As if we didn’t have enough to worry about.

COVID-19 continues its relentless, unforgiving march through the country.

The latest count: 6.3 million confirmed cases and 189,000 deaths.¹ Millions remain unemployed and without employer-provided health care insurance as United Airlines announced a massive permanent furlough of 16,000employees.² The coronavirus continues to hit people of color and the poor disproportionately hard. Congress, ever-bickering and perpetually unproductive, has yet to provide another round of financial relief or extended unemployment benefits. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine is projecting that over 410,000 Americans may die from the virus by January 1 unless the Federal government tightens social distancing requirements and mandates the wearing of masks, both of which it is unlikely to do.³ Sadly, that is not even the IHME’s worst-case scenario. Which is, are you sitting down?, 620,000 deaths in the United States alone.

If you have access to Dr. Scott Atlas, the newest member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force and, apparently, its new spokesperson, please tell him that COVID-19 is not a hoax, nor a fake news story from the Radical Left (whoever they may be), and that it won’t simply ‘go away.’ He’s not bound to listen, given that he is not a trained immunologist or a specialist in infectious diseases and has been critical of government lockdowns to prevent the spread of the virus. Instead, he is a radiologist who supports ‘natural herd immunity,’ a theory that has proven disastrous in other countries where it has been tried. He also believes that the media has created pandemic ‘hysteria.’⁴ So much for having an expert in the role, since only our lives, our economy and the education of our children are at stake. So much, too, for Dr. Anthony Fauci, who would likely tell us, if he chose to speak freely, that COVID-19 is here to stay, given that we are such a wonderful, welcoming host.

A rampaging disease, continued unemployment, a dismal economy (the mystifying stock market aside), continued civil unrest across the country following each new shooting of another black man, sports in empty venues, and a presidential race that is heating up rapidly. No wonder many of us feel so unsettled.

For some of us, ‘unsettled’ does not even begin to capture the emotion we’re feeling. It’s fear. Fear of civil war.

But this time it won’t be a war between the states. It will be a war within the states, and possibly in only pockets of the country, like what we’ve witnessed in Portland, Oregon. Make no mistake, though. Blood will be shed.

The build-up toward a civil war has been taking place in the country for decades, arguably since the end of our last one. It may have begun in earnest with Jim Crow laws, instituted in the late 19th and early 20th century and enforced until 1965.⁵ It picked up momentum with the desegregation of public schools in the late 1950s. It continued with President John Kennedy signing Executive Order №10925 in 1961, mandating that employers take ‘affirmative action’ to ensure that employees are treated fairly regardless of race, creed, color, or national origin.⁶ The Civil Rights Act of 1964, including Title VII — which prevents employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin⁷ — further divided the country. This landscape-altering legislation was followed by the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Fair Housing Act of 1968, and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits discrimination based on sex in an education program or any activity receiving Federal financial assistance — thus mandating the funding of women’s sports in schools, colleges and universities throughout the country.⁸ Gas was poured on the glowing embers of civil war in 1973 when, in its landmark Roe v. Wade decision, the Supreme Court ruled that a woman could not be denied an abortion.⁹ During this time, public schools began providing sex education, a highly-polarizing curriculum and contributed, at least in part, to the creation of the Tea Party. Add to this the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which prevents discrimination based on physical disabilities,¹⁰ and you have nearly all of the makings of a country split markedly — and emotionally — along ideological lines.

It was only logical, then, that during the 2000 election the concept of ‘red’ and ‘blue’ states was used to define an entire state’s dominant political ideology.¹¹ The impact of the designation was profound and damaging, as it both allowed and encouraged the populations of entire states to be classified neatly into one of two opposing camps. Not at all unlike the designation of states during the original civil war. Sadly, the construct, inexact as it is, stuck.

And let us not overlook a two-term African American president. Loved by many, despised by everyone else. A lightning rod and, according to pundits and political observers, a significant cause of the Trump presidency.

Fast forward to present day, in which the emotional and ideological foundation for a civil war has grown and strengthened exponentially. Just some of the important contributors include:

  • The emergence of ‘sanctuary cities’ — jurisdictions that limit or prevent cooperation with the Federal government’s efforts to enforce immigration law¹²
  • Charlottesville’s deadly ‘Unite the Right’ rally in 2017, with hundreds of tiki torch-carrying ‘Jews-will-not- replace-us’-chanting white nationalists protesting the removal of a Confederate statue¹³
  • The Supreme Court’s ruling protecting the rights of gay, lesbian and transgender individuals¹⁴
  • The Black Lives Matter movement, involving the concept of ‘systematic racism,’ the ceremonious and unceremonious removal of statues of Confederate soldiers and leaders, as well as talk of ‘defunding’ police departments
  • Repeated presence of heavily-armed civilians at Black Lives Matter marches, at least one leading to two deaths of unarmed protesters last month in Kenosha, Wisconsin¹⁵
  • Frequent reference to selected cities and states by the administration as ‘rat-infested,’ ‘lawless,’ and governed by ‘the radical left’
  • Detrimental treatment by the Federal government of specific states — most recently seen in the delay of delivery of COVID-19 testing kits — based on their governor’s political affiliation¹⁶
  • The administration referring just last week to select U.S. cities as ‘anarchistic,’ with threats to end their Federal funding¹⁷ and, among many others
  • The administration’s open, active and ongoing attempts to undermine the validity of the upcoming presidential election,¹⁸ even suggesting on a number of occasions last week — out loud and in public — that people vote twice.¹⁹

U.S. cities and states being denigrated and pitted against each other by the Federal government. It is disgraceful.

One of the first gun shots in the new civil war may have been fired last week in Portland, where pro-Trump supporters parading through town were attacked and then, using paintball guns, returned fire on protesters seeking racial equality.²⁰ A pro-Trump supporter was killed; the alleged shooter was later gunned down by Portland police. It is only a matter of time before both sides show up ready for battle, heavily armed, carrying weapons far more lethal than paintball guns.

All of the ingredients for civil war are present: anger (if not rage), frustration and alienation; radically-opposed ideologies and a near-hatred of those who hold contrary beliefs; the country’s ever-changing demographics reflecting a truer melting pot of colors and ethnicities; the labeling of U.S. cities and states as un- or, worse, anti-American; Internet platforms and cable ‘news’ networks trafficking in outright lies and conspiracy theories; civil unrest following ongoing police shootings of African American men; the long-overdue discussion of our history and the role racism and slavery played and continue to play in it; the deliberate undermining of our election process (irrespective of Russia’s role); the widespread ownership of sophisticated, military-grade weaponry making war feasible; and, shockingly, a president who stokes the flames of divisiveness on a daily basis, apparently purposefully.

With no visible, concerted effort to reduce the temperature, to lessen the pressure, to calm the nerves, a civil war awaits us. It may be part of a diabolical plan to delay the election, destroy our democracy or both. And like the first civil war, this one will be bloody. But it won’t be about slavery. This one will be a fight to define the very soul of America.

¹ As of 9:00 p.m., ET, September 6; https://www.cnn.com/interactive/2020/health/coronavirus-us-maps-and-cases/ These data are from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), under the control of the White House, so who knows?

² https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/trafficandcommuting/united-to-furlough-more-than-16000-employees-at-the-end-of-september/2020/09/02/91cdc928-ed34-11ea-b4bc-3a2098fc73d4_story.html

³ https://www.cnbc.com/2020/09/04/key-coronavirus-forecast-predicts-over-410000-total-us-deaths-by-jan-1.html

https://www.newsweek.com/trump-brings-new-herd-immunity-doctor-coronavirus-task-force-1525404

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Crow_laws

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Affirmative_action

https://www.eeoc.gov/statutes/title-vii-civil-rights-act-1964

https://www.dol.gov/agencies/oasam/centers-offices/civil-rights-center/statutes/title-ix

https://www.history.com/topics/womens-rights/roe-v-wade

¹⁰ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Americans_with_Disabilities_Act_of_1990

¹¹ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_states_and_blue_states

¹² https://www.foxnews.com/politics/sanctuary-cities-what-are-they

¹³ https://time.com/charlottesville-white-nationalist-rally-clashes/

¹⁴ https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2020/09/03/transgender-rights-supreme-court-win-propels-lower-court-victories/5647161002/

¹⁵ https://www.cnn.com/2020/08/26/us/kenosha-wisconsin-wednesday-shooting/index.html

¹⁶ https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/did-trump-kushner-ignore-blue-state-covid-19-testing-deaths-ncna1235707

¹⁷ https://www.msn.com/en-gb/news/world/trump-orders-review-to-strip-anarchistic-cities-like-new-york-of-federal-funding-report-says/ar-BB18GUNs

¹⁸ https://medium.com/@alanschnur/they-dont-want-us-to-vote-9b956a7322e

¹⁹ https://www.cnn.com/2020/09/05/politics/trump-vote-twice-north-carolina/index.html

²⁰ https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/wireStory/killed-trump-supporters-protesters-clash-portland-72709330

Alan is a consulting psychologist with a long and storied history of helping organizations of all sizes become more enriching, empowering places to work.

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