• September 27, 2023

Civil-War Experts See ‘Indicators’ US on Brink of Conflict: Historian

  • The Yale history professor Timothy Snyder spoke with Insider about the future of American democracy.
  • Snyder said factors like polarization and alternative realities indicated the US was near conflict.
  • But Snyder said he thought it’s even more likely that the US could cease to exist.

Though the idea of another civil war in the near future might seem far-fetched to many Americans, people who study such conflicts may disagree, according to Timothy Snyder, a history professor at Yale University.

Snyder, an expert on the rise of authoritarianism, discussed the future of American democracy in an interview with Insider during which he said he feared the US might not survive if former President Donald Trump were to run again in 2024.

Insider asked Snyder how he felt about people invoking the American Civil War when discussing the present.

“First of all, I just want to say that for the people who actually study the origins of civil wars — not just in the US but as a class of events — America doesn’t look good right now,” Snyder said.

He cited the high degree of polarization, beliefs in alternative realities, and celebration of violence. As an example of the latter, he pointed to some who reflexively praised the actions of Kyle Rittenhouse, the teen who killed two people at a racial-justice protest in Wisconsin in 2020. (A jury acquitted Rittenhouse, who said he acted in self-defense.)

“Those social scientists who actually work on this topic — neutrally — see indicators in the United States, which suggests that we are on the brink of some kind of conflict,” Snyder said.

Snyder said it was “very possible” that the US could install a president in 2025 who technically lost the 2024 election by a clear margin. He said with “a few gimmicks” a candidate who lost the popular vote and the Electoral College could become president.

“A few states just have to withhold their electoral votes; the House of Representatives then votes, according to state delegations; the Supreme Court then blesses the whole configuration; and then all of a sudden you have an installed president of the United States,” Snyder said.

In that scenario, it’s possible the US ends up with a civil war. But Snyder said he thought that scenario would more likely lead to the dissolution of the US.

“It’s a kind of conflict that ends with governors seeking some kind of safe haven for their states,” he said. “It’s a kind of conflict that ends with Americans moving from one part of the country to another to be with people with whom they feel safer.

“It’s the kind of conflict that ends with some kind of basic political reconstruction, where the US as we know it doesn’t have to exist.”

Read Insider’s full interview with Snyder here.