"We’re building the bonfire, and we haven’t yet had the flame"

I mean, this is why, for example, the Flight 93 language from the 2016 election resonated so strongly in conservative Americans. They thought these people—people on the left—want to destroy our faith. They want to destroy our families. I mean, this is the level of rhetoric. You and I know that it’s overblown, but it was deeply believed because there’s a difference between overblown … You can have overblown rhetoric, and have it still be deeply believed. And so you have this sort of sense of existential threat, and what I said was that if you look at previous American secession movements—whether it’s the 1776 succession from the British Empire or [the] 1860, 1861 secession from the Union—there was an additional ingredient. There was this additional ingredient that was the sense of mortal threat that lives were at stake.

And we’re not there yet, thankfully, but I think what we saw through much of the summer of 2020—which occurred after I put the book to bed—was we began to sort of head in that direction. I mean, you had the Boogaloo boys killing federal law enforcement officers. You had rioting and looting in cities, and believe me that rioting and looting in cities really impacted the attitudes of a lot of Americans and Red America, and it turned up the temperature. And my argument isn’t that something could break us now. No, I don’t think so, but there is nothing that is turning the temperature down, and a lot that’s turning the temperature up, and you cannot just keep doing that. At some point, it has to stop. Look at it this way: You’re putting down the kindling for a fire, and you’re laying the wood down and you’re sort of putting the starter fuel underneath the wood, but there’s not a flame yet. But you just keep sort of building the bonfire, but there’s not a flame. And that’s what we’re doing: We’re building the bonfire and we haven’t yet had the flame, and that’s why in the middle of the book, I do these two chapters where I imagine what it would look like in sort of a medium-term future. If you combine flame with bumbling leadership, you could have a real crisis.