The second Civil War and the radical Republican Party
In the antebellum period between 1840 and 1865, abolitionists, motivated by the strength of their convictions regarding the immorality of slavery and its corrosive effect on American institutions and civil society, led the North-centered Republican Party kicking and screaming to the realization that slavery had to end. As the Northern Republican Party became associated with stopping the expansion of slavery west and north, the slave-holding Democrat-dominated states concluded that slavery could only survive if they seceded from the Union. The stage was set for the most bloody war in American history — the Civil War. With the shutdown of the Federal government this week over the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as “Obamacare,” the radical Republicans have once again forced a breaking point in American society. Ironically, this time the Republican red states are primarily in the South and West and the Democratic blue states are strongest in the East and North.
While Obamacare is not nearly equivalent, philosophically or practically, to slavery, it is emblematic of the division that separates Americans on many social and cultural issues that map almost perfectly onto the two camps that are playing fiscal chicken in Washington. The opponents of Obamacare are anti-abortionists, they are political isolationists and they are rabid supporters of the Second Amendment. They oppose affirmative action, gay rights, unions, same sex marriage, atheists and legalization of marijuana. They are for states’ rights, and they are against the EPA, the Department of Education, the Energy Department and whatever other federal departments candidate Rick Perry could not remember when trying to name those he would close if elected.
He was not elected, nor was the eventual Republican nominee. It seems necessary to mention the Republican loss last November given the behavior of the Republican Party today, which wants to forget all about that loss. The supporters of Obamacare are almost on the opposite side of all of those issues from the Republicans. The conflict is not over Obamacare. It is the refighting of the Civil War. Obviously all the opponents of Obamacare are not supporters of slavery, but it is clear that their political and philosophical roots are with the slave-holding South-based Democratic party of the Civil War era.
This conclusion is reached with some trepidation. Not everyone would want to dissolve the Union, but it is clear to me that unless there can be compromises on these issues, we are headed for the second Civil War. A second Civil War would not be fought like the first. It might not even be fought at all. Increasingly, I think there are many in the Democratic North and East (and far West) who feel that if the red states left the Union, the blue states would be better off. Reason would rule over religion. Compassion would triumph over calumny. Community would be prioritized over individual gain. So good riddance to the ignorant, the recalcitrant, the homophobic, the racists and the sexists!
While we are not remotely close to the breaking point that the nation suffered when the Confederate Army attacked Fort Sumter in early April 1861, this attack on the federal budget is close in terms of significance. This is nothing less than an attempted coup d’etat by the House of Representatives. This particular political crisis will be resolved, but we are fooling ourselves if we believe that the fight between the radical Republicans and Democrats is over. Today’s radical Republicans want nothing less than a complete takeover of federal government, not so that they can direct it, but so that they can destroy it.
Ronald Reagan famously stated that “government is the problem.” The radical Republicans are following Reagan’s lead. They will succeed if those with a different vision of the role of government do not step up and demand that our government serve a higher purpose. It is a tragedy that we are headed towards a dark place in our nation’s history to which we thought we would never return. But unless there is a leader with historic courage, insight and political skills who rises to the occasion, I am afraid for our future.