No, the USA Is Not Headed Towards Civil War
Nor is the regime on the verge of collapse - Elite Theory, Threat Neutralization, and Turbo-America
(request: please read the entire piece before inevitably freaking out about my classification in the graphic above)
(note: this is a work in progress)
I first visited Switzerland back in the summer of 1994 and was, like everyone who visits that country, completely blown away by its natural beauty. It has a beauty that is so overwhelming to the senses in that it easily distracts you from noticing the other great things about the country, especially upon first viewing.
Around a decade later, I had the opportunity to stay in the country for an extended period, and I naturally leapt at it. Being the curious sort, I immersed myself in the various local histories and cultures to try and get a sense of just who these people were, and why they were the way they were. One of the first things that I clued into was due to seeing this everywhere:
Firewood is stacked all over the country, not just to the side of a house or a barn, but also alongside roads. Many of these sites are unsupervised. The first time that this caught my eye, I asked my uncle (who had been working and living in Switzerland since 1981) “aren’t they afraid of someone stealing the firewood?” He replied: “No, as this is a high-trust country. This is their culture, and they won’t accept it any other way.”
“Good for them”, I thought to myself. Being from the Balkans, what was naturally left unsaid between the two of us was that in our part of the world, a woodpile like the one in the photo above would be pilfered by Gypsies….if not Gypsies, then by somebody else. That is the culture, and it is begrudgingly accepted as a permanent, unchangeable feature in that part of Europe.
You can’t have a country with a high level of civic duty if a high-trust society does not underpin it. Like Switzerland, the Nordic countries excel at this, particularly Scandinavian ones. This cultural bedrock serves as the foundation that allows civic duty to flourish, and creates the conditions for political stability. Upset the culture forming this bedrock, and you threaten all that rests upon it. Many European countries are now learning this the hard way.
The erosion of high-trust in a society is a negative indicator for its stability, particularly political. On the other hand (and contrary to the assumptions of some), that erosion is not a death sentence for a regime, as high-trust and civic duty is not a requirement for systemic persistence. It is precisely this point that brings me to the subject of this essay.
“Hi! My Name is Nic, and I’m a News Junkie.”
Every single one of you reading this right now is, like me, a news junkie. The consumption of news in its various formats, made all the easier thanks to advances in technology, is a significant part of our daily diets. We are addicts, and many of us are incapable of reform in this regard. Consuming, digesting, and analyzing the news satisfies the most natural of needs in our psychological composition, the need for knowledge. This knowledge is what helps us navigate through life, often giving us competitive advantages over others to help us secure more resources for ourselves and for those reliant upon us.
We are inundated with news all day long. Three great changes facilitated this: the creation of the 24-hour news cycle by way of cable TV (CNN as progenitor), the universal adoption of the internet, and the ‘existential need’ for a smartphone. Our choices for news are virtually limitless, and we as consumers of the news are a captive market for advertisers. These advertisers need to grab our attention, and our attention is best grabbed by sensationalism. This is what gave rise to ‘Clickbait Journalism’, where outrage, shock, and disgust were found to be the most effective lures to attract eyeballs.
Journalism suffered for this. The perpetual shock and outrage cycle combined with the torrential flood of news available to consumers meant that nuance was a liability, investigative reporting too costly and with too long of a time scale to be immediately impactful, resulting in not just higher levels of partisanship, but also in a growing distrust of media as a whole (not to mention the rise and rise of media bubbles).
Worse still is the overall shift in mainstream journalism from straining to be objective (a principle that dominated most of 20th century American media), to outright advocacy. Where once news was reported, narratives are now crafted and propagated. The bigger the bullhorn, the greater the cacophony, the more effective the message being pushed onto the audience. What people are consuming is the result of top-down agendas driven by the owners of news media, and that reflect their own political and/or business interests. This works to distort the truth.
Nowhere was this more on display than during the 4+ years that Donald Trump ran and secured the GOP nomination for the 2016 Presidential Election and his time as President of the United States of America. Thanks to the constant torrents of sensationalized, clickbait news with which we were all flooded with daily, the USA experienced a collective psychological breakdown from which it still has not recovered. “The walls are closing in on Donald!”, was a constant, repeated refrain, never coming true, yet popping back up unscathed a few weeks after failing to achieve its promise.
American Collapse and Civil War?
These waves of repeated public meltdowns worked to paint a false portrait of America; that ‘democracy was in danger’ (“Democracy dies in darkness”, as the Jeff Bezos-owned Washington Post strategically placed on its mast), that the Russians ‘stole the election’, and that civil war was coming. (This methodology was applied to the COVID-19 Pandemic as well, serving a political purpose, with the blowback being a collapse of trust in medicine and science). Could you blame the ordinary person for thinking that things actually were falling apart? I certainly couldn’t.
There are many who sincerely claim that America is not just in decline, but is also collapsing. There are quite a lot of indicators that support this argument. One of the best is the fact that life expectancy in the USA has dropped two years in a row now. Russia, which experienced political, economic, and social collapse during the 1990s, saw its male life expectancy rate drop to 58 by 1994! Americans will also point to rising economic inequality, crumbling infrastructure, missed recruitment targets in the US Armed Forces, and the growing divide between Blue and Red America. We also can’t overlook a ballooning national debt, either. One must concede that there are quite a lot of data points to support this position.
In 1992, Presidential candidate Ross Perot described NAFTA as a “giant sucking sound” in that the USA would experience de-industrialization because manufacturing would move to Mexico, hollowing out large parts of the country. He was right. How can a middle-aged man or woman in Ohio not feel that the USA was declining after seeing his/her factory shut down, moved to Chihuahua, with only low-paying service jobs in places like Walmart as the only viable option for employment? This was the country that produced more than half of all the goods of the entire world by 1945!
It is precisely this 50 year long squeezing of the US middle class that has led to so many Americans to view their country as being in decline.
A strong and optimistic middle class that believes that their children will live better than they did is the greatest guarantee of a stable democracy.
Economic precariousness begets anti-systemic politics as insecure people begin to look for options outside of the accepted norms in order to restore (or improve) their previous station in life (The Great Depression being the best example of this). Both Ross Perot and Patrick J. Buchanan campaigned on economic fears in 1992. Despite their foresight, both lost. Their arguments would have to wait until the bill for de-industrialization finally came in, and for Donald Trump to appropriate their positions in 2016 (‘Make America Great Again’ i.e. reverse its decline), going on to win the Presidency that year.
Economic decline also results in a lowering of trust in governing institutions, as citizens increasingly view that as incapable, non-responsive, hostile, or a combination of the three.
The erosion of trust is across the board:
Trust is eroding, but as these charts show, some governing institutions retain rather high levels of trust.
When the decline of the middle class is added to the toxic political climate on display daily in the USA, ordinary Americans are increasingly left with the impression that a second civil war is a growing possibility. Media is only too happy to stoke these fears:
US ‘closer to civil war’ than most would like to believe, new book says
The Next Civil War: Dispatches From the American Future
Millions of Angry, Armed Americans Stand Ready to Seize Power if Trump Loses in 2024
3 Retired Generals: The Military Must Prepare Now For a 2024 Insurrection
‘We are closer to civil war than any of us would like to believe’, new study says
The decline of the middle class and the growing distrust in governing institutions are indicative of a society that is no longer high-trust, and where civic duty has less and less appeal to the ordinary citizen. Do they equate to a collapse in the regime/imminent civil war? Of course not.
Count the Elites…It’s Just That Simple!
My confidence in the continued existence of the United States of America as it is (an empire in the form of a constitutional republic) is that the overwhelming majority of its elites remain system loyalists, and that these system loyalists show little to no indication of defecting from this position to take up a revolutionary, non-systemic role. Despite an overproduction of elites, the USA has shown itself to be able to co-opt them and absorb them (for now), and restrict the pool of potential non-systemic elites who could threaten the existence of the regime.
The chart above is very, very simplified (KISS - Keep It Simple, Stupid) and is intended for illustrative purposes. It is not comprehensive. Many of you are going to have a field day disputing the classifications, the definitions, and so on, just like when any publication puts out a list of the “100 Greatest Albums of the 21st Century” or “The 50 Best Movies of the Decade”. I know I placed a land mine under my own feet by doing this, but I am willing to sacrifice myself for the sake of trying to explain a concept. Marxists will scoff at ‘Biden White House’ being centre-left, for example, due to the USA’s capitalist economy. Conservatives will whine that I put a lot of Big Tech in the centrist column despite them embracing DEI and ESG, and censoring pro-Trump media. Some of these elites that are listed can occupy two or more spaces (e.g. Catholic Church for open borders/pro-life). Quibble all you want in the comments…that’s what that section is there for.
See all that blue? That’s a lot. Those sections represent elites who often (sometimes always) compete with one another for power, but remain within the confines of the governing system. These are the system loyalists.
See that red rectangle? That belongs to the anti-systemic left who are firmly entrenched in many of the USA’s leading universities, who are not particularly loyal to the constitutional republic, and are more than happy to see it end to serve their own political vision for the country. This segment has been massively influential in shaping both culture and law in the USA these past few decades. Despite its outsized influence, Academia cannot seize power by itself (hence the smaller size of its shape on the chart).
See that black square? That represents Donald Trump and America First: a populist challenge to the governing elites that sought to roll back globalism (aka US Empire, albeit not entirely), and attempted to cancel an election (don’t get mad at me just yet).
Elite Theory posits that small elites are in charge of governing a country despite it having the trappings of a democracy. This is the view that I personally subscribe to. Elites can compete with one another within a system, but also collaborate with each other at the same time. Here’s a current example of this cooperation:
WASHINGTON — America, you have probably heard, is on the edge of collapse. In the ideological death match described by President Biden as a “battle for the soul of this nation,” the forces of MAGA square off against the self-declared Resistance. One side will conquer; the other will be crushed.
Given these doomsday politics, it may surprise you to learn that some of the most glorified and vilified characters of these tumultuous years have quietly forged a peace — working together to ensure the world’s wealthiest and most powerful players thrive amid the turmoil.
The “government matters” practice at the law firm of King & Spalding is a telling example.
On this team you will find Gina Haspel, whose supervision of torture at a secret C.I.A. detention site proved no obstacle to her becoming the agency’s director under Donald Trump nor to her eventual recruitment by corporate law. (While she is not a lawyer, the firm has hired her as a senior adviser on national security.)
Ms. Haspel has joined forces with Sally Yates, who was enshrined as a paragon of principle when Mr. Trump fired her as acting attorney general for rejecting his notorious “Muslim ban.” The pairing of the spy chief nicknamed “Bloody Gina” by some C.I.A. colleagues with a breakout star of the #Resistance was peculiar enough, but consider that Ms. Yates’s eventual successor as deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, is also on the King & Spalding team.
It was Mr. Rosenstein who enforced the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy, telling prosecutors that migrant children’s ages should not exempt their parents from prosecution. Infants were yanked from the arms of their parents at the southern border in a separation policy that one human rights group called torture and that even Mr. Rosenstein eventually denounced.
How to explain this convergence?
“At the end of the day, elites take care of other elites, with very few exceptions,” said Christopher Sprigman, a former partner at King & Spalding who now teaches at the New York University School of Law. When it comes to family separation, he said: “Those kids are water under the bridge. There’s money to be made.”
Haspel, Yates, and Rosenstein are system loyalists, despite having worked under Trump.
On the cynicism of screaming “CIVIL WAR!”:
Business as usual.
The system loyalty on display by the elites during the Trump Administration betrayed an elite that was very unified in the face of a systemic challenge. Bureaucratic managers and circuit court justices stymied Trump at every turn. The DoD openly ignored him. The FBI and CIA worked against him. Media buried him in a Mt. Everest height of manure. Big Tech censored him. Much of his own Cabinet betrayed him. Even Rupert Murdoch sided against him by the end of his Presidency! The Deep State rallied to subvert his Presidency, eliminating a challenger to their rule, as they would not permit a populist upstart to undo decades of work towards the pursuit of US global hegemony.
Donald Trump was elected 45th President of the United States of America as a populist revolt against the ruling elites who either failed or didn’t want to address the needs of a massive segment of the country’s population who felt left out of the political process, and who saw no real future for themselves without significant rollback and reform of the system that governed them. Some lodged a protest vote by voting for Trump. Others hoped that he would be a revolutionary.
For the elites, Donald Trump was either a nuisance or a threat to democracy, depending on who you asked. Those with the most invested in perpetuating the course of the regime screamed the loudest and exaggerated the most about the ‘threat’ that he posed. Mainstream media was all too happy to cooperate with this segment of the elites, amplifying the ‘threats’ that he posed, creating a state of paranoia among Americans across the political aisle, with some worried about Trump becoming a dictator by seizing power in a coup, and still others frightened by the prospects of a civil war. This hysteria was manufactured and deployed to subvert his Presidency.
Here is a perfect example of this misplaced hysteria:
Norm (pbuh) absolutely nails it in one sentence; the notion that this tiny group of people was about to seize Congress is ridiculous to anyone who has two working eyes. Nevertheless, the media went into overdrive to exploit this protest in order to lock out Trump and other future potential systemic challengers by painting it as an ‘insurrection’. To make the threat narrative more robust, Capitol Hill has been significantly militarized, and FBI-ridden ‘right wing groups’ like the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, etc. are used to create the mirage of ‘violent extremist threats’ (with big assists from gullible and misled men and women).
More importantly, January 6th showed just how isolated Trump was by that point. Abandoned by almost everyone in the GOP and the right, he was left with a tiny hard core of supporters on the ground, and 4th stringers/grifters in his corner, leading him on by telling him that they could undo Biden’s win. The Trump Presidency showed the resilience of the system and rallied its loyal elites to a perceived threat.
Whenever I encounter a person insisting that civil war is just around the corner in the USA, I always ask them the exact same question: “Can you name the two sides that will be fighting against one another?’ They never can. The best that these types can offer is the suggestion that well-armed men in flyover country will conduct a low-level civil conflict against government forces, or that a Governor will go rogue and will not only reject certain Federal Government rulings and laws, but will also use the National Guard in his/her state to fend off the Feds.
Yes, America is a very, very divided country, and its divisions seem to be only increasing. Half the population are in a populist revolt, but that half lack almost all representation in the elites, the ones who drive history. Without a faction of the elites defecting to the non-systemic side, the chances of civil war or regime collapse approach zero.
The USA is an incredibly resilient country with the good fortune of excellent geography (no natural predators nearby, plenty of natural wealth), and the luck of its global competitors being so far behind it in so many fields. It is able to strike at its rivals in many different ways simultaneously:
While large parts of the USA are in decline, the American Empire isn’t. It is transforming into something new, and having just recently neutralized a systemic challenger, it is now free to continue to pursue global hegemony.
Just count the elites by using the chart that I assembled as a scorecard. It’s just that easy, despite what the media will have you believe.
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The graphic is for illustrative purposes and is not comprehensive. I will not get drawn into debate about 'what goes where', sorry to disappoint ;)
Re: chart - I am not very skilled at creating graphics, so I did the best that I could. I wish I had better skills, as I would have created a horizontal spectrum that would have allowed for better placement and multiple placements for some names.
I wish that I had the skills to make something like this, for example - https://i.postimg.cc/mrnZDSzh/median.png
I could have written a 30,000 word piece on this subject, but this will have to do for now. There are a lot of open spaces for naysayers to exploit, but that is natural for a medium-sized piece covering so much ground.