Next civil war could happen without a single gunshot

I’m frequently wrong about things.

After the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, there was immediate talk about going to war in Afghanistan. I assured anyone who would listen that we wouldn’t send troops there.

Here’s why: We had learned our lessons from our 10 years in Vietnam and from Russia’s 10 years in Afghanistan. Never again go into a foreign country where we don’t understand the culture and where we don’t have a clear plan.

OK, I was wrong about that.

A few years later, when decent folks were frantic about the rise of the Angry Right, I calmly stated there was nothing to worry about. Americans have toyed with these blowhard types almost since our founding. Eventually, we come to our senses and pull together for the greater good.

I’m hanging onto the word “eventually” for that one.

One of my most adamant statements is that America will never suffer through another civil war. This is based on the fact that our country has changed so much since the 1860s.

We’re more mobile. It’s harder for us in Indiana to hate Florida or Georgia or North Carolina when we have uncles, college pals or former work colleagues scattered there.

Also, before the Civil War, our core beliefs were more region-based. Slave-holding was acceptable in 15 states but considered a crime against humanity in all the rest. 

Nowadays, we fume about things that are less clear-cut. Instead of state against state, it’s house by house – one neighbor with his Trump flag, us with the women’s rights bumper sticker and a couple down the street with the Black Lives Matter yard sign.

There is no Fort Sumter, no Bull Run, no Gettysburg on our map of conflicts. It would be a paltry war, heaving rocks or grass clippings over our privacy fences.

I believe in studying history so we can avoid mistakes. My lesson from 1860 tells me it is doubtful that everyone in the North hated everyone in the South. How divided were we?

Four of the 11 seceding states had voters with serious misgivings about joining the Confederacy  Georgia’s legislature was split, 209-89 in favor, and Arkansas’ was 61-39. Virginia’s legislators voted 89-45 against secession on April 4, 1861, only to reverse that decision, 88-55, two weeks later.

In Tennessee, a statewide referendum in February 1861 went against secession, 68,282 to 59,449. Nonetheless in May, two months after the shelling of Fort Sumter, S.C., the Tennessee legislature approved secession by a 66-25 vote. 

A reasonable guess would be that 25 percent or more of the Southerners opposed secession. Still, we had a war that killed some 620,000 soldiers, with deaths almost equally split between North and South.

I can’t foresee a shooting war now where the Black Lives Matter family and I start aiming musket balls at the Trump flag family. They’re good people, and I don’t want anyone to hurt them.

But I do see how a different kind of civil war could take place, rending our union asunder. It would be a coup by ballot, and this is how:

Each party won 25 states in the 2020 presidential election, but Republicans have more governors, 28 to 22. The key number, for 2024, would be 30. If either party succeeds in electing a president and both senators from 30 or more states, the next Big Divide becomes possible.

If your party has 60 or more senators, you are filibuster-proof. If your heart is filled with hatred, and some are, you could create a new country without firing a shot. You would simply give your enemies the old heave-ho. 

Article IV, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution spells out rules for admitting new states. But there are no rules for eliminating existing ones. Presumably, it could be done without passing a constitutional amendment.

A Republican government beholden to the Bible Belt might use this gray area to kick out the three West Coast states that encourage wife swapping and devil worship. Alternatively, 60 egghead Democrats might want to discard the cowpokes in Texas or maybe the entire clodhopper South.

Either way, Harvard-trained lawyers would argue that a simple act of Congress could do that. A Supreme Court would need just five votes out of nine to say they’re right. 

At this point, those numbers favor the Angry Right, so let’s follow their path. Kicking out just one big state – California or New York – would give Republicans enough of an Electoral College bulge that they would have unchecked power for the next generation, if not the next century. 

Imagine that. It would give them the opportunity to think far bigger than banning abortion or building really tall border walls. Even bigger than locking up Hillary and hanging Mike Pence. 

They could easily make “The Old Rugged Cross” (Tennessee Ernie Ford version) mandatory before baseball games or create a public TV channel just for Lawrence Welk and Hee Haw reruns.

Then, how about making marriage legal only for people ready to produce healthy white children?

 If we send enough bigots to the Senate, Mitch McConnell could find the 60 votes to push that rule through. After that, it may be possible to re-litigate involuntary servitude. Once the sins of slavery are bleached from schoolbooks, it’ll be easier to bring it back as a state-by-state option.

I’m not suggesting that you invest in the bull whip business. I think we’re still a long way from so-called patriots passing laws so they can boost the local economy by getting free help on their plantations. 

But I can’t be certain. I’m frequently wrong.