First I want to thank Steve C. for asking the question and sending me a link to a Rasmussen report that finds that 31% think a U.S. civil war is likely in the next five years.  While this isn’t a constitutional question, I think it’s important to consider.  At almost every session of my previous Constitution Study someone would ask, “What can we do?”  When I think about the Rasmussen report, the logical next question is, “What do we do?”  Before I answer Steve’s question, let us look at what’s in the Rasmussen report.

Most voters fear that political violence is coming from opponents of the president’s policies, just as they did in the second year of Barack Obama’s presidency, and nearly one-in-three think a civil war is next.

The first paragraph of the report states that a fear of political violence is not new.  What it does show is that as the country becomes more divided, the fear that the other team will resort to violence goes up.  You see, in our current political climate there are two major teams: Republicans and Democrats.  A quick look at the positions people hold, especially among the political class, shows that most seem to hold a very relativist position about what is OK and what is not.  Basically, if the person on your team did it that’s OK, but if someone from the other team does it, then it’s evil.  This blind polarization has grown to the point that irrational and unfounded accusations are now shouted in the streets and rational, reasoned discussion go all but unheard.

Most voters across the partisan spectrum are concerned about political violence from those opposed to Trump’s policies, although Republicans are the most likely to be Very Concerned. The level of concern is about the same among Republicans, Democrats and unaffiliated voters when it comes to the threat of violence from those critical of the media’s coverage of Trump.

In this climate, is it any wonder that people are concerned that groups both for and against the current administration fear the other group will commit violence?  Between so-called “celebrities” using violent imagery or calling for violence against those they disagree with, younger people saying violence is an appropriate reaction to speech they disagree with, and politicians promotion of harassing those on the other “team”, I can see where some may think civil war is around the corner.  But is it?

I’m no prophet; I don’t know what the future holds.  However when I look at history and the current state of affairs, I don’t think civil war is as likely as some people think.

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.

U.S. Declaration of Independece

First, as the Declaration of Independence states, we are more likely to suffer evil than to fix the problem, especially by changing our government.  While many will rail and complain about the situation, very few will take even the most minimal of steps to fix things.  This year we have mid-term elections, the chance to change the entire House and one-third of the Senate.  We can make significant changes to those charged with writing laws, approving judges, and holding the other two branches of government accountable.  Yet if history holds, only about 1 out of 8 Americans will bother to cast a vote this November!  Do you think a group of people who can’t be bothered to vote are going to take up arms against their government?

Second, we have become so dependent on government most of us are unwilling to upset the apple cart for fear we’d lose our benefits.  Don’t believe me?  When someone sees something wrong, what are mostly likely to be their first words in response?  “There should be a law!”  This situation comes from decades of being taught by the government that it’s there to protect you, to provide for you, and that anyone who wishes to take care of themselves is a dangerous, anti-government anarchist.  How do you expect a group of people who have been brought up  being told only the government can make sure your cars, drugs, healthcare, food, water, energy, and everything else is safe, to stand up and say “NO!  I’ll take care of myself!”  Even most of the talking heads who to want to change government are merely suggesting we change one group of leaders for another they like more.  That isn’t civil war, that is changing oligarchies.

“Which is better – to be ruled by one tyrant three thousand miles away or by three thousand tyrants one mile away?”

Mather Byles

Although you may remember a similar quote from the Mel Gibson movie, “The Patriot”, I think it’s just as true today.  Swapping one individual or group of tyrants for another does not solve your problem, it only changes who’s complaining.

Third and last, if you think people are preparing to wage civil war to change our nation, I ask you: Change it into what?  According to The Newseum Institutes’s The State of the First Amendment: 2016, 39% of those who responded to the survey could not name a single right guaranteed by the First Amendment.  Will people actually stand up and fight for an idea they can’t even name?  We may be complaining about where our nation is going, but most of us have no idea where it was originally designed to go in the first place.

Every member of the State ought diligently to read and to study the constitution of his country, and teach the rising generation to be free. By knowing their rights, they will sooner perceive when they are violated, and be the better prepared to defend and assert them.

John Jay
First Chief Justice of the supreme Court of the United States

To answer Steve’s question, I see only three possible futures for our nation.  The first, and the one I believe most likely, is a continued decline into tyranny.  Americans have shown over the decades of my life an increasing propensity to expect the government to take care of them and I see no reason, short of a major and foolish attempt to quicken this decline, to expect us as a nation to act differently.  If we roll over like good serfs while the federal government takes over our healthcare, our tools for self-defense, and control of our states, why should we expect those same serfs to suddenly stand up for themselves, especially in the face of an armed government?  Why should those who are living off the irresponsible borrowing and spending of other people’s money suddenly decide to live within their means?  The other two options I see are a revolution, either at the ballot box or on the battle field.  I believe the only way to slow and eventually stop this increase of tyranny in our nation is by educating the people about the rights and liberties that were purchased by blood yet squandered by our predecessors and ourselves.  If people are going to fight, they have to passionately believe what they are fighting for, and sadly I do not see that in America today.  I started the Constitution Study to help everyday Americans learn about their freedoms and to prepare themselves to defend them.  I continue to do this so that my daughter and her children may live in an America that is freer that the one I live in today.  I pray that we do choose to change this nation, preferably at the ballot box.

Unfortunately, I sometimes fear that as Don Quixote read too much about chivalry, I have read to much about freedom and liberty.  Perhaps I to have driven myself mad to think that there are still those who would pledge their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to live free and independent.  Maybe this Constitution Study is just my version of tilting at windmills.

Then again, maybe not.

“Do you see over yonder, friend Sancho, thirty or forty hulking giants? I intend to do battle with them and slay them.”

― Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote

Author: Paul Engel

Paul Engel founded The Constitution Study in 2014 with the goal of helping everyday Americans read and understand their Constitution. Author, blogger, podcaster and speaker, Paul writes and podcasts at http://constitutionstudy.com. You can also find his books at http://amazon.com/author/paulengel

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