Editorial: We need to prepare for civil disruption

Is our American house divided enough to once again trigger widespread conflict between the states and regions? Among political scientists, historians, and journalists, there’s now open dialogue about whether the Red-Blue divide that has deepened and calcified since the Jan. 6 assault on the US Capitol might actually spiral into wider violence, even civil war.

As far-fetched as it may seem, some experts who research the causes of civil wars globally say we are primed for such a calamity. It’s easy to dismiss such chatter as sensationalism and, indeed as the Irish journalist Fintan O'Toole argues, all parties should use caution when openly gaming out such an unraveling of the centuries-old American experiment.

Still, however surreal and unpleasant it may be, the possibility of upheaval prompted by Trumpist zealotry needs to be thoughtfully approached for the sake of preparedness and, ideally, prevention as there can be no doubt that an orchestrated effort to seize the mechanisms by which we seat duly elected members of Congress, electors, and the presidency is afoot among Trumpist Republicans.

Revelations in the last two weeks that rogue “electors” fraudulently presented themselves to Congress to cast votes for Trump in seven states that he lost— like Arizona and Michigan — provide the latest evidence of unlawful, organized aggression against our democratic institutions. The pace of prosecuting these alleged crimes—given the stakes and the precedent— is maddeningly slow. Those who participated must be prosecuted and punished in hopes of discouraging future attempts at such fraud. The Biden Justice Department’s failure to act aggressively to date is a grave mistake.

We must do more than just hope for the best. If Republicans do prompt a more acute disruption of the transfer of power— whether in Congress next year or to the executive office in 2024— there could well be a fracture nationally, at least in function, that might look quite different from the secessionist movement of the 1860s, with combatants going full tilt at one another on battlefields. Secession was folly in 1860, and it’s impossible to fathom a scenario in which it would be anything other than folly today. And yet, the forces at play in Red State America seem more and more inclined to folly and recklessness.

Given the potential for at least temporary unrest and disruptions, should not state governments in the Northeast, like our own Commonwealth, for example, be prepared for problems with food supply, fuel and electricity, and the whole gamut of interstate commerce considerations that we take for granted that could— in an extreme event— be interrupted if there was a prolonged constitutional crisis at the federal level? 

It may, in fact, be time for us to prepare for such disruptions if other regions of the nation see fit to go down such an ill-advised path. We prepare for natural disasters, and we’ve coordinated and acted regionally before, most recently to respond sensibly to the demands of Covid-19 supply necessities and travel restrictions. It may be time to employ such coordination to the worst-case scenarios of existential threats to the federal system.

Perhaps passions will cool. One might think that the specter of a resurgent foreign enemy— Russia on the march in eastern Europe— would serve to strengthen our bonds of affection. In the meantime, responsible leaders at the state and regional level should do more than worry about local impacts from a potential crisis of disunion. We need to be prepared for it while seeking to block it at all costs.

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