So yeah. I’ve kind of been expecting this.
This is the flip side of what I’ve been alluding to for the last month or so. About the way that we’re basically in thrall to the people who want to need the guns, so there’s not been a significant move on gun control nationally since the Brady Bill was passed (prior to the GOP landslide of 1994). About how Todd Akin is counting on the ride-or-die loyalists of the anti-abortion movement to make up for the lack of party support, because he’s the white knight fighting for life. About how this election is an existential moment for the Old Ones and their sympathizers.
For the last fifty years or so, the United States has been involved in what can only be described as a Cold War Between The States. (A like which no less than Andrew Sullivan has picked up on.) Some brushfire shooting conflicts, of course – Little Rock, Birmingham, Chicago, Kent State – but a cold war fought mostly at the ballot box. What started as the move for civil rights for African-Americans disenfranchised by Jim Crow in the Deep South grew over time to include things like “women’s lib” and abortion rights, school prayer, general civil liberties, and the largely rural and religious backlash to same. We eventually settled into a sort of rough parity over most of the issues by the early 1990s, but then Newt Gingrich completed the Southernization of the GOP, at which point a lot of things got put back onto the front burner – and labelled “culture wars.”
In the ensuing twenty-some-odd years, a lot has changed. The Southern form of politics – driven by hyperbole, personality, distortion, outright slander and falsehood, and a minimal amount of policy discussion – has been nationalized and normalized to the point where blatant editing of video footage to invert the meaning of a statement is yawned over by the national press (itself mau-maued into submission over the entire fifty-year span). We’ve seen investigation and impeachment turned into political tools that have essentially ruined them as means of government oversight and legitimate response to high crimes and misdemeanors. And most importantly, we’ve seen the constant refinement of the Republican party – steadily reading out of the party its moderates, its pro-choicers, its negotiators, its institutional memory. There was a time when the Senate was considered the world’s greatest parliamentary body and the august and distinguished alternative to the cockfight of the House of Representatives. Now the House has become the world’s largest open-air special-needs kindergarten and the Senate has become the House with more eclectic membership and with minority rule.
More importantly, though, this party has its own ecosystem. It’s no longer necessary to have your own opinion when you can have your own facts. Never mind things like think tanks or the Wall Street Journal editorial page – an entire cable news network and an overwhelming majority of AM talk radio hosts, along with countless bloggers, PACs and pundits from all corners, essentially act as the oxygen and food supply of the movement. They have internalized the ethos of Bush the Elder and his evil genius, Lee Atwater – politics is a dirty, nasty, distasteful business, so the best thing to do is be fast and brutal and destroy the opponent so you can get on with what you’d rather be doing. And the message has been so well internalized, through twenty-five years of refining, that the point has been reached where there isn’t anything else to be doing. The machine exists to feed itself, to keep its rage up and its blood boiling. And the ultimate purpose of this high blood pressure has become merely to keep its blood pressure high.
And so we get to where we are now. In Alabama and Mississippi, the vast majority of the Republican Party in the electorate will not concede the idea that the President of the United States is in fact a natural-born American citizen Constitutionally eligible for the office. Too many of them are further convinced – in the complete absence of material evidence – that the President is involved in secret plots with the United Nations to seize all the guns, line citizens up for “death panels” (presumably to be carried out in the same FEMA camps that have been a staple of anti-government paranoia since Reagan’s day), merge with Canada and Mexico and do away with the dollar – oh, and into the bargain, the President is actually both a closet Marxist, a closet Muslim, and a closet homosexual. And they can partake in a wide array of media – newspapers, radio, television, the Internet – which will gladly affirm and re-affirm all of this for them.
And that’s where it all comes together. What would those people think if such a President – one who was never eligible for the job, whose 2008 election was only the result of secret fraud by ACORN and the Black Panthers, who no right-thinking person could ever possibly support, whose mendacity and evil is apparent to any onlooker, who could never in a million years be rightfully elected in a free and fair vote – what if that President is, in fact, re-elected?
Well, then you have that guy in Texas. And plenty of non-elected people like him – people who are prepared to believe that the electoral system has been captured and perverted beyond reclamation. People who have guns, and who want to need those guns, and wouldn’t shy from finding a reason to use those guns. People who have spent the last years – decades – being told that their way of life, their freedom, the very existence of America hangs in the balance. People who will gladly believe that they can no longer rely on soap box, jury box or ballot box.
I don’t know what it was that made me first consider this problem and possibility in 1991 – very early days, relatively speaking – but by the end of 1995, I was convinced, and I remain so today. This is a legitimate civil war, cold though it is, and there are enough people who want it to turn hot to make things very unpleasant for this country.
Now the question is – how hot?
I’m not remotely expecting anything like secession, long lines of blue and grey queueing up for the Third Battle of Bull Run (the traffic out to Manassas on I-66 would be prohibitive anyway). In fact, I’m not sure exactly how it would work. I expect things like state level nullification, lots of symbolic gestures, more than a couple of nutball acts of militia violence (though probably not on a Murrah Building-scale). Take Alabama for instance – the GOP controls the entire state government lock stock and barrel, and the white population is overwhelmingly anti-Obama, but one-quarter of the state’s population is African-American and decidedly unfriendly to a neo-Confederate upheaval. Wallace-style symbolism is probably as much as they could get away with in the Yellowhammer state – the rebel flag back over the statehouse, the continued harassment of suspected undocumented immigrants, lines out the door at Chick-Fil-A*, things of that nature.
*(Say what you like about S. Truett Cathy, but he somehow managed to make the act of eating his fast food into a shibboleth of GOP-Southernist loyalty. That little fucker is a genius.)
It’s not going to come to a full-on shooting war. (As Earl K. Long so famously observed, the Feds have got the hydrogen bomb. Then again, as LBJ observed, “the only power I’ve got is nuclear and I can’t use it!”) So when states refuse to implement healthcare exchanges, refuse to stop doing their own immigration enforcement, drive out abortion providers and mandate textbooks sourced from holy rollers with no grasp on things like science and history – then what happens?
The favored notion around here seems to be “let them go.” Plenty of people I know are rooting for the South to rise again and break away, so they can be told “BYE.” After all, the money that California sends to the Feds above and beyond what they get back in benefits? Would completely settle the state’s financial shortfall and then some. We have everything to gain, potentially, by sloughing off the new-look Confederacy and having done with them.
Whenever I think about this, I think about that one kid. You know him. Or her. That one skinny or fat kid of whatever color, might or might not be gay, might not even know, might be conflicted over what they’ve heard at church three times a week for fifteen years versus what they’ve begun to feel deep down inside themselves. The one who would almost certainly be making straight A’s if they hadn’t become so demotivated by bullying and alienation. The poor kid at a poor school in a poor town, the one who couldn’t afford to go to college out of state even if there were a guidance counselor to point them that way, who might not be able to afford college at all. The kid pining for what he or she glimpse on the screen, the kid who sees the most downtrodden and put-upon characters on Glee and envies them their lives. The kid that you tell “It gets better”, who responds with two questions: “When?” and “How?”
That kid makes me think of an old 19th-century suffragette slogan in Latin: Non nobis solum. Not for ourselves alone. Or to appropriate a badly-abused turn of phrase: no child left behind.
Not everyone can escape. And there is very little in this world more heartless than choosing to merely leave them behind as the unfortunate collateral damage of making the problem go away.
So we beat on, boats against the current. If this is a cold war, it’s cold trench warfare. We may have to take the ground an inch a day and lose half of it back every Sunday. It’s going to be long, it’s going to be ugly and a lot of us aren’t going to live to see it over and done and victorious. But we can’t walk away, we can’t turn our backs, we can’t throw our hands up and punt, we can’t shake our heads and decamp to San Francisco or New York or London.
Non nobis solum. To the last man, to the last woman, to the last vote, to the last dollar, to the last phone call or email, to the last second of the last minute of the last hour of the very last day – we fight.