Is The Nation Spinning Toward Civil War?

2020 may go beyond nastiness and division and plunge America into a new level of disunion.

By Austin Sarat
WBUR (7/30/19)

This past weekend brought new evidence of the extraordinary nastiness that will mark America’s 2020 presidential election.

On Saturday, President Donald Trump again stirred the embers of racial antagonism when he attacked another black member of Congress, this time Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Maryland congressman whose district includes low-income sections of Baltimore.

And on Sunday, a Washington Post story with the headline, “Trump campaign sees political advantage in a divisive appeal to working-class white voters,” reported that Trump’s advisers have concluded “…that the overall message sent by such attacks is good for the president among his political base — resonating strongly with the white working-class voters he needs to win reelection in 2020.”

Alas, leaders throughout the government, including the military, should prepare contingency plans for the post-election period.

Nasty, divisive elections are nothing new in the United States, but 2020 may go beyond nastiness and division and plunge America into a new level of disunion.

With the media already consumed by the spectacle of the unfolding campaign and political leaders on both sides playing to their base, little attention is being given to this grim prospect.

American elections are supposed to be mechanisms for resolving conflicts without resort to force or violence and, in their wake, for helping victor and vanquished reconcile.

In the history of the United States, they have almost always done that job: in even the most hotly contested elections, the losing side accepts defeat.

As Ronald Reagan said in his first inaugural address, this “orderly transfer of authority” is, “in the history of our nation … a commonplace occurrence.” He was right to add that “few of us stop to think how unique we really are.”

Similarly, after the bitterly contested 2000 election Al Gore conceded defeat by saying, “This is America and we put country before party; we will stand together behind our new president.”

It is now very hard to imagine that such grace will emanate from the loser in 2020. …

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