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jan-6

January 6, 2021 rioters clash with police trying to enter the US Capitol building through the front doors. Rioters broke windows and breached the Capitol building in a coup attempt. Police used batons and tear gas grenades to eventually disperse the crowd. Rioters used metal bars and tear gas as well against the police. (Photo: Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The Questions We Must Be Asking About a Second American Civil War

Imagine a repeat of Jan 6th—but with tanks, soldiers, and guns.

Umair Haque

 by Medium

Right about now, a difficult and problematic question has to be asked—and answered with lethal certainty, too. To say that this is a crucial juncture in American history is an understatement. The signs are portents are ominous—is America headed for a second civil war?

This isn't just the stuff of a neo-fascist rabble anymore—it's something far beyond that. Now, it's an organized, sophisticated authoritarian-fascist political bloc.

I don't ask this question lightly, and I don't raise it for the sake of "alarmism," "fearmongering," or exaggeration. Let me explain why I think it's necessary to begin asking it—beginning with context. What makes this grim question necessary to finally ask—seriously?

The latest development in the ongoing struggle for self-preservation American democracy's having is this. Trump-approved candidates were elected almost across the board—and across the country—winning GOP primaries, for offices like secretary of state, governor, and so forth. They have one thing in common, which is that they are vehement, ardent, fanatical Trumpists—and therefore, they believe and back the Big Lies. From "the election was stolen!" to "the deep state is out to get Trump!" to "Trump alone can save us!" to "it's those dirty, filthy subhumans who are responsible for the woes of pure and true 'real' Americans!"

All that'd be alarming enough if that were all. It's already the stuff of a neo-fascist movement growing in power, cohering in organization, solidifying its position, hardening its aims, reaching the heights. But of course that's not all. All of these candidates for office also appear to back the by now obvious plan to thwart the peaceful transfer in the next election. That is why they are running for offices like secretary of state. Take the example of Mark Finchem in Arizona—a key swing state—who denies that Biden won the election, and was at the Jan 6th rally. He's poised to become Arizona's top election official, signing off on its electoral votes—a position that such candidates are running for precisely to interfere with democracy itself, and bring it to a final, crushing end.

This isn't just the stuff of a neo-fascist rabble anymore—it's something far beyond that. Now, it's an organized, sophisticated authoritarian-fascist political bloc. In other words, it has openly fascist-theocratic goals—America for the "real" Americans, the end of the separation of church and state, the scapegoating of hated minorities—and the way to turn those aspirations into reality is with the authoritarian tactics of ending democracy from within, rejecting or removing votes that prevent this side from winning in a fair, honest, open, democratic way.

In other words, the Trumpists ran for office precisely so that there will be another coup.

Let me repeat that, because it's important for Americans to understand. Don't take it from me, take it from Rusty Bowers, the soon-to-be former Republican speaker of Arizona's House of Representatives. He lost the Arizona primary to a Trump-backed rival, David Farnsworth, who said the election wasn't just stolen from Trump, but stolen satanically by "the devil himself." Says Bowers: "The thought that if you don't do what we like, then we will just get rid of you and march on and do it ourselves—that to me is fascism."

The GOP got rid of him, and replaced him with a fanatic. The combination of those two things is authoritarian-fascism, which is a very, very bad place for a society to be indeed.

Because authoritarian-fascists attempt coups—and not just in the loose, disorganized ways mere rabbles of street fascists do, but in far more serious ones.

But how does that bring us to the ugly question of civil war? Well, let's think for a moment about how societies collapse. A society falls into disrepair and decline. People get poorer. A political side hardens into fanaticism. Within it, demagogues emerge, who blame scapegoats for the woes of the average person. The scapegoats—and this is always true—are impure of faith, or impure of blood, or both. They're not "real" people, whereas the rest are. This side attempts a loose, almost laughable, coup. It fails. But they don't give up, because they are now a movement spellbound by demagogues and seduced by their lies, tantalized into hate and spite and contempt.

So they learn. Their aspirations and ambition and sophistication grows. They keep on attempting to subvert what's left of democracy.

There's another coup. And this time, it's far more effective. Now society is left in a kind of Schrodinger's Democracy. This side—the fanatics—claim that their candidate is "really" President or Prime Minister, because those votes were fraudulent, or the people casting them weren't people at all. The other side, the one still adhering to some semblance of democratic norms—claims it won fair and square—and it usually did. But who is left to sort all this out?

Chaos reigns. There's a vacuum of power. Both sides trade accusations of lie, of cheating, of stealing the election, of rigging the game. Courts, too, have been corrupted, and issue decisions for each side. People stay at home, frightened. Men with guns begin to march down streets, claiming neighborhoods and towns for their side.

And that's when the tanks usually roll in.

You see, in situations like this—situations of advanced, profound democratic collapse, where the legitimacy of an election has been called into question, because one side has openly corroded and destroyed it—there's only one institution left to preserve democracy and the peaceful transfer of power. The military.

It becomes their job to safeguard democracy from those attempting a coup—who have now pushed democracy to the point where a knife is now at its throat, and beginning to cut.

This pattern is usual to "third world countries," as Westerners sometimes say, a little contemptuously. Those from poorer countries will know it well. Elections are difficult things, and in the West, we tend to take them for granted. What we forget in that is the the military is their ultimate guarantor, when all else fails. But the military, too, can fail.

When we speak of the possibility of American civil war, numerous experts have settled on a kind of conclusion: it's likely, but it will be limited to an "insurgency." In other words, whatever happens during the next election, the bad side, the side eroding and attacking democracy will lose, and therefore, what'll be left is for them to terrorize the rest. Imagine the IRA, or maybe various separatist movements, blowing up courthouses and train stations and so forth.

But there's an even grimmer possibility, and, again, you don't have to take it from me.

"We—all of us former senior military officials—are increasingly concerned about the aftermath of the 2024 presidential election and the potential for lethal chaos inside our military, which would put all Americans at severe risk.

In short: We are chilled to our bones at the thought of a coup succeeding next time."

They're speaking not just about a coup succeeding, but the military failing to stop one, because it splinters right alongside democracy.

Why are they worried about that?

"The potential for a total breakdown of the chain of command along partisan lines—from the top of the chain to squad level—is significant should another insurrection occur. The idea of rogue units organizing among themselves to support the 'rightful' commander in chief cannot be dismissed."

Now we're talking about something much darker than the relatively sunny vision of the good side prevailing, a coup failing—and the bad guys left to resort to terrorism. We're talking about something much more like open, full-scale civil war.

How realistic is that, though?

The truth is that we don't know, and that's not a good place to be. Nobody can really say confidently, I think, that it wouldn't happen—and yet that's precisely the conclusion that's necessary for a healthy democracy. Will the military splinter along fanatical lines of democratic collapse, too? Not to give that question a hard, firm "no" is to say that the future of a society is at serious risk.

It's easy to see how it could happen. The generals even give an example. "Recently, and perhaps more worrying, Brig. Gen. Thomas Mancino, the commanding general of the Oklahoma National Guard, refused an order from President Biden mandating that all National Guard members be vaccinated against the coronavirus. Mancino claimed that while the Oklahoma Guard is not federally mobilized, his commander in chief is the Republican governor of the state, not the president."

What would it really take to spark something like a civil war—even a temporary one? Ten such generals? A hundred? Imagine that a group of them exist who are willing to break the chain of command, and go against military doctrine, making war on their own side. For the sake of supporting said coup. They're willing to protect fake slates of electors with guns and tanks, and roll them right down Pennsylvania Avenue. Now there's a standoff. Are they allowed to enter Congress, or not?

It's January 6th all over again, but this time, with tanks, missiles, and bombs.

Welcome to the nightmare scenario for American democracy. Then the side with the biggest guns, the most weapons, and the willingness to do the most violence takes the prize.

Really stop and think about that for a moment. I'm not saying that's where this will end up, but I am saying that the possibility exists, and that alone is…very worrying.

The generals go on to give recommendations to prevent exactly this: "The Pentagon should immediately order a civics review for all members—uniformed and civilian—on the Constitution and electoral integrity. There must also be a review of the laws of war and how to identify and deal with illegal orders. And it must reinforce 'unity of command' to make perfectly clear to every member of the Defense Department whom they answer to.

"In addition, all military branches must undertake more intensive intelligence work at all installations. The goal should be to identify, isolate and remove potential mutineers…

"Finally, the Defense Department should war-game the next potential post-election insurrection or coup attempt to identify weak spots. It must then conduct a top-down debrief of its findings and begin putting in place safeguards to prevent breakdowns not just in the military, but also in any agency that works hand in hand with the military."

Heavy stuff, no? Now, has the Pentagon done any of that? I don't know, and I guess we won't know, because it's probably secret. But if I were the Pentagon, I'd begin to make it damned clear right about now what preparations they have to ensure military integrity in the case of a coup, because it's not just probable that there's going to be another coup attempt, it's all but certain. The military is the last guarantor of democracy, when all else fails—and I wonder if the Pentagon really feels the urgency of this moment in American history yet.

Let me try and crystallize the above. What changed recently in American politics? The ascendance of ardent Trump backers within the GOP—election denying fanatics, conspiracist nuts, openly violent lunatics—makes it all but a certainty that there is going to be another coup attempt. But it's an open question—not just mine, but even from generals—whether the military has made adequate preparations to fully ensure its integrity as that coup comes to pass. That is a bad place to be, because the democracy's last guarantee is not fully in place yet.

Of course, we can all wait for Merrick Garland to bring charges—and try to prevent this mess from occurring. Let us hope he understands the full gravity of the situation.

Do you really want to see tanks rolling down Pennsylvania Avenue? And before you tell me it can't happen, go ahead and tell me if you ever thought there'd be fascist mobs killing people at Congress even five years ago. So you tell me: is America headed for a second civil war?

"The veneer of civilization is this thin," Rusty Bowers said, holding his pointer and thumb a millimeter apart. "It still exists—I haven't been hanged yet. But holy moly, this is just crazy. The place has lost its mind."


© 2021 Medium
umair

Umair Haque

Umair Haque is one of the world's leading thinkers. A member of the Thinkers50, the authoritative ranking of the globe's top management experts, he has published two books through Harvard Business Publishing, where he also authored Harvard Business Review's top blog for several years, on subjects including economics, leadership, innovation, finance, and careers. Umair has held senior positions in finance and strategy, and holds degrees from McGill University and London Business School. He has authored The New Capitalist Manifesto: Building a Disruptively Better Business (2011) and Betterness: Economics for Humans through Harvard Business Review.

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