Lincoln Tomb (copy)

Polling overseen by Georgetown University’s Institute of Politics and Public Service — and actually done by Republican pollster Ed Goeas and Democratic counterpart Celinda Lake — very recently found that two-thirds of Americans believe the U.S. is on the verge of a civil war.

The mood of the country is in a “very pessimistic place,” the institute’s director Mo Elleithee summed up, adding the mood likely will worsen before it gets better. He noted the survey’s finding that nearly nine out of every 10 poll participants say they are frustrated with the rudeness of today’s politics but also believe it’s the other side’s fault, not their side’s. It’s as if “what they’re saying is, ‘I believe in common ground, it’s just that common ground where I’m standing. As soon as you move over to where I am, we’ll be on common ground,’” Elleithee observed.

So if civil war is coming, how and where will the Mason-Dixon line be drawn? Which states will secede from the Union? Which side will be separatists and which will be Union loyalists? No crystal ball can show us answers. One thing’s for sure — the dividing line won’t strictly separate north from south the way it was the last time Americans were at war with each other. The schisms in today’s America are far more complicated.

If civil war is coming, will the nation divide along party lines? Easy enough to imagine, given the political polarization and cancerous partisanship of the moment. Yet difficult, if not impossible, to foresee how that would actually play out. Georgia would surely want to be part of Red Republican America, but wouldn’t Atlanta be equally insistent on belonging to Blue Democratic America? If civil war is coming, will we have 300 Mason-Dixon lines drawn around each city, separating urban America from rural America? Which side will the suburbs choose? That raises some more questions: If civil war is coming, will the nation split in two or more than two? Or will they not be clean breaks but rather hairline fractures that hobble the nation and bring about the fall of the American Empire?

No crystal ball can guide us. But perhaps history can. More than a century-and-a-half ago, with seven states already having seceded from the Union and the nation on the brink of civil war, the most eloquent president America has ever known spoke to the nation. That president, in his first inaugural address, offered timeless words from which we can draw inspiration as we struggle to rediscover American unity in our day.

As the 16th president prepared to speak from the east entrance of the Capitol, cavalry patrolled all of the major intersections and Army sharpshooters were stationed on the tops of buildings along Pennsylvania Avenue to guard against Confederate sympathizers lurking in the capital. What would Abraham Lincoln say to this deeply divided nation?

“We are not enemies, but friends.”

In that dark and dangerous moment, he reassured his audience that the bonds that united the nation “all over this broad land” would endure in the end “when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

Here we are, more than 150 years later, in another dark and dangerous moment, at each other’s throats, with the 45th president predicting a “civil war-like fracture” if he’s removed from office.

In his second inaugural address, after four years of bloody warfare, Lincoln again appealed to the better angels, reminding his fellow Americans of the affection they should feel for one another and their country. “With malice toward none, with charity for all.” He could see beyond the hatred of the moment. Today, can we?

Mike McCabe is executive director of We Are Many-United Against Hate, a Wisconsin-based organization of common people — urban and rural, spiritual and secular — seeking equal protection for all, united against hate, bigotry and racism. The group’s website is united-against-hate.org.

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