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People who study the origins of civil wars see ‘indicators’ the US is on the brink of conflict, Yale historian says

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

Though the idea of another civil war in the near future seems far-fetched to many Americans, people who study such conflicts might 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 fears the US might not survive if former President Donald Trump runs again in 2024.

Insider asked Snyder how he feels about people invoking the Civil War when discussing the current state of affairs.

“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 the celebration of violence, pointing to some who 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 is “very possible” that the US could install a president in 2025 who technically loses the election by a clear margin. He said with “a few gimmicks” a candidate that loses the popular vote and loses 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 explained.

In that scenario, it’s possible the US ends up with a civil war. But Snyder said he thinks 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. 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,” he said.

“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.

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