An Urgent Plea to the Left and Right: No Civil War

Ralph E. Shaffer
Professor Emeritus of History at Cal Poly Pomona

Two disturbing events last week emphasize that the United States is on the brink of a second civil war. The California Secretary of State warned election officials to expect disruption and voter intimidation at the polls on presidential election day, with a specific reference to the illegal presence of weapons. In Michigan, the FBI arrested members of a right wing militia that planned to kidnap the governor and overthrow the state government, leading to a national uprising. Couple that with the earlier seizure of a portion of Seattle by leftist militants, the possibility of a second civil war is not remote. When the election results are rejected, by either side, the nation will be in chaos.

Not since 1861 have Americans faced such a calamity. But the destruction that took place in that Civil War was confined largely to the South. This time, every hamlet, town and metropolis in America will be ravaged in the fighting that follows the turmoil over this presidential election if either side resorts to force in response to an electoral outcome they won’t accept.

In 2000, Al Gore wisely, though prematurely, chose to concede to George Bush as a means of preventing violence. That is less likely to happen this time.

The stakes are much higher in 2020 and the potential for violence is far greater. But can we expect either a Biden or a Trump to follow the precedent set by Gore and concede, coupled with a call for peace?

That’s not the Trump style. He has refused to agree to a peaceful transition of power should the election go to Biden, implying that such a victory for the Democrats would come only from a rigged election. That’s a virtual call to arms, and the right wing militias have already demonstrated their dedication to armed force by that chilling plot in Michigan. Even one of Trump’s advisors has urged the president’s followers to arm themselves and buy ammunition.

The left is not far behind, although at this point they haven’t organized armed units as has the right. But the violent actions that have followed peaceful protests over police use of unnecessary lethal force point to a left that will not passively accept a Trump electoral victory they see as a usurpation.

Biden may not be able to control his outraged supporters if Republicans state legislatures refuse to certify Biden electors, throwing the election into the House where Trump has a majority of state votes. Or, if the electoral college does choose Biden and Trump refuses to leave office, it is unlikely that Democrats will allow him to stay there by peacefully accepting a fiat accomplice.

Regardless of what scenario takes place on and after election day, the animosities that have arisen between Americans right and left in the past few months have made the likelihood of war greater than the present danger from Covid-19.  We’ve lost over 200,000 Americans to the virus. We will lose millions in the coming civil war if it is not prevented by wise leadership, left and right.

Our great cities will be in ruins. Neighbors will turn on neighbors. No section, no community will be spared. Left wing cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York will be decimated, but so will Trump places like Idaho Falls, Gatlinburg and Abilene. 

Canada’s population will double almost overnight as Americans flee north. Mexico will become the home for many Americans who had denounced refugees seeking asylum in our country.

The nation will be in chaos for years to come if the leadership of left and right do not call for calm. Trump supporters must accept a Biden victory without resorting to obvious sham efforts to block his inauguration. Biden voters must accept the constitutional rules for deciding a presidential election, regardless of how they feel about the winner.

Failure to accept the election results, whatever they are, will mean the end of the American nation. We will have survived longer than Stalin’s Soviet Union and Hitler’s Third Reich, but we will be, like them, an historical footnote.

This is not the future reasonable Americans want for their children and grandchildren.

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