Understanding the New American Civil War

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Understanding the New American Civil War

As explained in the January 2018 issue of Trends, a strong case can be made that since 2000, we’ve been in what historians Neil Howe and William Strauss called a “Fourth Turning.” It’s a period of struggle that occurs roughly every four generations when societal institutions are reformed to fit the realities of the times. As a nation, the United States has completed three “Fourth Turnings”

  1. The American Revolution;
  2. The American Civil War; and
  3. The Great Depression & World War II.

These transformations are “struggles” because those with vested interests in the old paradigm don’t willingly leave the stage. Yet, because the changes needed are so large, those vested interests must be “pushed” off the stage. And that’s where the “civil war” metaphor comes in. We are now in the midst of the fourth such struggle, that might be called the “Second American Civil War.”

This is not some marginal construct imagined by the Trends editors. It’s a serious reality frequently discussed among some of the nation’s most well informed political, economic and historical analysts. And, as in the case of the 1930s, the current confrontation is not likely to be resolved by bloodshed, but it is likely to leave a significant part of the country unhappy and resentful.

In a series of recent essays, Peter Leyden and Ruy Teixeira from “the left” defined this struggle as California vs the rest of America. Victor Davis Hanson and Chuck DeVore from “the right” have considered its causes and implications from a similar perspective. And both sides recognize that this “California ethos” in not an isolated phenomenon, but has majority buy-in along most of the west coast, as well as the east coast from Washington, DC to Boston, and in pockets of Illinois and Minnesota.

In describing what happened in the mid-19th century, Leyden and Teixeira put it this way:

“The conflict was really about the clash between two very different economic systems that were fundamentally at odds and ultimately could not coexist. The Confederacy was based on an agrarian economy dependent on slaves. The Union was based on a new kind of capitalist manufacturing economy dependent on free labor. They tried to somehow coexist from the time of the founding era, but by the middle of the 19th century, something had to give. One side or the other had to win.”

“America today faces a similar juncture around fundamentally incompatible energy systems. The red states held by the Republicans are deeply entrenched in carbon-based energy systems like coal and oil...

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