I’ve been seeing some polls asking Americans about the civil war, and they don’t mean the one in the 1860s. In February Zogby asked 873 likely voters if they thought one was coming, and they got 46% likely-43% unlikely. And last month Larry Sabato and his University of Virginia outfit put it more aspirationally, asking 2,012 voters if they agreed that “the situation in America is such that I would favor [blue/red] states seceding from the Union to form their own separate country.” 52% percent of Republicans and 41% of Democrats said they did.
This has led to some exalted chin-stroking. “The [Zogby] survey did not ask why people thought civil war was possible or how it could happen,” said William G. Gale and Darrell M. West of the Brookings Institution. “But we believe there are several forces pushing many to imagine the unthinkable,” whereupon they listed a bunch. At the Washington Post, Henry Olsen clucked over the Sabato poll and claimed, “We can see the signs of the fraying bonds of citizenship all around us… voters on both sides of the partisan divide are embracing views that are inconsistent with democracy,” etc.
Polls can be useful, but one of my pet theories is that the more divorced from the respondents’ everyday reality the poll question is, the less useful the result. I believe people when they say how they feel about a specific proposed tax policy, for example, but when you ask them if they’re for “lower taxes” in general, it’s like asking them if they’d like to have all the ice cream they can eat and never get fat.
Also, look at this 2020 Gallup poll report that says, among other things, “Broad Attitudes on Race Have Become More Negative.” One of their proof points: “In 2018, about half of Americans rated relations between whites and blacks as ‘good,’ representing a major drop from as high as 70% or more who previously had rated relations as good.”
Sounds bad! But further down, you see this: “The percentage of Americans who approve of marriages between blacks and whites moved from 48% in 1965 to 87% the last time Gallup updated the measure in 2013.” And actually Gallup recently updated that — the pro-marriage-miscegenation vote is now 94%.
I will go to my grave believing that when you ask people what their attitudes on race are, you’re much more likely to get a meaningful answer than when you ask them, as Gallup did, “how you would rate relations between various groups in the United States these days.” In the latter case they’ll be telling what they think other people’s attitudes are, because for most of them “relations between whites and blacks” is a news story, not their lives.
It's true that a lot of liberals are really sick of conservatives, and vice versa. And since we hear about it a lot in social and other media, it’s possible to get (or give) the impression that the situation is getting worse and heading toward some kind of schism.
But civil war? Listen, I’m as dystopian as the next fellow, but think about it for ten seconds and it’s obviously ridiculous.
Unless you’re the kind of person who really likes the idea of killing a lot of people you don’t agree with.
Here’s what I see: Though sometimes a well-meaning but excitable liberal like Steve Van Zandt will say stuff like “we are getting dangerously close to another civil war, we are on the brink,” the overwhelming majority of the talk about national separation, amicable or at gunpoint, comes from rightwingers — and, whether out-and-out or on the downlow, they manage to make it clear that they think Big Split Part II would be an unmixed blessing.
Sometimes their approach is more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger, though the sorrow at least is unbelievable. Take Claremont Institute president Ryan Williams, whom Emma Green interviewed at the Atlantic the other day. “I worry about such a conflict,” Williams moans. “The Civil War was terrible. It should be the thing we try to avoid almost at all costs.” The “almost” has been widely noted; less widely noted is Williams’ accelerationist pedigree, as revealed in comments like these he gave in the Institute’s 2018-2019 Biennial Report: “At the Claremont Institute we have framed this war — and make no mistake, it is a war — as a conflict between Multiculturalism and America.” Sounds like he’s been hankering to grab a musket for a while.
The Trumpkin website American Greatness has taken to running items like, “Yes, We Can! (Get a National Divorce).” In that one author Jeremy Carl riffs off fellow lunatic David Reaboi’s enthusiasm for a split, claiming “momentum for a national divorce, which has been dubbed Rexit (for Red State exit) in some quarters, is growing even on the mainstream Right.” Wow, he even appropriated a nickname — you know it must be serious!
Carl makes the fierce urgency of civil whatever clear by analogizing “the Right as the battered American spouse and the Left as the shameless, arrogant, and unrepentant abuser punching us and throwing us against the wall…” Sounds like maybe Carl would like some payback! (The situation has to be pretty desperate when a conservative casts his side in the traditionally female role.) Other recent American Greatness titles include “Winning the Cold Civil War” and “The American Civil War Is Over Judeo-Christian Values.”
At Powerline, John Hinderaker tells us that “a Brexit-like separation… seems like a viable alternative, and polls suggest that a lot of Americans are open to the possibility.” (Boy, they love that Brexit idea, unlike most people currently living through it.) Hinderaker claims his preference is for peaceful secession, but he nonetheless quotes some nut who talks about cutting off New York’s water supply. (Rod Dreher, in “What Would US Civil War Look Like?” is also very interested in the water sabotage guy.)
At American Thinker (yes, still around!), William Sullivan lets us know Abraham Lincoln only “unconvincingly” defended the principle of a perpetual Union (though I thought Appomattox made it pretty convincing) and that our actual “voluntary Union” would allow for a dissolution, though he admits with seeming regret that “secession and civil war don’t appear to be on the immediate horizon.”
But it’s not all fringe outlets dishing out civil war yap. Ben Shapiro has a podcast ep called “Is a New Civil War Coming?” (I didn’t listen — I told you guys already I don’t get paid enough to expose myself to his voice). Newt Gingrich on Fox says of Merrick Garland trying to protect school board members from wingnut violence, “not since the Civil War have we seen this kind of intense anti-citizen behavior,” hint hint. And Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene — with one leg in the fringe-nut and the other in the front-row constituency — ran her own poll on the subject; it didn’t come out secession-positive, but maybe a few more months of her ravings will pump up the numbers.
And try this simple test yourself: When you’re on social media, or sports bulletin boards, or down at the VFW or anywhere else one is likely to experience unfiltered discussion, see who’s talking about civil war. Sometimes they’ll act like they’re being forced into it by the all-powerful Left; sometimes they’d like to see the sissy Left try and stop them from civil-warring! But odds are your man will be the same sort who wonders what the big deal was about January 6, Backs the Blue, got beatings from his old man and he turned out all right, etc. In other words, they’re exactly the sort of people from whom most of us would happily be separated — but since there are more of us than there are of them, we don’t need a civil war to accomplish it.