Sunday, December 4

With the end of Roe, the US edges closer and closer to civil war | Stephen Marche

The cracks in the foundations of the United States are widening, rapidly and on several fronts. The overturning of Roe v Wade has provoked a legitimacy crisis no matter what your politics.

For the right, the leaking of the draft memo last month revealed the breakdown of bipartisanship and common purpose within the institution. For the left, it demonstrated the will of dubiously selected Republican justices to overturn established rights that have somewhere near 70% to 80% political support.

Accelerating political violence, like the attack in Buffalo, increasingly blurs the line between the mainstream political conservative movement and outright murderous insanity. The question is no longer whether there will be a civil conflict in the United States. The question is how the sides will divide, what their strengths and weaknesses are, and how those strengths and weaknesses will determine the outcome.

The right wing has been imagining a civil war, publicly, since at least the Obama administration. Back in 2016, when it looked like Hillary Clinton would win the election, then Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin described the possibility in apocalyptic terms: “The roots of the tree of liberty are watered by what? The blood. Of who? The tyrants, to be sure. But who else? The patriots. Whose blood will be shed? It may be that of those in this room. It might be that of our children and grandchildren,” he told supporters at the Values ​​Voter Summit.

The possibility of civil war has long been a mainstay of rightwing talk radio. Needless to say, when the right conjures these fantasies of cleansing violence, they tend to fantasize their own victory. Steve King, while still a congressman from Iowa, tweeted an image of red and blue America at war, with the line: “Folks keep talking about another civil war. One side has about 8tn bullets, while the other side doesn’t know which bathroom to use.”

Any time anyone acts on their violent rhetoric, the rightwing politicians and media elites are appalled that anyone would connect what they say to what others do. “We need to understand we’re under attack, and we need to understand this is 21st-century warfare and get on a war footing,” Alex Jones said in the lead-up to the Capitol riot.

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According to a New York Times series, Tucker Carlson has articulated the theory of white replacement more than 400 times on his show. Calls to violence are normal in rightwing media. Calls to resist white replacement are normal in rightwing media. The inevitable result is the violent promotion of resistance to white replacement. Republican politicians like Arizona state senator Wendy Rogers and New York congresswoman Elise Stefanik are outraged when their one plus one turns out to equal two, but their outrage is increasingly unbelievable, even to themselves. America is witnessing a technique used in political struggles all over the world. Movements devoted to the overthrow of elected governments tend to divide into armed and political wings, which gives multiple avenues to approach their goals as well as the cover of plausible deniability for their violence.

The leftwing American political class, incredibly, continues to cling to its defunct institutional ideals. Democrats under Biden have wasted the past two years on fictions of bipartisanship and forlorn hopes of some kind of restoration of American trust. When violence like Buffalo hits, they can do little more than plead with the other side to reconsider the horror they’re unleashing, and offer obvious lectures about the poison of white supremacy. Since January 6 didn’t wake them up to exactly what they’re facing, it’s unclear what might ever wake them up. The left has not made the psychological adjustment to a conflict situation yet. But it won’t be able to maintain the fantasy of normalcy for much longer.

The conflict, which on the surface seems so unequal, with an emboldened and violent right against a demoralized and disorganized left, is not as one-sided as it looks at first. It is unequal but it is also highly asymmetrical. The right has the weaponry and an electoral system weighted overwhelmingly in its favor. The left has money and technology.

Steve King was, in a sense, absolutely correct about the armed status of the two sides. Half of Republicans own a gun, compared with 21% of Democrats. But that gap, though wide, is closing. In 2020, 40% of gun buyers were new buyers. There was a 58% rise in gun sales to African Americans in 2020 over 2019. In 2021, women were nearly half of new gun buyers, an astonishing statistic. The real structural advantage the right possesses is not military but electoral. By 2040, 30% of the country will control 70% of the Senate. The institutions of the US government distinctly favor those who want to destroy it. Every Democrat who fights to end the filibuster is fighting for their own future irrelevance, or rather for the acceleration of their own irrelevance.

Two essential facts of the 2020 election should give leftwing partisans hope, however. Biden-voting counties amounted to 70% of GDP, while 60% of college-educated voters chose Biden. That is to say, the left-democratic wing of America is the productive and educated part of the country. One way of looking at the American political condition of the moment is that the leftwing part of the US has built the networks that have left behind the rightwing part. The networks are the left’s strength.

The struggle over abortion has already revealed how the divide plays out. Anti-abortion factions control the pseudo-legitimate court system and the poorer states in the Union. Pro-choice factions have responded, first of all, with their superior financial resources. Oregon started the Oregon Reproductive Equity Fund with $15m. New York is establishing a fund to make the state a “safe haven”. California Governor Gavin Newsom plans to add $57m to the state budget to deal with out-of-state patients.

At the same time, pro-choice organizers are turning to technology. The Atlantic recently reported on networks using “encrypted, open-source Zoom alternatives” to provide women with support for their procedures. Already, anonymous web access to self-managed abortions is available, just as it has been for many years in some restrictive jurisdictions.

This divide isn’t just American. As the forces of the world split between a liberal-democratic elite and authoritarian populists, the same asymmetry can be seen in the struggle everywhere. In Canada, the convoy that held the city of Ottawa hostage was defeated, in the end, not by force, but by money and technology. Other countries responded to similar convoys with direct assaults – the French teargassed their convoy immediately and the United States called in the national guard before they had even left for Washington. But in Canada, the government, not wanting to have the blood of children on its hands, weakened the convoy’s financial networks by simply turning off their fundraising accounts. A small band of anonymous hackers also tormented the convoy organizers by disrupting their communication lines. They infiltrated their Zello channels, blaring the hardcore gay pornography country anthem Ram Ranch. The “Ram Ranch Resistance” almost single-handedly undid the protests at the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor.

This same divide has played out on an international level, in the struggle between Russia and Ukraine. Russia, overwhelmed by resentment because it cannot meaningfully compete in an integrated 21st-century economy, has returned into a conservative authoritarianism with no other outlet than violence. But Ukraine had better access to the global financial and media networks. The reaction, from the forces of the democratic west, has been to cut Russia off from financial systems and to provide Ukraine with superior technology. Technology and financial networks have proven the match, at the very least, of brute force.

Incipient civil conflict in the United States won’t be formal armies fighting for territory. The techniques of both sides are clarifying. Republican officials will use the supreme court, or whatever other political institutions they control, to push their agenda no matter how unpopular with the American people. Meanwhile, their calls for violence, while never direct, create a climate of rage that solidifies into regular physical assaults on their enemies. The technical term for this process is stochastic terrorism; the attack in Buffalo is a textbook example.

The leftwing resistance is more nascent but is also taking shape: if you’re rich and you want to stay living in a democracy, the time has come to pony up. If you’re an engineer, the time has come to organize. The conclusion is not at all determined. Neither side has an absolute advantage. Neither side can win easily. But one fact is clear. The battle has been joined, and it will be fought everywhere.

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