American Civil War?

One year on from Joe Biden’s inauguration David and Helen talk with Gary Gerstle about what’s gone wrong. What is the strategy behind this presidency? Has it tried to do too much or too little? And are the dark warnings of another American civil war really plausible? Plus we discuss whether the original American Civil War should really be used as the template for political breakdown.


Talking Points: 


It’s hard to be a transformational president when your congressional margin is as slim as Biden’s is.

  • Are critics being too harsh? Unemployment is down, the pandemic recovery was quicker than anticipated, and there is a broader renegotiation of work conditions for lower-paid workers. But these are not the seismic shifts many hoped for. 
  • Biden may want to be a transformational president, but the conditions do not suit transformational politics.
  • Did an overreading of Trump’s incompetence on the pandemic inflate expectations of Biden? 


What would Biden’s presidency look like if Democrats did not have a majority in the Senate?

  • The unexpected victories in Georgia have also led to heightened scrutiny of the holdout Democrats, Sinema and Manchin. Republican senators seem to be getting a free pass. 


Are fears about a looming American civil war overblown?

  • What do we mean by civil war? The idea of the federal government fighting a group of secessionist states seems inconceivable. 
  • The notion of factions vying for control over the center is somewhat more plausible.
  • The American Civil War was not just about tribalism or ideology. There were incompatible political economic systems. 
  • The very fact that the United States has had a Civil War, however, is still part of American politics. As T.S. Eliot said, ‘Serious civil wars never come to an end.’
  • Will the burgeoning discourse around illegitimate election results actually translate into more overt political violence in the future?


Mentioned in this Episode: 


Further Learning:


And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here: lrb.co.uk/talking



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