Thursday, August 17, 2017
As the chaos continues in the United States, I continue to ponder if Abraham Lincoln’s Address at Gettysburg still carries some relevance in American politics.
Allen C. Guelzo dedicated the concluding chapter of his book, The Last Invasion discussing what very question. The Declaration of Independence until 1861 had not weathered such a cataclysmic strain which could have rendered that glorious experiment into an epithet denouncing its supposed superiority to that of a monarchial system of rule. Lincoln had his own misgivings until the combined victories of Vicksburg and Gettysburg convinced him that democracy must prevail.
The United States continues to struggle in that endeavor. It has pursued its domestic and foreign policies amid the screams of its past-never really coming to terms…or acknowledging its consequence, “Of course, that depended on how one defined success. The cynical and the self- interested sneered that this success was only temporary, only waiting for the first real test, at which point all of those ordinary people with their equal say in government would begin quarrelling obscenely with one another, and on the basis of possessing their precious rights would walk out of the chambers of government and proceed to do whatever they wanted.”-Guelzo
The cynical, the self-interested…and the anarchical.
I am not very interested in revisionism, that is to say in omitting what is factually proven from a historical accounting. Doing away with civil war memorials in the southern states of the United States is-complicit in that pursuance of effacing the anecdotal deeds of its past. Most objectify and argue that such statutes, plaques, et al… should be placed in museums, away from public view. After all secessionist sentiment now lies completely within those organisms that have been identified as being Neo-Nazi, Ultra Nationalist, and members of the KKK. Monuments of this sort should remain in full view of its citizenry.
The lost noble cause... “…the destruction of slavery was actually a subset of the larger contest over democracy. If democracy failed, and the South triumphed, there would be no point in talking about emancipation; if democracy did survive and the republic was reunited, then slavery was doomed just by the fact of that successful reuniting. Emancipation, however great a righting of a historic wrong, would be meaningless unless it was set within a larger question of a democracy’s survival.” -Guelzo
Charlottetown is the latest epicenter of that struggle. Witnessing Americans marching and singing Nazi propaganda of the 1930’s into the streets is eerie, unwelcome, depressing and proving that fascism is a viable political schism in the United States. For those who fought in the Second World War it must be a wound that goes deeper still.
“We are met on a great battle field of that war, which is a reminder that those very ordinary people who the cultured despisers of democracy hold in such contempt have been willing to mount some very extraordinary efforts to preserve it. Especially, we have come to dedicate a portion of it, as a final resting place of those who died here, that the nation might live. Live, and be reminded that those who died here did so because they saw in democracy something that spoke to the fundamental nature of human beings itself, something which arched like a comet in the political sky…It is altogher fitting and proper that we should do this…”-Guelzo
Ever more poignant, and salient in today’s political debacle.
The reconstruction period (1865-1877) under Andrew Jackson’s presidency did away with much of the initial steps undertaken by Lincoln to ease the south out of its slave state mindset. Jackson remained steadfast in pursuing legislative measures in which the southern states could and should retain control of its African-American population. It took eighteen succeeding presidential administrations to enact legislation addressing the inequality of African-Americans in the South, and reverse the status quo since the civil war; including the domestic policies advancing visible minority civil rights in the United States.
The glass ceiling was broken with Barak Obama’s administration. The thing is… the United States wasn’t prepared for it. Not because it ushered in the first African-American president, but rather because it had not dealt with its cultural ‘White America’ ideological political identity. The business of electing a non-white president remained a conceptional experiment.
Since the GOP primaries of 20o1, the democratic institutions that preserve the United States were becoming increasingly vulnerable, including the issue of branding the republican and democratic parties as championing ideologies that proved to be insoluble, unpalpable, incoherent to one another. Members of the House and Congress ceased to cooperate across the floor. Legislation became harder to pass; the states were operating as independent organisms.
9/11 ushered another dynamic; that of fear, and reprisal. It also re-elevated the American ethos, ‘If you’re not with us you’re against us’. In his book State of Denial part III released in 2006, Bob Woodward stated that he interviewed W. Bush four times, between 2001-2003. On one of these occasions Bush described his rhetoric in keeping faith with what had begun in Afghanistan and Iraq. While the messaging remained firmly focused on ‘stay the course’ Woodward affirms the president’s intent, “With all of Bush’s upbeat talk and optimism, he had not told the American public the truth about what Iraq had become.”
Fast forward to 2015; the residual festering inequalities among race-based issues, the economy, foreign policy, climate change, justice, healthcare and infrastructure including the last eight years of political stalemate in the house and congress-well it boils over in the form of Donald Trump.