Is America headed for a new Civil War?

That nagging question keeps coming up and not just from the fringe right-wing groups that have long cheered such a horrible event.

Today, more mainstream voices are wondering aloud if some kind of widespread civil unrest could be in the nation's near future, possibly around the 2024 elections.

Recent polls show that around 46% of Americans think a civil conflict is possible; that rate is higher here in the South where the previous civil war still gets discussed and is woven into the South's cultural fabric.

But could that really happen?

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Some of the concern about possible political violence comes from the uprising of Jan. 6 when Tump supporters stormed the U.S. Capital in an effort to stop the counting of election results after Trump had been defeated by Joe Biden.

The more we've learned about that day's events, the clearer it has become that Trump and his key supporters did indeed want Congress to ignore the Nov. 2020 election and give the presidency back to Trump. Before the Capital insurgency, Trump himself has riled up the crowd, which soon became a violent mob as it overran an undermanned police force.

It's clear now that Trump wanted the mob to succeed. In fact, he had already attempted to have the election results overturned by pressuring Georgia officials to ignore the state's voting results and throw Georgia's electors to him. Georgia's Secretary of State and Governor refused to do that illegal act for Trump.

The result? Trump has attacked both Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. Last week, Trump suggested to a Georgia crowd that Democrat Stacey Abrams would be a better governor than Republican Kemp, a comment that has scared the state GOP because it divides Republican efforts to stop Abrams. 

In addition, Trump has endorsed Rep. Jody Hice of Georgia's 10th Congressional District in Hice's bid to unseat Raffensperger in 2022. Hice is right-wing Trump advocate who undoubtedly would have thrown out the state's 2020 election results had he been secretary of state instead of Raffensperger.

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As the months have passed, Trump and his followers have continued to claim, falsely, that the 2020 election was rigged and stolen. It wasn't and there is zero evidence to back up those claims. 

But the claims have not faded. Instead, they have become a rallying cry for Republican Tump supporters. Around that false claim, they have attempted to rewrite history by downplaying the mob of Jan. 6. Our own 9th District Congressman Andrew Clyde has been part of that rewriting of history by comparing the Jan. 6 mob to tourists. 

The narrative that has resulted from all that is the false claim that the election was stolen and that those who stormed the Capital on Jan. 6 were really "patriots" who were just attempting to protect America. In that view, the rioters were martyrs who are now being politically persecuted by law enforcement.

That is Orwellian double-speak. Those who stormed the Capital were really traitors, not patriots. They weren't trying to protect democracy, they were attempting to destroy it.

And it was Trump and his followers who attempted to steal an election, not his opponent.

Still, the stolen-election-rioters-as-martyrs view has become the new ideological core of the Republican Party. Gone are the traditional GOP talking points about conservatism; that has been replaced by the false narrative embraced by Trump and his cult followers.

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The second thing that has happened is that several states, including Georgia, have changed election laws in an attempt to put a finger on the scale to help the GOP in close elections.

Much of the media focus around that has centered on efforts to limit voter access, especially in areas that tend to vote Democratic.

But that's the wrong focus. The real change has been to tinker with the mechanics of voting so that in close elections, GOP legislatures can throw out votes to change outcomes that go against their candidates.

Here in Georgia, the state elections "reform" laws include a provision that the state can takeover local election boards it deems to be mismanaged.

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What does that have to do with possible civil conflict?

Imagine this scenario:

In 2024, Trump is the GOP candidate and there's another close election like 2020. This time, however, it's close enough that Georgia's electoral votes will determine the final outcome.

With Hice as secretary of state, Trump would have a puppet to do his bidding. Under the changes in state law, Hice could declare that Fulton County's voting, which is largely Democratic,  was poorly managed and have the state take over the county's election board. From there, it's a short path to tossing out ballots, or simply removing all Fulton votes from the state's tally, thus giving the state to Trump.

While such a move would undoubtedly face an immediate court challenge, it could also spark violence. Georgia would become the center of the political universe, drawing in thousands of people on both sides of the political spectrum. Riots would ensue, especially in Atlanta and Fulton County where voters would have been disenfranchised.

As the riots grew and became a media spectacle, armed right-wing militia groups would pour into Atlanta under the guise of "helping" police keep order. More violence would follow.

Across the nation, more riots could happen and more clashes between citizens become violent, especially in urban areas.

That isn't like the last civil war, but it could lead to the creation of a petty dictatorship under the guise of "keeping order" in the nation. There would be a huge temptation to quell the violence at any price, even if it meant suspending civil liberties and declaring martial law.

Once martial law is declared, there would be no going back. America would have become Germany of the 1930s.

•••

A few years ago, all of that would have seemed to be little more than a dyspotian plot for a movie. 

But it's no longer so far-fetched. 

We live in an era of deep political polarization and mistrust. What were once fringe movements have become mainstream. Misinformation and lies have become the currency of social media. Propaganda is common and even crude propaganda has traction among the disaffected.

On top of that, we  have a class of political leaders, headed by Trump, who are amoral and authoritarian in nature. They don't care about democracy and only care about winning elections at all costs, the consequences be damned.

On Jan. 6, the nation crossed a Rubicon. A war for the soul of the nation looms in 2024.

The question isn't if, but how that war will be waged.

Mike Buffington is co-publisher of Mainstreet Newspapers. He can be reached at mike@mainstreetnews.com.

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(5) comments

Candy Sweppenheiser

Great article! Keep up the good work. This type of article will be needed in a year from now because we need to elect people who are honest, trustworthy and competent to represent us.

William Ledford

That's funny. I know you are not saying Joe Biden is honest, trustworthy and he is definitely not competent. Have you seen any of his press conferences? I wish he was all that, because we have for over 3 more years.

William Ledford

Mr. Editor, you are showing your true colors. Why worry about something that may or may not happen several years from now? Joe Pinocchio is either the most incompetent or anti-American president of all time, and you are worried about Trump at this time.

Jon Oblesen

^ Billy Boy, you should turn off Hannity every now and then... regurgitating bile you see on Fox into a public forum doesn't make it true.

Mr Editor--I think your article rings true. I shudder to think if Raffensperger or Kemp had compromised their duties and had decided to come up with a way to swing the election for Trump. It would've been unethical and illegal but as long as they kept their guy in power, they could plausibly have evaded immediate legal perils. As long as you have someone with compromised morals, it might be shockingly easy to steal an election.

William Ledford

Jon, you described Joe Pinocchio to a tee. One thing, you gave him credit for having compromised morals, he has no morals, and it was easy for him to steal an election. You guys are worried about 2024, you might want to pay attention to what Biden is doing to our country now. We are paying higher gas prices, food cost more. Our south border is wide open, being flooded with illegals, which may have the Covic virus. But don't worry about any of that, you just keep worrying about 2024.

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