Rethinking America, Richter Scale

The U.S. Civil War Continues

Battling over racism then, health care now, U.S. society is still at war with itself.

Medicaid expansion plans (as of July 2013): Opting in = blue, opting out = red, under debate = gray. (Full map: Sb101 - Wikipedia)


  • 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.”

Ten of the Eleven Former Confederate States Are Not Participating in the Expansion of Medicaid

Participating: Arkansas

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.)

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 (see chart above).

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.

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About Stephan Richter

Stephan Richter, from Berlin, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of The Globalist. [Berlin/Germany]

Responses to “The U.S. Civil War Continues”

Archived Comments.

  1. On October 7, 2013 at 9:13 am Guy Pfeffermann responded with... #

    Excellent piece. I wholly agree with the parallel. Perhaps New England should join the EU ?

  2. On October 7, 2013 at 10:20 am Rod responded with... #

    Good, but you left out the fact that Republican votes (just like the Confederate infantry in the Civil War) come from the poor in geat numbers. They knowingly sacrifice their economic interests to their conservative beliefs on social issues. And many poor vote GOP out of fear of competition from “the blacks and those minorities” or just on grounds of simple, blind nativism.

  3. On October 7, 2013 at 10:37 am bhumphreyTG responded with... #

    Thanks for commenting. We actually published a piece along those lines a few days ago:

  4. On October 7, 2013 at 10:57 am Richard Straub responded with... #

    Obama tends to show himself as the victim of the Republicans. Obviously there is a deep divide in the US society. This should be the “Obama moment” where he could show leadership. Does he? Leadership is more than blaming others – Obama is still the president of all Americans, not only of the Democrats.

  5. On October 7, 2013 at 11:00 am bhumphreyTG responded with... #

    Sure, but what would that look like? What would he do that would “show leadership”? He has made plenty of compromise offers to get the government restarted. Eventually, the other side has to make a serious offer of some kind, too.

  6. On October 7, 2013 at 1:52 pm BrownHorn responded with... #

    US Government shutdown.

    Many governments are in the red, bankrupt.

    On Tuesday, 1st Oct 2013, the first day of the US government
    shutdown, US Speaker of the House John Boehner told the floor: ‘All the
    Senate has to do is say ‘yes’, and the government is funded tomorrow’.

    Sharing what I wrote in my under “Government” category.

    Title: “Art of governing, taxes, inflation, cost of living, & wage inequality”.

    What is divine government? Which country will be the first to have it?

    Is divine the same as religious?

    Communism collapsed in 1989, will Capitalism, as is, able to last forever?

    When will divine government replace capitalistic government?

  7. On October 7, 2013 at 2:00 pm Stubster responded with... #

    Expanding Medicaid means higher taxes on guess who? That’s right, the middle class. It’s funny how the part about paying for a new or expanded social program is never discussed.

  8. On October 7, 2013 at 2:01 pm Richard Walker responded with... #


  9. On October 7, 2013 at 2:39 pm Kevin Hobbs responded with... #

    Soon after the re-election of President Obama, didn’t the Republicans warn about or threaten impeachment of a 2nd Term President? If so, it would seem to me that they were & still are hell bent on being obstructionist, right from the outset. IE – If we win thou must follow, if we lose then bugger everyone!

  10. On October 7, 2013 at 3:44 pm shortcuttt responded with... #

    Are you serious?? Conservatives started at defunding,then moved to delay for a year,then moved to stop the special treatment to Obamas friends, now GOP says”equal laws for everybody,including Congress,Unions,Everybody gets the same treatment! Obama has not moved from No,No,No and No! You my friend are full of it!

  11. On October 7, 2013 at 6:31 pm Christopher David Eaton responded with... #

    Your analogy with Germany is interesting….because we all know what happened there, right? Those ‘modernizing’ forces did such a wonderful job…the ‘Fatherland’…two World Wars…crippling economic and social collapse…and don’t forget the Nazis.

  12. On October 7, 2013 at 9:07 pm Robert McMaster responded with... #

    What’s analogous is a sizable demographic constituency of ‘petit-bourgeoise’ – small owners and middle managers who have risen beyond their parents. When the circumstances were favourable they had hope and were looking forward. Now in downtimes, they are frightened at the prospect of being reduced and so focused on fighting to preserve their position. They can’t comprehend fighting the remote powers-that-be so they exercise their passion on those more poor or weak because they are familiar with their culture and can inflict immediate and satisfying blows.

    This reactionary reflex in the U.S. is either insufficient or premature. Maybe both. This iteration is not strong enough to prevail. The Tea Party surge will be broken and there will be a backlash. Thermidor. But it may rise again and look more like Golden Dawn.

  13. On October 7, 2013 at 10:42 pm shawn_von_socialist responded with... #

    government been subsidizing healthcare for the middle-class since the inception of insurance

    thats why you conservatives fail so badly everyone knows the truth today

  14. On October 8, 2013 at 1:52 am rlthorn responded with... #

    We can only hope that the South will see the light and secede once more. This time with the blessings of the rest of the U.S. Should this occur the Senate and the House would immediately become Democratic and we could honestly try to move the U.S. into the 21st century. Of course, this is not likely to happen but we can dream. Can’t we?

  15. On October 8, 2013 at 2:48 am Richard Straub responded with... #

    There is no recipe for it but you can recognize it by the results. For sure it means engagement “on the ground” in a smart and judicious way. It is not about making statements and public proposals only. Reagan was a master in this and he showed true leadership.

  16. On October 8, 2013 at 7:07 am martaz responded with... #

    “You can say I’m a dreamer but I’m not the only one… ”
    to: Texas Louisiana Arizona and Florida: Don’t just talk about seceding, DO IT NOW!

  17. On October 9, 2013 at 11:22 pm rlthorn responded with... #

    Ma’am(I’m a Southerner) Could you be persuaded to dream as I do to see S.C. , Ga, Ala, Miss. Tenn., Ky, and your four join together in their lemming like march to the cliffs and into the sea.?

  18. On October 10, 2013 at 3:08 am martaz responded with... #

    I agree. I only wish we we could keep New Orleans…..

  19. On October 11, 2013 at 12:16 am rlthorn responded with... #

    In a parting such as recommended here all must suffer some losses.