The Current

Is America on the verge of a second civil war?

Some say this level of political polarization in the U.S. has only ever been seen once before.
Americans are concerned about the deep political divide in their country that has been turning into political violence. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Read Story Transcript

Following the recent string of violent events that have unfolded across the U.S., like the fatal stabbings in Portland and the shooting in Virginia, Americans are concerned that the political divide in their nation is spilling out of the corridors of Washington and into the streets.

Many fear that the political discord is increasingly turning into political violence.

In January, conservative commentator Dennis Prager blamed the left for pushing the nation to the brink of what he calls America's second civil war.

Omar El Akkad, author of American War and former Globe and Mail journalist, says the U.S. is not headed for a civil war, but the country seems to be more polarized now than at any point during his lifetime.

"There have been more violent times in this country. But the fact that we need to go back and compare to something like the civil rights era in the 1960s or even a hundred years earlier — the 1860s — is not a particularly encouraging sign," he tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

Unlike Prager, Matt Mayer, CEO of Opportunity Ohio and former official at the U.S. department of Homeland Security, believes the left and the right are to blame for the current political divide.

"I think it started in the 80s. It got fuelled in the 90s ... in the last eight years it got fuelled and now Trump is getting it fuelled even more," he explains.

"So I think both sides are guilty of fuelling their version of it, whether it's Occupy Wall Street or it's the far-right and some of the fringe groups over there."

However, El Akkad points out that in a country with over 300 million people, you can find fringes on both ends of the political spectrum.

"But in my mind, what matters more right now is which of those sides feels most empowered," he says, giving an example of the incident in Portland, Ore., where a man fatally stabbed two passengers who confronted him for yelling anti-Muslim slurs.

"What worries me is that the far right in this country appears to be far more energized and far more empowered than certainly I've seen it in many years," says El Akkad.

Alexander Livingston, assistant professor at Cornell University, argues that this divisiveness in the country is nothing new, except that it's now being driven by growing racial and economic inequality. He warns of the danger behind calling it a civil war because America is "historically very violent, historically very unequal and that violence is disproportionately imposed on people of colour."

"I think this rhetoric of civil war obscures that. It makes it sound like a conflict of two equal powers," he says.

"But really there's a disproportionate number and amount of violence being subjected to the most vulnerable people in society."

Listen to this segment at the top of the web post.


An earlier version of this story misquoted Alexander Livingston for statements Omar El Akkad made in the broadcast.

We regret the error.

This segment was produced by The Current's Catherine Kalbfleisch and Donya Ziaee.