Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

01 November 2018

You Can Help End Our Civil War


[NOTE TO READERS: I'm traveling in Europe and am trying to get an iPhone and an iPad to do a computer's job. The experiment is not going well; hence you will find a dumbed-down format for this post. The normal format will return when I do, around the middle of November. In the meantime, you can find the usual links to most recent and recent posts in my last post under "Recent Posts" in the sidebar.]

Think the Civil War is over? Think again. It continues today, as it has for 153 years, by Von Clausewitz' "other means."

On April 9, 1865, General Robert E. Lee formally surrendered at Appomattox, on behalf of the defeated South. He wore his best dress uniform. He gave his ceremonial sword to the victorious Northern General, Ulysses S. Grant, as a symbol of surrender and submission.

Historians say Lee did so out of military honor and political realism. He wanted to keep the South from becoming a locus of what we now call guerrilla resistance.

But even a leader as honorable and talented as Lee could not foresee the durability of racism. A philosophy that irretrievably tags some human beings as inferior based not on their intelligence, character or other talents (or lack thereof), but on the color of their skin, would persist as long as some people would hold it.

Lee's formal gesture did help avoid a continuing war of white on white. But it could not stop an ongoing guerrilla war for political and social power that continues to this day. The epidemic of unjustified killings of young black males, to which the Black Lives Matter movement is one response, is just the latest in a long history of white-on-black guerrilla warfare, aimed at perpetuating the myth of white supremacy for which the South once fought, bled, lost and surrendered.

Somehow, time marches on. Slowly it heals wounds and improves vision and memory. Just at the brutal German conquerors who ultimately lost World War II now recognize their responsibility for the Holocaust, the South as a whole is slowly coming to grips with its responsibility for the night riders of the KKK, the massacres of black settlements and whole villages, the White Terror, the thousands of lynchings, and the legal disenfranchisement, segregation and oppression of Jim Crow. There is now a noted museum detailing, town by town and name by name, the thousands of black people lynched after so-called "Reconstruction" ended throughout the South. The lynchings continued well into the last century.

Today we Americans are in the final phase of remembering and coming to terms with our past. We have had a black president. He was one of the most effective in our history: he gave us nearly universal health insurance that covers pre-existing conditions, as any real insurance ought.

We have had a huge backlash in our Upper Midwest and an all-too-predictable one in the South. But slowly, gently, ordinary whites are coming to understand that health insurance that actually pays your medical bills is not a bad thing, and that the "black" guy who brought it to them, after a century-long political struggle for which he was nowise responsible, is their friend.

At the same time, other talented black people are coming forward to take their proper places on the political stage. The are doing so even in the South, where war-weariness is settling in after a century and a half, and where whites who have lived side-by-side with blacks for generations are coming to understand that the two races can get along, and can even help govern each other.

But for every healthy social movement and every step forward, there is a reaction, a resistance, a backlash. Today's Republican Party has made itself the symbol and the center of the backlash. What was once the Party of Lincoln has become the party of racism, hate, vote suppression, white supremacy, and bitter division. Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell are its leaders and its most visible symbols, but virtually every member is complicit in some way.

These are not all evil men and women. But they have all taken easy and expedient means to power. They have all convinced themselves that racism and bigotry pay politically. And they have seen enough evidence of a payoff to double down whenever the chips are down, with only token resistance.

As a result, they have halted the gradual healing that some day may end our Civil War for good and all. They may even have reversed it. Abraham Lincoln would not recognize the party he helped found.

So there is really only a single issue in next Tuesday's election. Will we drag our Civil War out to the End of Days, as long as doing so remains temporarily expedient to the rich and powerful? Or will we at last double down on the credo that makes us all Americans: that "all men are created equal"?

Of course the man who wrote those glowing words was a hypocrite. Thomas Jefferson owned slaves. He never freed any but his mistress Sally Hemings and their children.

But his words remain the foundation of our culture and our law. They are what define us as a people. They are what draws migrants to our shores. They are what we fought to make real in our bloodiest and bitterest war, which still today accounts for nearly as many casualties as all the other wars in our national history put together.

Of course there are other issues. But we cannot resolve them as long as we are still fighting our most terrible war, the one among ourselves.

We cannot build our infrastructure on hate and division. We cannot fight Russian and Chinese propaganda and disinformation while we cannot agree among ourselves what is real and what is fake. We cannot have universal health insurance based on lies and disputes over who deserves it. As the founder of the Republican Party once declared, "A House divided against itself cannot stand."

So even if not literally the sole issue in this election, our increasing division is the one that matters most. We must end our Civil War at last, lest the last, best hope of mankind degenerate into a bunch of warring tribes.

You can help end our Civil War with your vote. Vote for Democrats, only Democrats. Do so, if only this once, even if you style yourself a "conservative." Send the pols that govern us (along with Vladimir Putin) an unmistakable, searing message: in the long run dividing us Americans among ourselves doesn't pay.

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