A Review of the Next Civil War: Dispatches From The American Future
To distill a subject, like the possibility of another American civil war, requires integral literary tools, some of which are: Time, Perception, Honesty and a sufficient amount of Valor—assets that unfortunately, all writers do not possess. When I saw that novelist/journalist Stephen Marche had strapped on a parachute and went feet first into the subject, I felt somewhat at ease. I say that as someone who has not read a lot of Mr. Marche’s work—but the little I have read (an unflinching Esquire piece on the 2016 film, A Birth of a Nation, and a 2021 Literary Hub piece that confronts, “contemporary fiction’s slow abandonment of literary voice”) rendered me thoroughly impressed. Those essays are what nudged me into his latest nonfiction effort, The Next Civil War: Dispatches from the American Future, but it wasn’t until I ran into the following assertion, on page 8 in the book, that I truly, reclined my chair and embraced the ride: “American liberals in the major cities retain a kind of desperate faith in their country’s institutions that amounts nearly to delusion…”
Mr. Marche, hailing from the neighboring Republic of Canada, opines that statement while watching our American production unfold from a convenient premium seat. Still, with liberal and conservative flags planted firmly around the globe, and cancel culture surging, it takes an audacious critical observer to make, and document, an impartial forthright assessment of that polemical caliber. To put it more bluntly, one can assume that in a book like this, the hard right’s antebellum pipe dreams would receive an intense examination. However, that fact does not guarantee a similar exploration of neoliberal politics, and the romanticism and chicanery it imposes on American citizens in blue and purple states.
On the same candid page, Marche even x-rayed neoliberal’s 21st century darling, the 44th President of the United States—with the kind of statement that I’m almost certain, after besotted feelings subside, historians will perpetually drum, when they excavate and deliver their unabating analysis on his eight year tenure:
“Barack Obama’s presidency was based on what we will, out of politeness, call an illusion of national purpose. He articulated the idea most passionately, most purely, during his keynote address at the 2004 Democratic Convention”:
“There is not a liberal America and a conservative America—there is the United States of America. There is not a Black America and a White America and Latino America and Asian America—there’s the United States of America.”
“It was a beautiful vision.” Marche continued. “It was also fantasy.”
After setting a great nonpartisan tone in the book’s opening chapters, Marche blurred literary lines and intermittently summoned his fiction voice to craft five hypothetical plots, (chapters he labeled, “Dispatches” that suggest the type of natural, and unnatural disasters that could (in his opinion) ignite another civil war:
Dispatch One: THE BATTLE OF THE BRIDGE – A calculating General and a troop of US forces, confront an armed anti-government militia, cosseted by a Machiavellian sheriff and his loyal deputies, on a run-down, insignificant bridge.
Dispatch Two: PORTRAIT OF AN ASSASSINATION – An angry despairing loner, seizes an unlikely opportunity, assassinates a sitting female President, and is anointed “a hero to one half of the country—and a cold-blooded murderer to the other.”
Dispatch Three: THE FALL OF NEW YORK – A category 5 super storm devastates New York. Three droughts in five years leave America starving; and climate change triggers flooding, heat waves, climate refugees and economic turmoil.
Dispatch Four: THE OUTBREAK OF WIDESPREAD VIOLENCE – The author ruminates on multiple civil disorder scenarios—all of which lead to insurgency, and the “reshaping of the American political landscape.”
Dispatch Five: THE END OF THE REPUBLIC – Tribalism reigns. The Constitution becomes toilet paper. America cracks and secedes into three separate nations. And the self-professed, Last Citadel of Democracy, belongs to the ages.
The fiction in this artistic device highlights Marche’s gorgeous prose and prompts my newfound interest in his two novels (2005 Raymond and Hannah and 2015 The Hunger and the Wolf), but I’m not sure if the author’s hybrid approach buttressed his assiduously researched perspective the way, I assume, he hoped it would. What I mean by that is, nonfiction is usually an intense perusal; the writer turned lawyer, presenting his or her case to a jury of literary peers. To pause the presentation, repeatedly, in order to show the jury a cluster of short films, (so to speak) in the hope that said narratives will help elucidate one’s perspective, is taking a huge risk at convoluting the reader’s literary perception.
Nevertheless, I for one appreciate an artist (and art) that dares to take risks. Whether achieved or not, being adventurous will always represent the road to possibility, and artists are the world’s foremost pilots, chauffeurs and wheelmen, even if we do get into the occasional fender bender every now and then—and as bold and intriguing as The Next Civil War is, it did not, like all literature, roll off the publishing showroom floor unblemished.
In a chapter he titled, HOW TO THINK THROUGH THE AMERICAN HARD RIGHT, Marche contends, “During the decades in which America obsessed over the rise of Islamic terrorism in the Middle East, it failed to notice the rise of a homegrown equivalent, radical Americanism, a pocket heartland ISIS.”
This is the kind of perspective and assessment that coddles “disavowal, repudiation and elusiveness”—language that, Gloria Wekker, writer and Dutch emeritus professor at Utrecht University, appropriately employed, in her shrewd 2016 nonfiction book, White Innocence: Paradoxes of Colonialism and Race. A disingenuous deportment, white innocence, one that affords the US, other governments (and individuals) that don’t want to grapple with the kind of racial quandaries found in Marche’s book, an escape hatch. No, the American government has always been fully aware of its in-house racial ferment, and it is more than capable of quick marching towards domestic hate groups, while blowing bubble gum orbs at foreign Islamic terrorism.
The distraction that Marche suggests is really a furtive indifference from the Department of Justice, one that has been exercised since the end of the Civil War. An intentional blind eye, cast and designed to, Klandestentally nurture American antebellum fervor and principles—the same blind eye that conservative politicians are turning from last year’s United States Capitol attack.
I don’t know how one can be aware of the complicit actions, and responses, from Trump’s political sycophants, with respect to January 6, 2021—while acknowledging the boiling confederate animus this country has been steeping in for over a hundred fifty years—and not see that they are nothing more than kissing gerontophilic cousins.
There are a couple of other aspirated theories, proclaimed by one of the author’s maven military Generals, that I could not digest as well, but I’ll refrain and succinctly conclude this review by saying this… I, unfortunately believe, like Stephen Marche, there will be another civil tragedy in this country, but I’m not sure if it’s going to be the blue/gray coat affair of the mid-19th century, or one of diplomatic seceding states that Marche outlines in the denouement of his prophetic book (as wonderful as that scenario would be). But the antebellum similarity I do see is a bifurcated, compromised military and police force, and polarized US citizens, spilling a river full of brotherly/sisterly blood, in fitful hostilities, all so the conservative demographic in this country can try and preserve antiquated ideals, instead of seeking a new, advanced, apexed way of life.
Advancement and the facility thereof, is the only bonafide gift an intelligent generation can truly offer posterity. We are here, today, because of that gift. And unless the majority of us are willing to concede that man, woman and society have reached their full potential, (a proposition too ludicrous to entertain) we, or everyone occupying this planet, are obliged to pay “advancement” forward—a notion that fundamentally, could very well be, the final amendment to that insincere, anachronistic document called, the United States Constitution.