In December 2019, if you googled “Articles and books fearing a second civil war in the USA” you’d find at least a dozen readings, many followed by hundreds of readers’ angry comments. One example: September 30, 2019, a New York Times op-ed, “Why Trump Tweeted About Civil War.” Its ending tried to reassure: "We’re no closer to a (frankly ridiculous) civil war than we were two days or two weeks or two years ago." But it feels to some like we could be, and that matters. The cycle feeds itself. Fear wins. We all lose. But in 2012, the liberal Thomas Mann [Brookings Institution] and the conservative Norman Ornstein [American Enterprise Institute] published their book It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism.
Is a “Civil War 2.0” in the 21st century “frankly ridiculous”?
We shall sample and discuss this cascade of contemporary opinion. But we shall also study the USA’s political polarization in 1860, on the eve of the real Civil War, by consulting David Potter’s The Impending Crisis, 1848-1861. This is meant to be a discussion seminar. Readings are necessary for that to work, especially via Zoom -- both the easily-googled recent short “2nd Civil War” items, and the Amazon-inexpensive but longer Pulitzer-winning classic by David Potter, The Impending Crisis: 1848-1861 (NY, 1977).
Note: There is an outside chance that we'll hold one additional and final class on Election Day itself, Tuesday, November 3, 2020.