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Polarization in the US

A New Civil War?

On Wednesday October 13, the Netherlands Atlantic Youth organized a program titled

Polarization in the US: A New Civil War?

Many would say that the American society, especially after four years of Trump presidency, is more divided than ever. Whether is it on racial injustice, immigration, abortion, COVID-19, climate change or gun violence, the US seems to be split right down the middle, with opinions on both sides getting more and more extreme. However, this isn’t the first time that the US has been grappling with divisions. In 1861, polarization in US society resulted in a Civil War and the nation quite literally broke apart.

Even though the current situation isn’t anything like a civil war, extremist violence has been on the rise, culminating in the storming of the Capitol on January 6th this year. To what extent can we compare polarization today to polarization in the 19th century? How did the US come together again after the Civil War, and can the current divisions still be healed?

Maarten Zwiers and Markha Valenta gave a talk on polarization then and now. We discussed where this heavy polarization of American society comes from and how it compares to the period leading up to the Civil War.

Dr. Maarten Zwiers is assistant professor of History and American Studies at the University of Groningen. His research focuses on rural history, regionalism, and (American) political culture, in particular the U.S. South. Dr. Markha Valenta is assistant professor at University College Utrecht. Her field of expertise lies at the cutting edge of anthropology, political science and history and is, of course, an expert on American politics.

Photo: Lev radin / Shutterstock.com

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