The U.S. Civil War Continues
As the government shutdown makes plain, U.S. society is still at war with itself.
- One of the biggest hoaxes of American history is that the Civil War ended back in 1865. It did not.
- The Civil War is still present in America today, as the current logjam in the U.S. Congress makes plain.
- The list of US states that fought to preserve slavery and now refuse to embrace Obamacare is almost identical.
- The US is engaged in a fundamental battle over the future structure of American society.
- It is an injustice to conservatives to regard opposition to health insurance coverage as “conservative.”
- Granting health care to all Americans now is the political and economic equivalent of freeing the slaves back then.
- The old order is about to be modernized. White conservatives fear for the end of the US as they know it.
- The US Congress wants an America that is more conservative than Bismarck’s 1880s Germany.
- In the late 1860s, the Freedman’s Bureau met a fate Republicans have in mind for the health care law.
- Today’s US replays Germany’s 1870s Kulturkampf, pitting modernizing against economically retarding forces.
One of the biggest hoaxes of American history is that the Civil War ended back in 1865. Unfortunately, it has not ended yet. What was achieved back then was an armistice, more or less similar to the current situation between the two Koreas.
As the constant logjam in the U.S. Congress makes plain, the Civil War is still very present in today’s America. Worse, it has a virulence that most other civilized nations find as breathtaking as irresponsible.
There are plenty of U.S. commentators who try to make light of the current situation in their country. They argue that it is just a bunch of crazy Tea Party Republicans that are causing the current mayhem. Such an interpretation underestimates the forces of history and the continuing deep divisions of American society.
The reason why the Civil War was declared finished, according to the history books, is the military defeat of the South and its secessionist forces. But can anyone seriously doubt that the same anti-Union spirit is still to be heard loud and clear in the halls of the U.S. Congress today?
And that it still resonates strongly across the United States, whether in the form of gun worship or other features of divisiveness.
Not just health care: A cultural battle
The prime example is the fight against Obamacare. It is cast by Republicans as fighting the authoritarian – and, in the words of some conservative commentators, “fascist” – views of the Obama Administration and what they label as the American “left.”
Meanwhile, in their own eyes, the Republicans are fighting the good fight by staking out, as they see it, the political high ground in the defense of “freedom.”
This underscores that what is really going on in Washington today is a replay of the Kulturkampf, a period of German history that occurred in the 1870s. At the time, that country’s modernizing forces resolved to fight back against the economically retarding influence of conservative religious forces, mainly the Catholic Church.
Germany’s mid-19th century Catholic Church was a very powerful economic force at the time. It fiercely resisted any suggestions of modernizing the social structures of society – just as many Republicans do now. It sought to preserve the economic power of the well established, largely feudal-era interests, read: its own – much as Republicans do now.
The fight in Washington thus is not about any of the things in the headlines, be it the budget, debt or “Obamacare.” These are merely proxies in a much more fundamental battle over the future structure of American society.
Democrats generally want these prevailing power structures to be opened up, to create more economic rights for the underprivileged, so that the national economy can grow in the future. To Republicans, any investment in these and other long-term causes is a net negative on what they see as their core mission — defending the interests of rich Americans.
Really about who has economic power
Thus, we are largely dealing with a battle over redistributing shares of economic power, covered up in the clothing of cultural values. That is why it is so bitterly fought. To either side, the entire future of the country is at stake.
With that in mind, the proper way to understand the slavery issue in the 19th century as well as the health care law in the 21st, is to see them as symbols of much deeper conflicts.
As it turns out, the parallel developments in the legislative process concerning both of these issues are amazing. Slavery was formally abolished in the United States in 1865. For a few years, in the period of Reconstruction, there seemed to be a will to move the country ahead. But even back then, the intended key reform component was never really followed through.
That critical step was to set up a bank that would grant loans to freed slaves, so that they could build a prosperous future for themselves and their families.
Alas, the so-called Freedman’s Bureau met a fate similar to what today’s Republicans have in mind for the health care law, which they branded “Obamacare.” The Freedman’s Bureau lingered on for a few years, before it essentially faded away.
The economic, social and cultural consequences of condemning freed slaves essentially to a life of continued servitude, albeit of another kind, are well known. They are the root cause of the culture of dependence that sadly continues to this day — and that today’s Republicans are quick to use as a justification not to do more for African Americans.
The Affordable Health Care Act did pass the U.S. Congress on March 21, 2010, just as the Freedman’s Bureau had been established in 1865. However, with their countless defunding moves, the Republicans are now pursuing a similar strategy, as was done with the Freedman’s Bureau before.
In today’s case, they are trying to prevent that nationwide access to health care can truly become a reality across the land. Amazing how history repeats itself.
Fundamental shifts in the two parties
However, there is one very important distinction — and one that should truly make today’s Republicans squirm. In the case of the U.S. Civil War of 1861-65, it was the Republicans, who were mostly found in the North at the time, who were the political force aligned against slavery (President Lincoln was a Republican). In contrast, it was Southern Democrats who fiercely resisted the abolition of slavery. It was also they who resisted the Civil Rights Act one hundred years later.
In essence, it is now once again the South that is rebelling against modernizing shifts of American society. But today, in one of the great political realignments of modern politics, that region is the power base of Republicans. A key force of enlightenment in America’s 19th century, the Republicans are now the vanguard of anti-enlightenment.
Savor this moment in history: The equivalent of politically and economically freeing the slaves back then is now granting health care access to all Americans. In either case, the old order is about to be toppled and that leads especially Southerners and white conservatives everywhere to fear for the end of the United States, as they know it.
Back then, they felt the abolition of slavery and the economic independence of blacks had to be prevented at all costs. Why? Because the Southern state economies and their leaders’ personal wealth depended on slavery and hence the economic suppression of the ultimate underclass.
Now, the move by Obama to declare that the federal government plays a role in securing that all Americans are under the umbrella of health insurance, plays the role of the secessionist cause.
The old confederacy and Medicaid
For painful real-life evidence, look at the list of U.S. state governors who refused to expand the medical program for low-income people (Medicaid). Then compare that to the list of states that fought to preserve slavery. There is an amazing overlap.
Not Participating: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee (may reverse rejection), Texas and Virginia
Medicaid expansion plans (as of July 2013) versus historic Confederacy: Opting in = blue, opting out = red, under debate = gray. Flags = ex-Confederate states. (Medicaid map by Sb101 – Wikipedia. Adapted by The Globalist.)
A final historic irony: It would be a great injustice to conservatives anywhere on the planet to argue that opposing health insurance coverage for the entire population is conservative in any sense of the word.
As a matter of fact, one of the world’s greatest archconservatives, the then German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, introduced health coverage for all Germans as far back as 1883.
Which leads one to wonder: What is it about U.S. “conservatives” that, by 2013 – 130 years after Bismarck – they cannot muster the same degree of enlightenment as Bismarck?
According to its self-promotion, the United States casts itself as the modernizing vanguard of humanity. In light of what’s going on in Washington today, it is evident that close to half of the U.S. Congress wants an America that is more conservative than Bismarck’s 1880s Germany.