The Next American Civil War: Toronto writer Stephen Marche lays out scenarios for the future – and none of them are pretty


In October 2018, Canadian novelist and journalist Stephen Marche published an essay in The Walrus titled “The Next American Civil War,” in which he outlined several potential scenarios for our neighbor to the south to break up violently. Writing for a Canadian publication, he naturally phrased this in terms of the impact such a conflict would have on those of us north of the 49th parallel. (Spoiler: It’s usually about trade and migration.) “Canadians with the least power have to predict what’s going to happen in the United States,” Marche wrote. “Determining what will happen there means determining what we will ultimately be up against here. “

This article was developed in a book, “The Next Civil War: Dispatches from the American Future”, which, published by an imprint of the multinational Simon & Schuster, allows Marche to shed the Canadian accent and anchor completely his arguments in context. recent American history and speculation about what will happen in the future.

The main scenarios imagined by Marche remain unchanged: the potential future assassination of a sitting US president; an environmental disaster leading to massive emigration from an urban center (Marche postulates a flood that is devastating New York); a crisis of government legitimacy leading citizens to take up arms in the street. As it broadens its scope, it also examines the lingering issue of state rights, a thorn in the side of Republican governance since the American Revolution, and the growing rift between Republicans and hyperpartisan Democrats.

His assertion of the reality and intransigence of the Red States and the Blue States is at least partially refuted by the popular vote map of the previous two U.S. presidential elections, both of which show a nation colored in various shades of purple a coast to coast. Marche notes that the divisions between Red America and Blue America include “mostly white and rural versus predominantly multicultural and urban”; the South has a greater proportion of Blacks than the North (another legacy of slavery) and even the redder red states have relatively liberal urban pockets (see, for example, Austin, Texas).

Marche generally endorses the “big guy” notion of entrepreneur and thinker Bill Bishop, who identifies the tendencies by which Americans of opposing political convictions tend to come together with others who share their ideologies. But at least as important in determining which states lean towards which party at any given level – local, state, or federal – is the ongoing Republican effort to gerrymander constituencies in their favor.

That said, the fractures caused by rampant partisanship in the United States are real. Marche points out that Pew Research has determined that 58% of Republicans have a very unfavorable opinion of Democrats, while 55% of Democrats have an unfavorable opinion of Republicans. Likewise, in 2010, half of Republicans and a third of Democrats said they would be unhappy if their children married someone who supported the opposing party. These cracks are real, and four years of President Trump has done nothing to iron them out.

While Marche is adept at uncovering the loopholes that exist in the American regime and extrapolating their importance to the stability of American democracy, his imaginary accounts of incidents that could spur widespread civil strife are less convincing, especially after two years of an ongoing global crisis. pandemic.

The decision to structure his book around imaginary events such as a presidential assassination or catastrophic flooding loses some of its force in the context of COVID-19, actual California wildfires and deadly Kentucky tornadoes, and a geopolitical reality that has effectively made dystopian fiction indistinguishable from the realism of a kitchen sink. He defines the possibility of an assault on the United States Capitol in conditional terms – the country would “not respond rationally” – ignoring what we know of the real fallout from Jan. 6, 2021. (Marche mentions the insurgency on Capitol Hill from the United States, but briefly and without much elaboration.)

To some extent, Marche falls victim to the forces that anyone attempting to write a book-length study of our present moment must contend with: the simple fact that the story is galloping too quickly to even attempt a vision at long term. By the time a book is printed, the situation on the ground will have changed beyond recognition. If a futurist is someone who makes assumptions for a living, there is no need to speculate on where America can go. We’ve seen it in action before, and it’s not pretty.

Steven W. Beattie is a writer in Stratford, Ontario


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