Kill Your Neighbor?

Everyone on social media is talking about ‘civil war’ and ‘revolution,’ yet there will be no civil war or revolution in the wake of Tuesday's election results.

Americans, if anything, remain docile, socially alienated, and totally unprepared for large-scale violence. Passivity and isolation are not good things, but the urge to avoid violence is.

During the 2018 election cycle, over 230,000 polling places were used for the general election. According to most reports, less than a handful of ‘violent incidents’ took place. Most of those incidents resulted in no bodily harm. As the Center for American Progress notes, the main obstacles to voter participation are not violent mobs of Trump supporters, but a series of political and legal voter suppression tactics: voter registration problems, voter purges, strict voter ID and ballot requirements, voter confusion, poll closures, and long lines, malfunctioning voter equipment, and gerrymandering. The ‘voter intimidation’ that did take place took the form of harassing phone calls.

I can’t find the exact number of polling stations for the 2020 general election, but let’s say the number is larger than 230,000. How many of those polling places will experience ‘violence?’ Here, I’m not talking about some people pushing each other outside of a local gymnasium because someone’s Trump flag brushed against a Biden supporters’ SUV — I mean actual violence: shootings, stabbings, beatings, etc. Less than a handful? Two? Three, maybe?

The point is that the overwhelming majority of polling places, let’s say 99.9% will not experience any acts of violence. That’s important. That means the overwhelming majority of Americans, regardless of their political beliefs, will cast their ballots on November 3rd, or prior, go home and peacefully wait for the results.

To the degree that extreme-left and extreme-right groups mobilize in the lead-up to or the aftermath of the election, they will be marginal in size. Their mobilizations will sputter out quickly. And they will receive very little popular support. After all, increasing numbers of Americans are wary of the pandemic and the cold months lie ahead. No one’s taking to the streets for any prolonged period of time. That’s a promise.

The same is true of any prospective liberal-progressive-left mobilization in light of potential court rulings that hand Trump an electoral victory. In 2000, the Supreme Court of the United States essentially gave the election to George W. Bush. We’ve been here before.

If the SCOTUS rules in favor of the Trump administration in any contested election or ballot recount, they will have a precedent for doing so. Meanwhile, liberals, progressives, and leftists remain far too disorganized to mount serious resistance to any such ruling. The left was likely too disorganized prior to the pandemic to engage in such an effort, let alone under current circumstances. If we do see leftwing protests, they will likely resemble those that popped-up after Trump’s election in 2016, only to fade away in the following weeks.

The same is true on the other side: Trump’s supporters might cause a momentary fuss over the election results, especially if they believe the courts ruled in favor of Biden, but they too are disorganized, politically incoherent, and lacking popular support. Most of Trump’s base just wants to watch NCAA football and get ready for the holidays. They’re not gonna give up college football to protest in the streets. Half of them can barely walk.

This election will come and go, and yes, people on both sides will become increasingly radicalized throughout the process, but their radicalization means very little without popular support, institutions, resources, and political infrastructure to support it. In the end, both sides of the political spectrum represent such a small segment of Americans.

I don’t see civil war or revolution on the horizon — I see psychological trauma, social confusion, alienation, despair, depression, addiction, and sporadic subjective violence with a mix of small-scale political violence. Americans don’t have the stomach for large-scale, protracted political violence. The past eight months have shown that.

And neither Trump’s nor Biden’s supporters will mount the sort of uprisings we saw in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. That was a one-off series of events, mostly fueled by pandemic quarantine and political frustration. Yes, racial justice played a role, but a far smaller role than people on the left have suggested.

Most of my neighbors are Trump supporters. Some of them are real assholes. But I’m not gonna shoot any of them. They’re not gonna shoot me. Rich, the guy who lives two doors down and wears anti-immigrant t-shirts, won’t blow up my home, shoot my friends, or get together with his militia buddies to kill leftists because Rich isn’t a member of a militia. He’s a retired steelworker who watches too much FoxNews and spends far too much time on rightwing YouTube channels. He’s a sad figure who’s more dangerous to himself and his family than he is others.

And none of my leftist friends will kill anyone in the wake of Tuesday’s results. They might protest, or break some windows, or smash a police car, but they’ll be baking Christmas cookies by mid-December. They don’t have the political will, discipline, resources, base, or infrastructure to carry through with any sort of long-term militant resistance against the state.

In many ways, any talk of a ‘civil war’ or ‘revolution’ is just that: talk. But it’s also dangerous. It’s dangerous because it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more we see ourselves in a civil war, the more we’ll posture as if we’re in one. The more we see a revolution on the horizon, however detached from reality such an assumption may be, the more we’ll posture as if a revolution is coming.

And the cycle goes on and on, until, at some point, Americans are living under such dire social, political, economic, and ecological circumstances that they do, in fact, pick up weapons and take the next step.

But is that really how we want to live? Do Americans really want to kill their neighbors? I don’t think so. I think we’ve lost the ability to communicate. And whenever we lose the ability to communicate, whenever that schism opens, the reactionary next step is to respond with violence. The more difficult work is to engage in dialogue. And that’s what we must do regardless of who wins on Tuesday.

Vincent Emanuele is a writer, antiwar veteran, and podcaster. He is the co-founder of PARC | Politics Art Roots Culture Media and the PARC Community-Cultural Center located in Michigan City, Indiana. Vincent is a member of Veterans For Peace and OURMC | Organized & United Residents of Michigan City. He is also a member of Collective 20. He can be reached at vincent.emanuele333@gmail.com