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Americans in a divided nation sow the seeds of Civil War

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There has not been such a division in the United States since the Civil War: The United States, now riven by culture wars and disputes over guns, race inequality (perceived), soaring inflation, abortion and elections, has not been so divided since the Civil War, Oxford University professor Adam Smith writes in an op-ed for The Times.

What happened to the shining city on the hill, and what will happen to it next? ‘, the author asks. According to Smith, divisions in America have been growing for two or three decades, and at an ever-faster pace. The geographic division lines are painfully familiar: in 2020, of the 15 states that allowed slavery on the eve of the Civil War, 13 voted for Trump. The exceptions were Georgia, where the gap between rivals was minimal, and Virginia, although West Virginia, which was part of the state in 1860, voted overwhelmingly for the now-former US president.

According to the author, the most alarming event for America was the collapse of faith in the legitimacy of the national government. An NPR poll released last week found that 58% of Americans do not trust the Supreme Court, and according to a University of Chicago poll, more than a quarter of American voters believe it may soon be necessary to ‘take up arms against the government.’

If the government is no longer seen as based on the consent of those it governs, then the outlook is bleak, the article emphasizes. ‘A second civil war similar to the first is unlikely, not least because the federal government now has nuclear weapons,’ writes Smith. ’ But a breakup of sorts is entirely possible.’

Over the past 50 years, one could imagine that the United States would move towards an even greater union, in which the Supreme Court would guarantee more and more rights, and the federal government would be able to regulate at the national level. However, these assumptions now look wrong.

Looming ahead is an alternative future in which controversy and election-related violence become commonplace. The federal government will continue to be in charge of a huge, shared military, while Republican America and Democratic America will become increasingly antagonistic entities, competing for the allegiance of a group of swing states. Even the US single market will be threatened as states struggle to allocate national resources by adopting different standards.

It’s easy to imagine that with Republican majorities on the Supreme Court and an electoral system that favours rural Republican states, big Democratic states like California and New York will push for more and more self-government. Democratic America contributes net to the federal budget, while Republican states such as Mississippi, West Virginia, and Alabama live off the federal ‘welfare’. ’States’ rights’, the most meaningless slogan in American history, could be remade by liberals, deepening the great American divide, the author believes.

However, according to Smith, more encouraging options for the future are also possible. Much depends on whether both ‘blue’ Democratic America and ‘red’ Republican America can continue to provide their middle class with participation in the separate worlds they are building. 

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Indeed, despite the divisions and institutional sclerosis, the tarnished potential of the United States still remains, since most of the time the country gives ordinary people a well-founded hope of prosperity. If this is no longer the case for half the country, then the current cold civil war could turn into a hot one, Adam Smith sums up.

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