Analysis 02-20-2022


Is America Headed towards a Civil War?


When we first mentioned the possibility of another American civil war over ten years ago, the idea was generally dismissed by political analysts.  However, today, mainstream analysts are seriously considering the possibility.  Last week, Ray Dalio, the founder of the largest hedge fund, Bridgewater Associates stated that America’s financial problems could lead to an American civil war.

“The US appears to be on a classic path toward some form of civil war,” he wrote on the LinkedIn posting.

Aside from the financial reasons mentioned by Dalio, there are other issues in America that raise the potential for civil war.

The signs were more visible since the election of former President Trump and subsequently his refusal to accept the election of Biden, the current weak American President.  An Interactive Polls poll released last weekend showed Biden with 56% disapproval and 34% approval.  His approval amongst Hispanics has dropped 40% in the last year and 2 out of 3 independents disapprove of him.  He is behind in every swing state that pushed him to victory in 2020.

Historically, weak leaders like Russian Emperor Nicholas II or Louis XVI have been a catalyst of civil war or revolution.

Then there is inflation, which has gotten out of hand and has also historically been a spark for civil war.  Inflation is the worst in 40 years and is even worse if the inflation model used in 1980 is applied.  In that case, the inflation rate is 15%, not 7.5%.  Producer prices, which will inevitably hit consumers is up 9.7% over the last year.

In addition to these, Biden is facing opposition for his foreign policy failures like Afghanistan, shortages of consumer goods on the nation’s store shelves, the growing divide between rich and poor, the chaotic  border with Mexico, and Biden’s growing mental problems.

These are all serious problems, but do they threaten a durable democracy like the United States?  The Biden Administration thinks so given their actions in regard to the peaceful Canadian trucker strike against Covid measures.

The White House said that the demonstrations are a shared problem between the countries.  The Biden Administration pushed the Canadian government to end the blockade, saying it was hurting the economy, although the damage to the economy is less than the government mandated Covid shutdowns of last year.

Another problem is that Americans support the Canadian Trucker strike.  According to a Rasmussen poll released this week, 59% of American voters support the Canadian truckers.  They also think a protest like that in Canada would be a good idea in the United States.

Another sign of American support is financial.  Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau said that around 50% of the funds flowing to the trucker organizers were from the US.

Clearly, the Biden Administration is anxious for the Canadian government to squash the trucker demonstrations before they catch on in the US.

In that regard, they are too late as convoys are already being planned to travel from California to Washington DC.  And the Department of Homeland Security is already monitoring the US convoys and linking it to domestic terrorism.  The DHS bulletin of February warned of a heightened terrorism threat because of “false and misleading narratives” misinformation and conspiracy theories.

But are all these really a major threat?

Barbara Walter is a former member of the Political Instability Task Force, which is a group funded by the CIA.  The purpose of the task force is to gather data and determine which countries are likely to descend into civil conflict.

There are three factors they look at.  The first is whether a country is in transition towards democracy or a totalitarian government – what she calls “anocracies.”  Those that fall between the two poles are twice as likely to experience political instability or civil war as the totalitarian regimes and three times more likely than democracies.

The second factor is “factionalism.”  This is when political parties are based on ethnicity, religious, or race, much like the civil wars that hit the former Yugoslavia.  She says that this is the best indicator of future civil unrest.

The third factor is “downgrading.”  This is when a group experiences a reversal in status and loses political power.  Walter maintains that these three factors are troubling for the US.

“We are a factionalized anocracy that is quickly approaching the open insurgency stage, which means we are closer to civil war than any of us would believe,” she said.

Not everyone agrees with her.  The model she espouses is clearly more in line with the thinking of Democrats and progressives.  Republicans focus on the loss of liberty and growing federal power in the recent history as the two major factors threatening instability.  They also fear that a “downgrading” of government power may spark government sponsored unrest.

If the political factors and the civil unrest modeling foresee a civil war, what will it look like?

“It would look more like Northern Ireland and what Britain experienced, where it’s more of an insurgency,” Walter said.  “It would be more decentralized than Northern Ireland because we have such a large country.”

Undoubtedly, a second American civil war wouldn’t look anything like the one that raged from 1861 to 1865.  That was a more conventional war with clear battle lines and conventional armies.

Although states and state rights had much to do with the American Civil War, it may be different this time.  While there are states that clearly tilt one way or another, there are many states that could split in any conflict.

One example is Colorado, which is liberal and pro-Democrat around Denver.  However, the population in and around the Rocky Mountains is much more conservative.  Minnesota is Democratic around Minneapolis but is Republican in the western part of the state.

These states could fracture, with different groups controlling different parts of the state.  There is also the open question of Native American Tribes, who are recognized as sovereign nations by the US.  Would they break away?

There is also the issue of the military, which is spread across the nation.  At present, they do not have the forces to retake any large part of the US.  Would they support the Commander-in-Chief?  Would they merely remain in place to protect military bases and America’s strategic nuclear forces?

Then there are the private militias.  Are they as powerful as some maintain or are they akin to the White South African militias of the 1990s that folded and ran away?

And no discussion of American military strength can ignore the states’ National Guard and reserve forces that fall under the control of the state governor.  Some of the National Guard units have already refused to follow the Pentagon vaccine mandates.

One interesting fact about the Canadian protests is that Trudeau called upon the Canadian military, only to be told that Canada’s military wasn’t empowered to get involved in domestic issues.

If a civil war or insurgency takes place, expect the cities, which are more Democrat, to side with the federal government.  Rural areas would be more Republican.  The suburbs would be the battleground.

Unlike the American Civil War of 150 years ago, when the South was agrarian and unable to compete with the North’s industrial capacity, potential insurgent areas have more industry, especially in terms of arms manufactures.  They also produce more of the agricultural goods.  The cities would control the financial power of the US.

However, there is no way to predict what will happen.  Generals in 1914 thought WWI would be a war of maneuver instead of trenches.  Nations have also stepped away from civil unrest at the last moment.

However, it’s important to remember that no one thought that British and American forces at Lexington would exchange fire on April 19th, 1775.  Several confrontations had ended peacefully in the previous years, and no one had any inkling that things would be so different this day in Lexington.  It was the belligerent actions of British Major Pitcairn, who held the militia units in disdain that led to the confrontation.

America is in the same state now.  Common sense could stop a civil war.  However, belligerent actions could cause a tense situation to break out into all-out war.