This means that Biden or Trump could use the leadership their party has in the state to turn a close vote in their favor and gain more electoral votes, and that the opposing party would turn to the courts to battle that effort. Joey Garrison from USA Today spoke on this issue, saying that, “if opposing state branches certified competing slates of electors, it would lead to a situation with no precedent in modern U.S. history.” Another concern with no precedent that plagues many Democrats is that if the case goes to the largely conservative Supreme Court, which it likely will if proven to be necessary, the recent replacement of late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg with Justice Amy Coney Barrett will produce a ruling that gives Trump the election victory, whether he won the electoral or popular vote, both, or neither at all. 

With that explanation of why violence may occur after the election, we can look at Americans’ views surrounding the notion of post-election violence. A study done by the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group found that 22% of Democrats and 21% of Republicans said that some amount of violence would be okay if the candidate they don’t support wins the presidency. The study found that members from both political parties would approve of illegitimate (in respect to the Constitution) measures taking place post-election in order for their candidate to win: 58% of Democrats support an election do-over if Biden wins the popular vote but loses the electoral vote, and 29% of Americans are fine with Trump refusing to leave office after losing the election if he claims he has credible evidence of illegal voting. Larry Diamond says “it indicates the illegitimacy that would surround the election.” Is an election result truly reputable if the process of obtaining it is politically biased in ways the Constitution doesn’t allow for? Another new survey finds that most U.S. adults believe the country is about to go through another civil war (as of September 23). Rich Thau, president of the organization that sponsored this survey, says that partisan tensions that have ballooned in size since the 2016 election are bursting at the seams while the U.S. goes through a pandemic whose severity is severely contested, a recession which many are denying exists, and an extremely polarized election. “You’ve got people on the far left [and] the far right with guns. And an unwillingness of political elites to condemn this… People are girding themselves for something awful to happen,” he says. 

If Americans are willing to go down fighting in order for their favored candidate to win, but will threaten the other side with extreme violence if they try to do the same, we should look at what the nation has become. Truth be told, our political beliefs have polarized us from people we once considered close friends and family, and have led us to become hypocrites in many aspects of how we approach politics. Just recently in Washington D.C., many Democratic senators were outraged at the swearing in of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court just over a week before the presidential election, when some of the same senators that voted in favor of her confirmation opposed putting a new justice on the Supreme Court 8 months before an election back in 2016. Washington, D.C. store owners shouldn’t have to board up their windows to defend themselves against potential riots. There shouldn’t have to be groups like the Braver Angels that need to plead American citizens to “disavow violence…and respect those who voted differently,”  Most likely, experts say, a civil war won’t occur. Our country just isn’t ready for such a battle. But instead, there is no doubt there will be protests and similar incidents throughout the nation. However, if we continue on this path where we demonize each other for differing political beliefs, we may be boarding a rocket hurtling straight towards destruction.

Alex Martinez-Garcia, Editor of The Colonel Newsmagazine

Junior Alex Martinez-Garcia is the co-editor of the 2020-2021 Colonel. When she’s not playing lacrosse or swimming for LHS or the Westerly YMCA, you can probably find her planning events as class president or in Outdoor Adventure Club. Outside of school, Alex loves to play the piano and watch every TV show that Netflix and HBO Max have to offer.

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