After Row vs. Wade’s reversal, new war between the states

The polarization of American politics, a trend that began long before Donald Trump ran for president, is not running out of steam. Anyway, it’s accelerating.

Last month it got a boost from a new source: the conservative majority in the Supreme Court pushes the issues back to the states – not only abortionbut also gun control as well as environmental regulationwith others will probably come.

Americans are already divided over abortion rights; now, thanks to the court, they can debate the issue in a dozen or more state legislatures.

The result is a Pandora’s box of new questions: Can a state prohibit its citizens from traveling to other places to have an abortion? From buying mifepristone pills through the US mail? From simply looking up information about abortion options?

The battle will not be limited to state lines. This is already turning into a virtual war between states. Texas passed a law allowing its citizens to sue abortion providers in other states if they treat Texas women. The Missouri Legislature is considering a similar bill. California, in turn, is not only passed a law protecting its citizens from liability for assisting in abortion, but the governor. Gavin Newsom also promised to provide “sanctuary” for out-of-state women seeking a procedure in his state.

Nor is abortion the only issue contested by states. Texas Attie. Gene. Last week, Ken Paxton said he was ready to challenge the 2015 Supreme Court ruling guaranteeing the right to same-sex marriage, Row-style. Last week, the New York legislature passed a series of new gun control rules to counter the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down a restrictive concealed carry law. In the Midwest, Democratic Illinois blames Republican Indiana for flooding Chicago with smuggled guns. And despite a court ruling limiting the EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, California tougher rules at the state level.

“It’s very hard to find any area where divisions between states aren’t growing,” Donald F. Kettle of the University of Maryland, a leading federalism researcher, said last week. “You can see it in income, education, health care and basic governance, and now how we count votes after Election Day. Increasingly, the government we get depends on where we live.”

These growing divergences have led some experts and even a few scholars to suggest that the United States is sliding into a second civil war.

“We are clearly closer to civil war than 50 years ago,” Robert D. Putnam an eminent and level-headed sociologist from Harvard told me. “The only comparable period in our history, I think, is 1850-1860,” the decade leading up to the Civil War.

One particularly worrying factor is that our divisions have begun to reinforce themselves. Primaries in rigged districts reward politicians who run as ideological purists rather than moderate compromisers. More and more Americans are telling pollsters that they don’t trust people on the other side of the political divide. Some even decide where to live based in part on political leanings, a trend first noted by Texan journalist Bill Bishop in his 2008 book The Big Sort.

Sen. Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican, flagged the phenomenon last month when he called Rowe’s decision a “tipping point” that could solidify GOP power in red and purple states, prompting Democrats to move elsewhere.

“Red states will become more red, purple states will become redder, and blue states will become even more blue,” Hawley predicted.

The good news is that protests, lawsuits, and moving to new states are non-violent actions. They don’t add to the civil war at Ft. Summer meaning.

But smaller-scale political violence is already on the rise, mostly from the far right, according to the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and the Response to Terrorism. About 1 in 3 Republicans and 1 in 5 Democrats agreed with the statement that “at some point in the near future, citizens may need to take up arms against the government,” a poll released last week by the University of Chicago Policy Institute showed.

Few reputable scientists believe that a firefight will soon begin.

“There are still a lot of balancing mechanisms built into our system, not only political but also economic,” Putnam said. He noted that the red states and blue states are fully integrated into a single national economy, unlike in the 19th century. “The cost of an economic split for both sides will be enormous,” he said.

Kettle agreed – halfway through.

“Our ability to extricate ourselves and find balance has weakened,” he said. “The danger is that we will again slide back into the tensions between states that arose in the 1850s. I don’t think we’re still there, but I’m very worried.”

As for ready-made solutions, both turned out to be empty.

“I don’t need any treatment,” said Putnam, who spent most of his career working to strengthen American community cohesion.

Perhaps the only way to mitigate these divisions is through old-fashioned political competition—not only in national elections, but also in state and local elections, which the Republicans have learned to dominate. It took a generation or more for the wave of polarization to build up. Overcoming this will also be the work of a whole generation.