Think Mad Max Not The Patriot

There are a disturbing number of articles and blog posts about the difficulties or need for secession these days. Henry Olson’s column in the Washington Post is one example of the genre:

Many Americans are increasingly concerned that our national heritage, our democratic republic, is seriously in danger. A new poll from the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics confirms that we have reason to worry — and that the fault is in ourselves, not our political stars.

We can see the signs of the fraying bonds of citizenship all around us. The increasingly hostile tone of mainstream political speech. The inability of our two parties to find common ground in cases of clear national interest, such as raising the debt ceiling. The way that leaders of each side accuse the other of intentionally subverting the election process to ensure their hold on power. The fact that partisans increasingly isolate themselves in information bubbles where they only hear their side of an argument and often only the extreme elements of that side.

That’s why the Center for Politics poll is so worrying. It surveyed 2,000 voters on a host of issues related to democratic health, especially how each viewed members and leaders of the other party. It found that large numbers of Joe Biden and Donald Trump voters view the other party with fear and contempt.

The most frightening findings show that supermajorities of voters in each camp believe the other side is bent on destroying the country. More than 80 percent of Biden and Trump voters agree that elected officials of the other party “present a clear and present danger to American democracy.” More than 70 percent of both sets of voters believe that some extreme media voices on the other side should be censored “despite the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment.” More than 75 percent of Biden and Trump voters believe that Americans who strongly support the opposite party also threaten the American way of life. In short, politics has stopped being about how to govern a shared country and is more about a naked, “Lord of the Flies”-style struggle for power.

and so is James Joyner’s most recent post at Outside the Beltway:

Vast swaths of the country are essentially unpopulated forests, farmland, or deserts. (Both of the live maps at the USA page are interactive.)

The point of all of this is that, like it or not, there is no plausible way for Red or Blue states to secede. As has been noted here more than once, the real divide isn’t Red states and Blue states but rural and urban.

Still, the starkness of the divide is something to see. Moreover, turning to a debate that’s been ongoing in the comment section here for some time, despite the fact that the Republican Party has undeniably been more aggressive in bending the rules to get what it wants and thereby thwarting the democratic process, supporters of both parties have strong authoritarian tendencies.

In the past I have highlighted the reasons for all of this: the enormous financial rewards of increasing centralization, a decreasingly logical and increasingly visual society leading to highly agonistic modes of expression, financial subsidy of such expressions by social media, the facility for dispersed organization provided by social media, and loss of consensus due to an increasingly diverse society, just to name a few. I agree with James that the best ways of addressing the increasing division are devolution (reducing centralization and returning power to the states) and greater tolerance of a diversity of preferences and opinions. I also agree that there is little prospect of either happening for the reason I’ve underscored.

What strikes me are the responses in the comments sections. I would like to suggest that people are thinking about the prospects for civil war entirely wrong. Bowing to the need for more visual expression, let’s consider a couple of movies. The climactic scene of The Patriot, a Mel Gibson movie about the American Revolution, the scrappy rebels form a battle line opposite the redcoats and, through a series of clever tricks, outmaneuver them. There are similar scenes in The Red Badge of Courage and practically every other movie set in the American Civil War ever made.

A civil war won’t be like that. It will be more like Mad Max or maybe Blackhawk Down. Mad Max depicts a world in which civil order has simply collapsed. No real reason is given for it. Nuclear war? Fuel shortage? Just for the heck of it? It doesn’t really matter. Chaotic gangs kill, loot, and terrorize. Whom do they attack? Anyone in their path.

Not dramatic in the sense of pitched battles. And it’s already going in. The disorder in Portland continues with both left and right arguing in favor of it. Here in Chicago we’ve got broad daylight shootings in the middle of downtown. It’s not just that order has broken down but that the will to preserve order has been eroded.

As to the practicality issue emphasized by James, have people never heard of “ethnic cleansing”? It’s a phenomenon that isn’t just conducted at the national level. It goes on block by block with neighbors turning on neighbors. Thinking it can’t happen here because most states are in fact Purple States is being overly optimistic. Start thinking breakdown in order rather than maneuver warfare. Mad Max rather than The Patriot.

7 comments… add one
  • Jan Link

    That phrase,”neighbors turning on neighbors” is happening today, due to our crazed government demanding everyone follow the science and “get vaccinated,” even though the science shows children and those recovered from the virus have no need to take the vaccine. In essence, COVID and vaccination mandates have become inflammatory wedge issues that are providing the fodder for such ideas as secession.

  • steve Link

    Not to diminish what is happening in Chicago but there were more homicides in the past. Was order broken down then? What made it better? Also, I would expect that if order is gone then overall crime would be up. Instead, overall crime, most of which is property crime, is down. How do you explain crime in general dropping when order is gone?


  • It was different in the 1990s, steve. There weren’t daylight shootings in the middle of downtown. Here’s another reference on crime:

    Violent crime in general (homicide, rape, assault) is up. There are nearly twice as many carjackings as there were a decade ago. I also don’t recall Michigan Avenue having been looted in the 1990s.

    What’s different? For one thing Kim Foxx’s “catch and release” program.

  • Andy Link

    I’ve been saying for a number of years now that if we have a civil war it will more closely resemble the Spanish Civil War rather than another war between the states.

    But as I noted at OTB, for now the talk isn’t matched by action. Despite Portland and the rise of some criminal violence, there is still historically little political violence. My theory is that people are lazy and social media is not only an instigator but also an outlet. The people “othering” political opponents on blog comment sections aren’t up to storming the gates, they expect to be cheering from the sidelines.

    So overall I think these attitudes are extremely shallow. Most of the indicators for some kind of violent revolution are absent.

  • I hope you’re right, Andy. My concern is that it doesn’t take a majority of the people or even a particularly large minority to foment a real crisis. The skirmishes between left wing anarchists and right wing anarchists that are starting to take place don’t involve a lot of people but is they spread they can create an enormous amount of havoc.

  • steve Link

    What your article says is true for Chicago is true for everywhere else. I am having a hard time reconciling a general lack of order and a drop in property crime. Also, there was a siginficiant drop in violent crime in 2019. What was different then?

    “The 2019 crime rate in Chicago, IL is 433 ( crime index), which is 1.6 times greater than the U.S. average. It was higher than in 93.1% U.S. cities. The 2019 Chicago crime rate fell by 8% compared to 2018. The number of homicides stood at 492 – a decrease of 71 compared to 2018. In the last 5 years Chicago has seen rise of violent crime and decline of property crime.”

    Read more:

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