Sunday Sermon: About That Civil War That Is Not Coming

I am going to stand by my prediction that we won’t have a civil war. In fact, I grow more certain of that all the time. We may, however, have some civil unrest. That’s OK – we’re always going to have some of that, because Americans are violent and stupid, and our national identity depends on a form of violent, stupid, toxic individualism.

My reasoning is simple: if the boogaloo boys and the right wing death squads were going to do anything more than strutting around cosplaying as camo creeps – the time to do it was a month or two ago. It is absolutely obnoxious to hear about things like Trumpists in trucks trying to force a Biden campaign bus off the road, but first off, that was a totally ineffective action that accomplished nothing except telegraphing their awareness of impending defeat. That sort of action is not the action of people who expect to win. The sort of action that we should be concerned about is the violent voter suppression, such as the police in North Carolina who pepper-sprayed voters that were marching in to vote. [kos] Those actions appear isolated, but more importantly they are ineffective; the action is mostly already taken place in the form of advance voting, and the main remaining opportunities for action will be increasingly high-risk maneuvers to bypass the entire electoral process. I don’t for a moment think that the republicans would back away from such because it’s the wrong thing – but they might back away from them because they’re looking at a huge tide of public opinion turning against them, and they’re probably not going to be able to maintain power even if they cheat. It seems to me that the republicans will face a choice of complete disempowerment (if they double down) or retiring to lick their wounds and play their fucking sneaky power games for another couple decades until the increasingly non-white non-old demographics of the country force them to re-invent their party.

I am cautiously optimistic – it looks like the electorate is angry about the lies and voter suppression and racism, and maybe they’re going to hand Biden a mandate for change. I don’t trust the democrats, or Biden, so I expect that they will not capitalize on it as ruthlessly as they need to. Thus, the shitshow that is America will continue. It needs radical action, but what it’ll get is irresolute bipartisanship. What the country needs is dramatic pare-backs on the voter suppression, gerrymandering, and other anti-democratic practices. It probably won’t get those. At a minimum, the Biden administration should immediately move to grant Washington, DC and Puerto Rico state-ship. Then unpack the supreme court and the federal judiciary courts. I predict that none of that will happen; it probably won’t even be attempted. At a minimum the Biden administration should chop ICE to a nub, re-construct INS around humane lines, and establish a federal task force to examine state police and district attorneys’ offices to weed out corruption and racism. Again, none of that will happen. The democrats will pat themselves on the back for having gotten into power, and will only make moves that will tighten their grip without threatening the republicans enough to start a backlash.

I want you to remember that, in 1968, over 4,000 bombs exploded in the US. Those were bombs in recruitment stations, police stations, and political offices; this was not minor stuff. In the late 60s and early 70s the US was dealing with a backlash from progressives/radicals who were politically threatened with disempowerment – or, more precisely – had realized that they were confronting a system in which they never had any power at all. I don’t calculate in terms of a fictional “left/right” divide so I don’t have to say whether groups like The Weathermen or the Symbionese Liberation Army were “left” or “right” but I think I can fairly characterize them as frustrated progressives (of a sort) who resorted to violence when they saw that the more political mainstream (the civil rights movement) was disempowered, compromised, its leaders mostly assassinated or set up for long prison sentences. Nowadays we are expected to somehow think of the assassinations of Medger Evers, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King JR, Bobby Kennedy and John Kennedy as disconnected events outside of politics – things that just happened – not a long-term violent trend from reactionary white supremacist America that wanted to absolutely ensure that the fucking hippies and the southern blacks got the message.

We’re going to have more of that, because that’s part of a conversation in America that never stopped. Trump encouraged the very worst of Americans to step back up to the plate and take another swing, but in doing so, he invited the ugliest half of Americans to sip from the fountain of political power. They’re stupid; they don’t realize that they have been wallowing in the fountain of political power all along and are only now hearing a message that is “fear of disempowerment.” What we need is a bloodthirsty, go for the jugular, democratic party that cracks its knuckles and says, “yeah, assholes, that thing you feared is here.” But we won’t get that. So this crippling and wasteful dialectic will continue. The good news is that we’ve been there, done that, and the country did not collapse into civil war over it. Remember: the Symbionese Liberation Army also thought they were going to start a civil war. All they did was start a few futile gun-battles that ended in a hail of bullets.

I don’t know if the “boogaloo bois” are historically savvy enough to see the writing on the wall, or if they’re just a bunch of cowards, but they have mostly done nothing more than strut around with their $1000 semi-automatic rifles and web gear. If they were serious, they’d be killing people. But they’re cowards. Look at the way they recoiled in terror when one of theirs was shot in the face for taking a swing at an armed security guy. They’re not tough except against unarmed civilians. Which means that the first time they try their “internet assholes’ kristallnacht” a few of them will get shot by people defending themselves and their property and the rest will run howling back to the safe anonymity of 8Chan. The only players in the scenario that are worth worrying about are the ones we should have always been worrying about: the cops. The police and the FBI have been widely known, for a long time, to be packed full of racist reactionaries. The police, in case anyone hasn’t noticed, are dangerous. But they’re also cowards unless they’re in large groups – in which case they can get seriously nasty – but they still go home at night and sleep in suburban houses where they are vulnerable. They’re just stupid thugs who want to maintain their own power, and they’ll shoot boogaloo bois as enthusiastically as they shoot unarmed joggers. There are, clearly, a few chiefs of police who have built little pig-pens of ilk, and those need to be weeded out. But the democrats won’t do that. They can’t even defund the less-violent police departments politically, never mind digging up and prosecuting the ones with skeletons in their closet.

So, it’s going to be a shit-show but it won’t be a civil war. It’ll fold into the great sweeping context of America’s abject failure to address its apartheid history, the gift that keeps on giving, the wound that never heals. Biden? Look at that guy. Can you see him lifting a finger to try to confront the real issues? Not a chance.

If you like podcasts, here’s one that is very timely and worth listening to:

It’s an account of a series of wargames played by a multi-party group in the DOD, attempting to figure out what some of the scenarios might be if Trump refuses to relinquish power. It’s interesting (but like most wargames is artificially narrowed and rigged) because of the kinds of dodges that the players came up with. Mild spoiler alert, skip to next paragraph if you want to avoid it: The US electoral system is full of procedural holes that anyone politically ruthless enough can drive a truck through. It’s a question of “who is ruthless enough?” more than anything else. One of the big flaws they identified which has been done before is that state legislators or governors can change the slate of electors they send to the electoral college. They might have to re-write a few laws but if they have a majority they can simply send their buddies who they know will vote a certain way.

What most Americans don’t learn in school is that there have been other elections and transfers of power that went badly off the rails. When Lincoln was shot, army troops were mustered around the Washington, DC, area, because it was unknown if the assassination was part of a co-ordinated Southern operation, or if it was a small group of radicals that could be rounded up and executed. My guess is that the worst we might see after this election will look like that: a few units of the military standing around to show the flag so that irregulars have a chance to look at what they’d be dealing with if the “boogaloo” starts. (Hint: those H&K automatic 40mm grenade launchers will disintegrate you while you’re still adjusting your web gear with all your fancy morale patches)

The police, the military, and the militias understand mass is the essence of democracy. In the fascist world-view, democracy is a short-hand for “everyone stand up and let our numbers be counted so we don’t have to have a bloody fight.” That’s another reason why I don’t think we’re going to have a civil war – or, at least, not what the idiots think of when they talk about a civil war (picturing the glorious stomp-down of the rebels at Gettysburg, presumably!) (They want more of Sherman’s march, I guess) Meanwhile, other political forces are looking at the situation and trying to see how they can preserve their power and maintain the system in which they function. I.e.: the unions are planning to come out, if that’s what it takes:

The unions are planning for a general strike. That’s important and significant. It’s exactly the kind of thing that has fueled the American reactionarys’ fears of “socialism” – it means that there might be power-blocs beyond their control that can appear and sideline them at any moment. You may note that the unions have only considered this action because it’s their power that’s getting eroded, too; there were never general strikes when it was just cops beating up Rodney King, or southern cracker politicians stealing an election or two. Where were the unions when Brian Kemp openly stole the 2018 election in Georgia, “defeating” Stacy Abrams by 5,000 votes that remained after he had knocked over 1.2 million voters off the rolls? [engadget] So we can be happy that the unions are mobilizing, because it may help, but we should be sad for the fact that it took this. When 2020 is over, the unions will go back to ignoring everything.
That’s where I’m left. 2020 is not an apotheoisis for me, it’s another storey on a long fall. As they say, “ce n’est pas la chute, c’est l’aterrisage” (it’s not the fall, it’s the landing) [stderr] Every major society on Earth, right now, is on a downward trajectory from rule by the people to authoritarianism. The US, Russia, China, Egypt, Turkey, India – I don’t know what percentage of the planetary population is up against this, but everywhere are authoritarians using racism and religious bigotry to appeal to the very worst of humanity – and the very worst are standing up and answering the call. That is where 2020 leaves me. In terms of US politics, it leaves me with the unavoidable fact that around 50% of my fellow citizens are loathsome people who will harm or kill complete strangers because they are: a) stupid and uneducated about economics, b) racists, c) queer-phobic, d) ideological nihilists who can be talked into punching themselves in the face if it makes someone else feel bad. I’m never going to recover my optimism. I already had my often-voiced doubts about the political legitimacy of the “democracies” we are surrounded with, but 2020 has answered my doubts for good: they are all a scam. And around 50% of my neighbors will stand up and abuse people in the name of that scam, because they believe in it. More than 50% in China, or India, or Russia will. Rule by the people, for the people, is on the retreat everywhere and Trump is just the white head on a great big festering boil.

The good news about 2020 is that the republicans’ overtly incompetent attempts to rig the election were successfully “outed” by the democrats in a play to get out the vote – and that strategy worked. The more the republicans have tried, so far, the worse it has been for them. The remaining question, for me, is whether the democrats will learn anything from this, and if they do, they learn “we have to be sneakier than the republicans.”

I’ll be voting for Biden, reluctantly, like I did for Clinton. But every day, unfortunately, I’ll be wishing that Biden has a massive heart attack and dies peacefully in his sleep. A serene heart attack is not what I wish for Trump and McConnell.


  1. brucegee1962 says

    I said this over on PZ’s comments, and I’ll make the same prediction here: what I think is most likely is that an unsupervised Trump will issue some kind of vague, blustery speech that doesn’t mention conceding and blames his loss on baseless accusations of fraud and Chinese trickery. There will be enough incendiary language in his speech that it will inspire a handful of his more unhinged followers to launch a handful of Amon Bundy-style occupations around the country. There won’t be many (<100) people involved in these uprisings, and the FBI will be able to talk them all down in a few days, but we'll all be stuck with wall-to-wall media coverage during this time of nervous, sweaty, bearded men in camo clutching large weapons. Once it becomes clear that there will be no general uprising in his favor, Trump will disavow them all and say that he was misunderstood or just kidding, and the end results will be the same.

  2. brucegee1962 says

    Also, Fox News was saying yesterday “If the Dems expand their majority in the House, AOC will take over!” I doubt it will ever happen, but it lifted my day a bit.

  3. says

    “If the Dems expand their majority in the House, AOC will take over!”

    That would be so great.

    I am ceaselessly mind-boggled that the authoritarian submissives who follow the republican party believe the shit that they keep shoveling. Why doesn’t someone say, “hey you told us Obama would take our guns both times he got elected and he didn’t even lift a finger to try to do that!” I assume that the republican stragegists meet in the bottom of a well-appointed nuclear survival bunker somewhere and have big white-boarding sessions of trying to compete to figure out what is the absolute dumbest shit that they can tell their electorate. “Let’s tell them that global warming won’t happen because Trump built golf courses and they sucked up all the carbon!” Ooooh that might work. “Don JR’s hunting trips are secretly him culling carbon!” Yeah let’s go with that. I mean these gomers are so stupid they’ll believe Qanon. We could tell them that the sky will literally fall if Biden wins.

  4. says

    we’ll all be stuck with wall-to-wall media coverage during this time of nervous, sweaty, bearded men in camo clutching large weapons

    Basically, it’s the Symbionese Liberation Army scenario. A bunch of fuckwits maybe immolate themselves on live TV and the rest learn from their example. (That’s basically the 1st civil war, too!)

  5. aquietvoice says

    I have two additions: One bad, one good.

    First, the bad: Your summary is great in the general strokes, but there are a lot of things very disorganized violence can do.
    My worry is that there are so many groups of people in isolated, separate ‘realities’ that it’s going to be quite the mess, with lots of “hey we have local power, let’s attack (something)”.
    It won’t be permanent on a nation-lives-or-dies level, but… fuck nations. I hate that people are going to be hurt for this.

    Second, the good:
    As much as it seems the whole world is falling to bits, we actually had a state election yesterday here in Australia, and the Racism For All party (officially “One Nation”) lost literally half its votes. The center-left party won.
    (Red is center-left, blue is center-right)

    That was probably off-topic but I wanted to share that electoral happiness with someone. :D

  6. says

    My worry is that there are so many groups of people in isolated, separate ‘realities’ that it’s going to be quite the mess, with lots of “hey we have local power, let’s attack (something)”.
    It won’t be permanent on a nation-lives-or-dies level, but… fuck nations. I hate that people are going to be hurt for this.

    People will be hurt, but I bet the damage will mostly be to the insurgents. Like the Weather Underground and SLA, they vastly over-estimate their capabilities. That doesn’t mean that they won’t do some damage, ruin some lives, and thoroughly shit all over the radical reactionary wing’s reputation. If there’s any silver lining to this shit-show it’ll be hard for the reactionaries to claim it was all Antifa’s fault.

    I wish I could be confident that the democrats will force the republicans to own their mistakes, but I just don’t see that happening, unfortunately. A proper progressive party would root these assholes out and let them get some training from their Aryan Brotherhood pals in federal prison. I bet the 8channers would love to meet some real hard guys.

    As much as it seems the whole world is falling to bits, we actually had a state election yesterday here in Australia, and the Racism For All party (officially “One Nation”) lost literally half its votes. The center-left party won.

    That is fantastic news!

    I’m hoping that the reactionary republicans discover that vote suppression can be made to blow up in their face. I really do. I’d like to see them get it rubbed in so hard that they start screaming for dismantling the electoral college and gerrymandering, etc. But, again, I don’t think Americans have the stomach for this fight, on either side.

  7. sonofrojblake says

    “Rule by the people, for the people, is on the retreat everywhere”

    … except mainland Europe. And New Zealand.

  8. Pierce R. Butler says

    The OP here omits a very likely scenario: The Repubs will try to claim victory on Tuesday night, protests will break out Wednesday, wannabe heroes in “Trump’s Army” (yes, they’re already calling it that; I prefer “Boogers”) will shoot and/or drive down a bunch of the protesters, and hell will officially break loose.

    We can absolutely predict legalistic shenanigans and public pushback; the consequent violence only counts as highly probable. Much will depend on the ensuing details: the width of the voting margin, the outrageousness of court rulings, the violence (actual and false-flag) of protests, the reaction of street goons (including cops) and goons-in-authority (martial law, anyone?), the spins of corporate and social media, spitballs from the usual suspects and unexpected corners.

    I feel somewhat more sanguine in the knowledge that Trump™ has so antagonized military and intelligence organizations that they will never take his side, and tentatively hopeful that public reaction to Charlottesville in 2017 may repeat itself this year.

    [sigh] Remember back around the inauguration in 2017, when many of us told each other, “Just wait until 2020!”?

  9. Pierce R. Butler says

    sonofrojblake @ # 7: …except mainland Europe.

    Not counting Hungary, Poland, Belarus, and the expansion of authoritarian parties across the board.

  10. cvoinescu says

    Parts of mainland Europe are not faring very well. Look at Poland and Hungary, for instance.

    New Zealand is a breath of fresh, virus-free air.

  11. says

    … except mainland Europe.

    I’d add Spain to Pierce Butler’s list @#9. It’s not exactly a healthy democracy.

    So in Europe that leaves Germany, France, Austria, Finland, Norway, and Sweden. A tiny bit of the continent; that was my point.

    Just between India, the US, China, and Russia you’ve got a significant chunk of the world’s population disempowered and ruled by dictators of some stripe or other. There’s also Egypt and – are there any bright spots of democracy in the Middle East or Africa? Israel, LOL.

  12. Ridana says

    There are two other things that have changed dramatically since 1968: the internet, which makes it infinitely easier for goons to recruit, organize and share strategies both domestically and globally, and money transfers, which make it easier for such groups to raise funds from cowards who won’t act but who nevertheless have money to give, and the very wealthy who see such civil chaos and right wing dictatorships as somehow in their best interests. It remains to be seen whether these will result in a perfect storm or not.

  13. komarov says

    Re: #6

    “If there’s any silver lining to this shit-show it’ll be hard for the reactionaries to claim it was all Antifa’s fault.”

    Your optimism seems to be doing fine. Trump didn’t invent brazen lies but he dialled up the brazeness a few notches and normalised it even further. There could be a right wing / republican killing spree by white-robed people wearing Trump armbands and flying McConnell and GOP banners and it would be followed by much blaming of socialism, antifa. Those lies would be deemed worth some air-time and discussion. They’d be picked up and accepted by the people who want to. This, as you noted, would appear to be roughly half of the US.

    Re: sonofrojblake (#7)

    Europe, well, the EU, is more a case of a wait and see. Populists are all over the place – some of them are running the UK into the ground as I type this. Maybe in some places they’re fading but the pandemic is making politics stranger than usual, so I won’t believe any party or movement dead unless I see a headless corpse and head, staked and garliced, just to be sure.
    This leaves New Zealand. They sound more and more like a statistical outlier. They’re keeping corona in check, doing okay and have a head of state who isn’t a right-winger with fascist leanings, but might be both popular and competent? That doesn’t sound like Earth at all.


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