Let’s begin with a (very truncated) history lesson: In 1861, onlookers showed up for the Battle of Bull Run expecting a quick and bloodless fight. They arrived at the Virginia battlefield with picnic baskets and dined on “pies and other edibles.” Today, with President Trump tweeting about the Civil War-like effects that will befall America if he’s impeached, the people of Twitter are responding like their 19th-century counterparts. Some have volunteered to supply paper plates. Others, fruit salad, fried chicken, mac and cheese, and Mariachi bands. International relief has been offered in the form of maple syrup and cakes, from Canada and Europe, respectively. But, above all else, the #CivilWarPotluck planners want to make it known that no one, under any circumstances, should bring potato salad with raisins in it.
Yes, it’s one of those days on Twitter. On Sunday night, President Trump tweeted something that struck so many people as alarming and/or bizarre that the following day has been a tsunami of shock, followed by tension-releasing humor. It started when Trump, seemingly frustrated over the growing fervor over the impeachment inquiry, sent this tweet, quoting Southern Baptist Rev. Robert Jeffress, who implied, among other things, that impeachment would be tantamount to civil war.
Comparing the potential end of one’s own political career to a war that killed 620,000 people, making it the deadliest in United States history, is a category error, to put it lightly. This, of course, did not go unnoticed.
In an earlier time, people might have gotten angry or been bewildered, but in 2019 Twitter responded the only way it knows how: doubling down on the absurdity to stave off exhausted tears. The hashtags #CivilWar2, #CivilWarSignup, and #CivilWarPotluck burst into being, bearing picnic foods and other battle supplies.
Except, actually, #CivilWar2 had already been around for a while, appended to far less jokey tweets. Expecting or even anticipating a Second Civil War has been a far-right meme since, well, probably 1865, they’ve just been calling it “the race war” instead. Many post-Reformation white supremacists took “the race war” as an inevitability, a natural consequence of this madcap equality experiment people are trying to run—and lots of them still do. Over time (read: as leadership realized out-and-out war was unlikely or impractical), the strategy transitioned from eagerly awaiting a logical conclusion to calling on “lone wolves” to directly foment a race war themselves, which has been the motivation of many white supremacist mass shooters, including Dylann Roof, who killed black congregants at a Charleston, South Carolina church in 2015. It was during Roof’s era—the Trayvon Martin era, the Ferguson era, the Obama era—that seeing race war threats reformulated as predictions of a full-on second Civil War started becoming more commonplace on far-right forums.