In an effort to save face, Donald Trump has recently claimed that, if he loses, it will be because Clinton cheated and the election was rigged. This has led some Trump supporters to call for a Civil War, revolution, or coup. In this blog, I intend to make the case that four, or eight, years under the opposing party (no matter how bad that may be) is better than a revolution.
As a graduate student in American history, I attended a few Civil War reenactments. They were cute events with loud cannons, period clothing, and lots of fun. In many ways, these reenactments had a lot in common with the real American Civil War. In one way, it was dramatically different: nobody died. The reenactments I went to were always clean, pretty, and glorious. The real American Civil War was quite different. Approximately 620,000 Americans died in that war. Compare that to around 58,000 deaths in Vietnam or around 7,000 deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan and you understand the real gravity of what civil war looks like. It is not cute and it is not glorious. As Civil War General William T. Sherman famously said, “War is hell.”
If America plunged into a civil war, the first thing that we could certainly expect would be mass casualties. During the Civil War, nearly 1 out of every 50 Americans died in battle, and many more were injured. Keep in mind that this was a “gentlemanly” war fought in lines on the battlefield without automatic weapons, without an air force, and without nuclear weapons. We could expect that the casualty rate of a current civil war would be much higher, meaning that everyone would lose people that they loved. Fathers would lose sons and daughters, children would lose parents, husbands would lose wives, and so forth. These deaths would not be pretty like it is at the civil war reenactment either. They would be bloody, awful, and heart wrenching.
Even for people not on the battlefields (whatever those might end up being), the war would still be just as horrible. There would be a complete breakdown of civilization. People who require medicine to keep them alive would be the first to die because medicine would not be found. Crime would become the norm. Basic essentials would become scarce. Neighbors would kill each other to try and take their supplies away from them. Neighbors who are not trying to kill for supplies would kill out of defense, believing the best way to stay alive is to kill other people before they get killed. Still, others would kill out of a desire to attain glory and be considered the baddest person around. Morality would become a thing of the past and doing whatever is necessary in order to survive would become the only rule. It would be the equivalent of the purge every day.
Not only would people at home fear being killed from their neighbors, but they would know that at any moment an airstrike could occur. Families would be in constant danger and being armed, smart, strong, fast, or anything else matters little when bombs are falling out of the sky. At that point, survival would be based on luck, not skill. Nobody would be safe.
We would also say goodbye to luxuries like electricity, gasoline, the internet, facebook, music, art, television, school, and work. Technology, science, and medical research would come to a standstill. We would lose all hope of ever creating a better future for ourselves. Our lives would not be about leaving behind a better world to our children, but about surviving. As Thomas Hobbes famously said, “In such condition there is no place for industry… no knowledge of the face of the earth, no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”
Suppose, however, that this time were to end and people survived the inevitable war that would occur. What would life look like if the side of the loser in the election were to win power and take over the government by force?
The mere fact that the person who lost the vote would be in charge would mean that this new government could not be a democracy. If it were a democracy, the new leader would be voted out, which would remove whatever purpose the war had, therefore, the new government would have to be autocratic.
The biggest fear of the new leader would be the fear of losing power. In order to maintain power, that leader would take away the right to vote. That leader would also have to take away things like freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, the right to bear arms, protection from quartering, protection from unreasonable search and seizure, the right to remain silent, the right to a trial by jury, protection from cruel and unusual punishment, equal protection under the law, and the rule of law. These things would all be replaced by an ever changing structure of rules designed to keep the ruler in power, which could be broken at any time if it were in the ruler’s interest. The only morality in this state would be to keep the ruler happy, because making him unhappy would result in death. The ruler would be right in everything that he does because it would be too dangerous to challenge anything. It would be a nation run by fear.
With this, American prosperity would fall. Research shows that democracies tend to be much more prosperous than autocracies. The economic crisis of 2008 would be a little blip compared to the recession America would see under autocratic rule. Furthermore, all companies would have to exist in order to somehow bring glory to the ruler, which means people would no longer work for themselves, but for the person who runs the government.
Much research also shows that autocracies are much more likely to fight in wars more often than democracies. Democracies are unlikely to go to war unless it is absolutely necessary because going to war requires support from the other branches and from the people. Because this is hard to get, and politically dangerous for the democratically elected leader, democracies avoid war. Not so with autocracies. The autocratic regime is held accountable only to itself and its desire for power. There is no reason to be respectful of whether the people in a country wish to make war. There is also no reason for the autocratic regime to be respectful of the lives of the solders. Numerous studies indicate this, showing that when democracies do fight wars, they are more likely to have less loss of life than autocracies, they are more likely to use maneuvering strategies that save lives, and that wars are likely to be shorter. Studies also show that democracies fight smarter because more power is given to field commanders to make decisions. In autocratic regimes, less power is given to the military command out of fear that a military leader will become too powerful and lead a coup, therefore, all military is micromanaged and less effective.
Finally, we also know that countries run by autocratic rule are much more likely to experience coups and civil wars because there is always a fight for power. So even if you survived the first horrible civil war, you could trust that a new one would be on the horizon and live would be brutish and short all over again.
The writers of the American Constitution were not perfect, but they understood this and designed the nation so that power would transfer peacefully every four or eight years. They lived through the American Revolution, they suffered through a decade of state’s rights problems under the Articles of Confederation, and when a bunch of farmers rose up and tried to overthrow the government in what has been called Shay’s Rebellion, they had enough and met in Philadelphia to form a “more perfect union”, which would have justice, domestic tranquility, and so forth. They designed a state with a loosely written Constitution that would be flexible enough to where a violent revolution was not necessary, and it has worked well for over 200 years.
Throughout the past 200 years, there have been many times when people were not happy with who their elected leaders were, but, in America, when we do not like who our leaders are, we live with it and we try to vote them out in 4 years. That is how we do it. That is how we need to continue doing it. Some of us support Clinton and others support Trump. For many of us, our choice will not win on election day and we will be disappointed. That is just how it goes. The reality is, however, that regardless of how disappointed we are with the new leadership, not much will change as long as we keep the system in place. Most things will be exactly the same the day after the election as they were the day before. In fact, most things will still be the same 8, 16, or even 32 years later. American political institutions move slow, have lots of checks and balances, and it wont be the end of the world if our candidate loses, as long as we trust the system. I can guarantee you that the worst president possible is still a million times better than a violent revolution. I hope people realize that.