I frequently refer to our current era of American politics as the latest phase of the U.S. Civil War… in part because the political maps so blatantly copy a pattern that goes back almost 200 years. Cyclically, we find ourselves mired in dogma, instead of pragmatism, intransigent hatred instead of negotiation, nostalgia and romanticism, instead of belief that we can craft a better tomorrow.
Illustrating that others see this same breakdown, New York Magazine carried an article, A Southern GOP Can’t Be the Party of Lincoln, decrypting how – politically – there seem always to have been two Americas. The Nixonian “Southern Strategy” flip changed the banners of the two sides, and Blue-vs-Gray has become Blue-vs-Red. Still, Jonathan Chait does a fair job of showing how consistent the political map has been.
This article, while mostly true and overall correct, misses a couple of key points. First, the social movement called the “confederacy” has been at this for a long time.
Phase one of the American Civil War took place in the South, during the Revolution, when the British found their strongest support among Loyalist/Tory militias in Georgia and the Carolinas. It was Scots-Irish hill settlers who tipped the balance in that struggle, toward what would become the American Experiment.
Phase two featured a period when southern politicians grew ever stronger in control of the U.S. federal government. True, Andrew Jackson clamped down on John C. Calhoun’s secessionism, in the 1830s, and kept the nation together. But Mr. Chait is correct that Jackson’s overall sentiments were what we might call “confederate.” Indeed, southern control over levers of power only grew until, by 1860, five of the nine Supreme Court justices were slave-owners.
This extended through the next phase, starting in 1852, when the Fugitive Slave Act turned the division violent. Swarms of small units of southern irregular cavalry commenced rampaging across northern states, seizing anyone they wanted as an “escaped slave.” These raider squadrons had the support of U.S. Marshals who were appointed by mostly-southern presidents. When outraged northerners started forming posses to defend their neighbors, those marshals called in federal troops.
In other words, the “confederate” social movement is not always anti-central-government! It is only opposed to federal government when it does not control those levers of power. Witness the tepidness of anti-government proclamations during the tenure of GW Bush. Indeed, it is a wrathful unwillingness to let the electoral winners have their legitimate turn that was behind the hysterical reaction to Lincoln’s election… and (one might argue) Obama’s.
By the way, those rampaging bands of southern cavalry were self-defeating. They radicalized northerners, causing them to arm themselves, revive their dormant militias and (eventually) vote for the abolitionist Lincoln. An effect that – were eyes open – one can clearly see happening across Blue America, today. (This is why Gun Control is such a pathetic hot button on the right. No one is seeking more than tweaks. Indeed, under Bush, many liberals started arming themselves.)
Up to this point, the Confederacy Society (CS) had lost phase one (allowing the establishment of a true federal republic), played for a draw in the Calhoun-Jackson era, and won phase three — in that its agendas controlled the national government and processes.
But finally, Blue America got fed up. And what ensued was phase four — the one we normally think of as “The Civil War.” Unable to stomach their opponents even having a brief tenancy in just one branch of the government, CS did not bother trying to send even one delegation to negotiate with president-elect Lincoln, thus eliminating all right to refer to the explanations in Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence… that secession can be justified, but only when all other negotiations and redress have been exhausted.
We all know Phase Four very well. (If not, watch Ken Burns portray it magnificently, in his PBS series.) Hence, tra la I will bypass it!
I’ll speed through the others:
Phase 5- The 1870s early end of Reconstruction... when the South bargained to let Rutherford Hayes and the Republicans into the White House, in exchange for what they really wanted. The “confederacy” won this phase, big time, when they dickered their way into an end of Civil Rights protections and a surge of Jim Crow laws that ripped from freed slaves the right to vote. The real losers, though? Not just minorities, but in every pragmatic sense the entire South, which thereupon slumped into a backwater of economic retardation and romantic, old-timey hatred of progress.
(You’d deny this? Then explain how China in just 30 years went from poverty to economic superpower… when the US South had 150 years and still blames its backwardness on Sherman.)
Phase 6 . The 1880s… this phase is not entirely associated with “confederate society” though it was part and parcel of the Democratic Party of those days. It featured William Jennings Bryan’s white-christian populism, Free Silver and a rebuke to the steamroller effects of consolidated northern corporations. And for the first time, the states of the Great Plains began edging toward alliance with the Olde South. Northern oligarchs won phase six… unfortunately, in this case. (The one time the confederacy wing of our ongoing civil war had some moral justification on their side.)
(What spun off from this phase was the Progressive Movement, which manifested all over America and was taken up by Theodore Roosevelt, whose family specialized in saving the wealthy in America from the inevitable price of limitless greed. If only today’s oligarchs understood that their greatest need, right now, is another Roosevelt! Without gentle, moderate reforms, our current momentum can only lead to tumbrels and guillotines.)
Phase 7 – The 1940s through 1970s … the civil rights movement, started with Harry Truman’s bold desegregation of the military, then Dwight Eisenhower’s firm support of school desegregation. The essential and too-long delayed resumption of Reconstruction… which also included Lyndon Johnson’s effort to re-industrialize and re-invigorate the South. This phase was clearly won by Blue America (though the South benefited prodigiously, economically), but at a cost — which was….
Phase 8 – …the Nixonian, southern-strategy “flip” leads ultimately to today’s full scale New Confederacy effort to finally destroy the United States of America. Not by arms, but by ending the effectiveness of politics as a pragmatic, open-minded process by which undogmatic citizens negotiate a mix of experiments and find out what works. Replacing all of that with dogma more intense than communism ever was.
Pragmatism and science and re-evaluation are the enemies. A conviction of moral superiority that cannot be shaken by facts.
Teen sex ages and rates, teen pregnancies, STDs, domestic violence, divorce rates, bankruptcy and debt default rates, economic productivity, net tax parasitism…even obesity rates… tell us clearly than outcome metrics do not support any claims that salt-of-the-earth types are better at life and raising kids than decadent university-city-folk. So? The response is to utterly ignore statistics. Truthiness is all that matters.
Mark Twain commented that this relentlessly recurring rage is far more psychological than anything else, a deep romanticism and obsession with nostalgia that he blamed on Sir Walter Scott! In Ted Turner’s wonderful film GETTYSBURG, one character opines that blue and gray America sang the same songs… but dreamed different dreams.
Today’s neo-confederacy is smart enough not to secede. It is working from within to slash the things that it always hated. Especially science, which is the enemy of nostalgia.
And yes, that campaign now includes seeking to ensure that “government of/by/for the people” SHALL perish from the Earth.