Editor’s Note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM radio’s daily program “The Dean Obeidallah Show” and a columnist for The Daily Beast. Follow him @DeanObeidallah. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion articles on CNN. This piece has been updated to reflect the latest news.
“The United States is coming to an end. The question is how.” Those are the jarring opening lines of Canadian author Stephen Marche’s new book, “The Next Civil War: Dispatches from the American Future.” Released the same week as the anniversary of the January 6 attack on our Capitol that signaled how dangerous our political polarization has become, Marche’s book shares different scenarios of how the United States could collapse.
Marche isn’t the only Canadian worried about their southern neighbor’s future. Just days before Marche’s book released, political scientist Thomas Homer-Dixon – the executive director of the Cascade Institute, which focuses on ways to address threats to society – penned a powerful op-ed in Canada’s “Globe and Mail” that begins with a similar warning. “By 2025, American democracy could collapse, causing extreme domestic political instability, including widespread civil violence,” Homer-Dixon writes. “By 2030, if not sooner,” he adds, “the country could be governed by a right-wing dictatorship.”
As Americans, our first instinct when a person from outside of the US says something critical of our nation is often to dismiss the comment (or mock their country; be honest!). In this case, though, neither Marche nor Homer-Dixon wrote their words to belittle America or to make Canadians feel better about their country.
In fact, as Marche explained on my SiriusXM radio show last week, it’s the opposite: Marche wrote his book because he “loves” the US after working and living within its borders off and on for years. His hope, he says, is to warn Americans of where the nation is going before it’s too late.
In the case of Homer-Dixon, the warning is even more unnerving because the column is addressed not to Americans but to his fellow Canadians, to prepare them for what may be heading their way if America’s democracy does collapse. Homer-Dixon bluntly cautions his compatriots: “A terrible storm is coming from the south, and Canada is woefully unprepared.”
When Canadians start to counsel one another on the threat posed to American democracy, you know we’re in a dire position. This is not about scoring political points; rather, it emanates from a place of sincere concern for their own nation.
It’s a sobering reminder that if our democratic republic ends it will have repercussions not just for our nation but the world – from bolstering autocratic leaders, such as the type that former President Donald Trump had praised, to undermining Western democracies.
Homer-Dixon’s words carry real weight: As he says, for more than 40 years he’s studied the causes of war, revolution and social breakdown. “Today,” he wrote to his countrymen and women, “as I watch the unfolding crisis in the United States, I see a political and social landscape flashing with warning signals.”
To those who might view his premonitions as over the top, Homer-Dixon adds, “We mustn’t dismiss these possibilities just because they seem ludicrous or too horrible to imagine. In 2014, the suggestion that Donald Trump would become president would also have struck nearly everyone as absurd.” (Point taken with that one!)
This scholar of violent conflict highlights the range of factors currently plaguing the US and contributing to our institutions’ vulnerability, from growing income inequality to demographic change that has caused some “right-wing ideologues” to inflame “fears that traditional US culture is being erased and Whites are being ‘replaced.” (Fox News’ Tucker Carlson has long been peddling this “replacement theory” – although he’s denied that’s what he’s doing – and he’s been rightfully denounced. And at least one other GOP elected official, Rep. Matt Gaetz, has joined him, claiming Democrats are “importing new voters” from other countries. As with Carlson, Gaetz insisted his views had nothing to do with race.)
Homer-Dixon even believes that using the “F word” – fascism – to describe the state of the GOP is accurate, citing the perspective of Canadian-American conservative David Frum: “Trumpism increasingly resembles European fascism in its contempt for the rule of law and glorification of violence.” I couldn’t agree more.
But what truly resonates with me is Homer-Dixon’s assessment that the “underpinning” of our politics “is a vital set of beliefs and values,” and “if a substantial enough fraction of a population no longer holds those beliefs and values, then democracy can’t survive.”
Alarmingly, a recent NPR/Ipsos poll found that two-thirds of Republicans agree with the demonstrably false statement that “voter fraud helped Joe Biden win the 2020 election.” Fewer than half of Republicans, the poll found, agree that they are willing to accept the election’s proven results.
How can we have a functioning democratic republic when one side apparently believes that only elections they win are “legitimate”? The fact so many Republicans reject the results of the 2020 election was likely part of the motivation behind this memorable line in President Joe Biden’s speech one year following the January 6 attack: “You can’t love your country only when you win.”
For Homer-Dixon, all of this adds up to a crucial question for his country: How can Canadians prepare for the worst? For one, he says, “We need to start by fully recognizing the magnitude of the danger.” He continues, “If Mr. Trump is re-elected” and ushers in a right-wing authoritarian regime, “The risks to our country in their cumulative effect could easily be existential, far greater than any in our federation’s history.”
For example, he theorizes, “What happens … if high-profile political refugees fleeing persecution arrive in our country, and the U.S. regime demands them back. Do we comply?”
To prepare for that kind of possible scenario, he implores Canada’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau, to “immediately convene” a committee with representatives from the various political parties in government who “should receive regular intelligence analyses and briefings by Canadian experts on political and social developments in the United States and their implications for democratic failure there.”
There’s been a lot of talk lately by American leaders on the threat posed to our democracy by today’s GOP. Former President Jimmy Carter wrote an op-ed for the New York Times titled, “I fear for our democracy,” raising concerns that since the January 6 attack, “promoters of the lie that the election was stolen have taken over one political party and stoked distrust in our electoral systems.”
But there’s something deeply compelling about reading the words of Canadians who have no skin in the game of American politics to offer such blunt words and warnings about the red flags they are seeing.
As Marche details in his book, there are Americans who hold a “desperate faith in their country’s institutions that amounts nearly to delusion.” These Canadians are warning us to break free of those delusions and instead understand that “it” can happen here – with “it” being anything from fascism to a civil war that would collapse our democracy – and to get a grasp on this reality before it’s too late.