Liberals, Conservatives and Confederates

Today is Friday, August 15, 2014

I’m sitting here this morning drinking my usual cup of coffee and perusing the headlines from across the nation and the world, thinking nothing has really changed much. I turn sixty-four this week and looking back in my life time, the world situation feels ‘same old-same old’. Same old conflicts, same old reasons, same old ignorance–and it isn’t just about the Middle East. This political nightmare in Ferguson MO resulting from the overreach of law enforcement, is nothing new, and even worse, the ideological nonsense that is now being spewed from conservative talk radio, radical right wing media and social media, and Fox News that ultimately blames the victim and sides with local, out of control police force, is also not new.

As someone who majored in U.S. History at the university, thinking about 18th, 19th, and 20th century America, I realized, following that historical thread to the present, it is in some ways the same old tired history of conflict between political ideologies that are centered in sections or regions of the country. Historians call it ‘sectionalism’ when referring to 19th century America and it’s often identified as one of the root causes of the Civil War. It’s also about the very existence of free Blacks in American society that has historically been divided from the very beginning of the country by two fundamental mentalities: liberal and confederate–not liberal and conservative.

I realized back in 1979 living in Atlanta GA, that there was a white ‘confederate’ mentality that still existed in the body-politic of America. My very first teaching assignment as a history teacher was in suburban Atlanta and my text for U.S. History was called ‘The Nation’ and a supplemental history reader was called ‘The Natural Superiority of Southern Politicians.’ In these materials, there was no mention of the Civil War, but rather only ‘the War of Northern Aggression.’  Around Atlanta, you saw bumper stickers with the Confederate flag and the caption, ‘Forget, hell!’ There were KKK rallies conducted east of the city at Stone Mountain. There was a mayoral candidate, I.B. Stone, who ran on an openly racist ticket. (Thankfully, he didn’t win!)  With all of this, I realized, there was a ‘confederate’ mentality that still existed.

The North may have militarily won the Civil War, and we may have added the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to the Constitution to ensure that African Americans were full participants in American society, but the terrorism of the KKK and the general ‘confederate mentality’, ultimately led to the southern states rejecting those three amendments and finding legal means to reverse them. This ultimately led to Jim Crow and the Plessy vs Ferguson case of 1896 that created two completely separate racial societies and loss of civil rights for Blacks.

By the 1960s, this segregation became intolerable and the struggle for civil rights eventually turned the confederate culture upside down. These ‘confederates’ began losing their grip on America and, until recently, I thought we had succeeded in eliminating this primitive mentality, in spite of my experience in Georgia in the late 1970s. But the Tea Party, which originally was all about using taxes to bail out the big banks in the 2008 economic collapse, transformed into a political movement that seeks to re-assert the old ‘confederate’ mentality and agenda. This is not ‘conservative’ and don’t be fooled when they call themselves ‘conservatives’, because they are not. They have a very narrow political agenda that seeks to return women to a subordinate role to men by giving government the right to control women’s reproduction; by strengthening so-called ‘2nd Amendment’ rights to own and carry any weapon they want; by fighting against extending civil rights to gay people, and rejecting any change or action by the current ‘Black’ administration. The current situation in America is unacceptable to these ‘confederates’ precisely because it strengthens the impulses of the mid-1960s liberal political agenda to eliminate the confederate ‘culture’ that had succeeded in the latter 19th century through the 1960s.

The modus operandi of these confederates is to resist, stonewall, and obstruct whenever possible. They want to use the authority of law to impose their agenda just as ‘they’ did in the late 19th century in gaining control of the southern state governments and through the terrorism of the KKK after Reconstruction. They are democratic only when they are in control, and when they are not, they manipulate the authority of law to impose their agenda; they resist, obstruct and wield their ‘guns’ and Confederate flags in symbolic displays of ‘we the people’ and ‘don’t tread on me’ sloganism. This behavior is not ‘conservative’–it’s confederate. The sooner real Americans realize that this confederate mentality lies beneath the current political struggles in this country, and that it is just as traitorous now as it was in 1861, the sooner we can neutralize the Tea Party and eliminate the political gridlock inside the Beltway; the sooner we can deal with law enforcement that has become militarized for no good reason other than to perpetuate the inherently racist and undemocratic confederate mentality (as we now have seen in Ferguson MO), and the sooner we can apply the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to the political process without interference from more primitive motivations to keep this country in a racially divided state.

I fear that in the near future, there will be an alliance created between the various neo-Confederate, radical right wing, neo-Nazi, white supremacist and the religious right organizations, or at least an effort to unify them, into a political movement that will seek to re-gain control of the social, political and cultural narrative in the country at the expense of racial and ethnic minorities, women and LGBT.  We’re beginning to see a ground swell of this kind of nonsense in reaction to Obama’s election. We must stay vigilant lest these elements in the body-politic find their way into local, state and federal governments. If they do, we will face a political and constitutional crisis as serious as the formation of the Confederate States of America was.

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