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A Second American Civil War? Font Size: 
By Glenn Harlan Reynolds : BIO| 29 Nov 2020
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Is America in danger of civil war? Not immediately, perhaps, but famed science fiction writer Orson Scott Card thinks that we're in enough danger that he's authored a cautionary tale entitled Empire that's set in more-or-less present times.

In Card's novel, which is straight thriller fiction a la Jack Bauer rather than the science fiction for which Card is generally known, shadowy forces use terror and assassination to trigger a civil war in an America sharply divided along Red/Blue lines. In the Afterword, Card writes:

"Rarely do people set out to start a civil war. Invariably, when such wars break out both sides consider themselves to be the aggrieved ones."

Such is the case now, he notes, when both Left and Right feel threatened by the other side, and unfairly so:

"Can it lead to war? Very simply, yes. The moment one group feels itself so aggrieved that it uses either its own weapons or the weapons of the state to 'prevent' the other side from bringing about its supposed 'evil' designs, then that other side will have no choice but to take up arms against them. Both sides will believe the other to be the instigator . . . . In America today, we are complacent in our belief that it can't happen here."

Well, I certainly don't believe that it can't happen here. Civil war can happen anywhere and, given enough time, usually does. And it happened here once, after all.

I've noted before that one of the great American accomplishments was to get over the Civil War without the kind of lingering bitterness that often marks -- and reignites -- such conflicts elsewhere. And we can, perhaps, thank the ongoing Civil War reminiscence industry for helping to keep the horrors of that war alive in people's memories. Throughout the remainder of the 19th Century, many people feared a reignition of the Civil War, but it didn't happen.

Nonetheless, Card's cautionary tale is worth bearing in mind. Civil wars are, traditionally, among the most bloody, and the hardest to prevent once the ball gets rolling. So what do we do?

One question is "who's 'we' here?" I don't see much of a sign that the American public -- which, after all, overwhelmingly favored centrists in this month's elections -- is as divided as Card suggests. But -- as Card also notes -- the elites are much more divided, and the media tend to play up those divisions, because division and conflict are good story-drivers. ("We live in a time when moderates are treated worse than extremists, being punished as if they were more fanatical than the actual fanatics.") To the "activist" crowd on the left and right, people who don't share their views 100% are evil, and on the other side. This tends to backfire politically, which I think is why the elections favored centrists this time, but that doesn't stop the polarization. In a way, it tends to make it worse.

I think that we're a long way from a civil war. But I also think that Card's right to warn people against too much division, and too little emphasis on our common interests as Americans. While I don't think that we're in danger of a civil war, I do think that our current political system is unhealthy, with polarization serving mostly as a tool for the folks in power to keep their bases in line, while they pursue agendas that are mostly self-serving. I hope that both the people and the press will make some conscious efforts to moderate the tone, and make that approach less effective.

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