A Sideways Glance with Richard Bogartz: The endless struggle to preserve greed and oppression

Wednesday, August 03, 2022

Did the American Civil War end? Wikipedia on the Civil War provides in paragraph one, “The American Civil War (April 12, 1861-May 9, 1865), but in paragraph four, “The Civil War effectively ended on April 9, 1865, when Confederate General Lee surrendered to Union General Grant at the Battle of Appomattox Court House ... The conclusion of the American Civil War lacks a clean end date.”

History.com declares that “On April 9, 1865, General Robert E. Lee surrendered ... marking the beginning of the end of the ... American Civil War. But it would be more than 16 months before President Andrew Johnson would declare a formal end to the conflict in August 1866.” In another History.com article, June 2, 1865 is given as the date of “an event that is generally regarded as marking the end of the Civil War, Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith, commander of Confederate forces west of the Mississippi, signs the surrender terms ... .”

Aeschylus might argue the lack of a clear end date is because “In war, truth is the first casualty,” but I’ve long suspected that the Civil War — our very own dear internal war to preserve greed and oppression — never ended. That’s why finding its end date is difficult. The shooting war gradually ended, at least for a while, but guns, gun ownership, gun rights, etc., may well be a thread of continuing southern resistance.

Recently I encountered an article by CNN’s Ronald Brownstein titled “Red states are building a nation within a nation.” Brownstein argues “red states, supported by Republican-appointed judges, are engaging in a multi-front offensive to seize control of national policy even while Democrats hold the White House and nominally control both the House and Senate.” This involves moving social policy sharply rightward on issues such as abortion, LGBTQ rights, and classroom censorship, while disabling federal and large metro area leftward efforts. Brownstein quotes Donald Kettl as describing this divergence as a “multifront war with very sharp swords.”

Brownstein says red states share agendas and strategies shaped by common economic and demographic trends related to gun ownership, religious affiliation, reliance on fossil fuels, and reduced participation in the information economy. Large blue metropolitan areas in red states become targets for controlling state governments.

The red forces employ lawsuits blocking President Joe Biden on issues from environment to civil rights to immigration. Other suits provide “states more leeway to deviate from previously nationally guaranteed rights,” and new state laws advance “the cultural priorities of the GOP’s predominantly White Christian electoral base,” together with statutes preventing Democratic cities and counties from setting their own policies.

Brownstein’s central argument is the red state effort threatens the nation’s underlying cohesion. He cites David Leopold’s assertion that “You have a very dangerous situation.” “This is a direct threat to the nation as a unified entity. This is one step closer to the country dividing into two separate countries.”

Brownstein again quotes Kettl, “The late 19th century had a focus on separate but equal doctrine, and it had to do with a fundamental question of social policy. Today’s efforts are on a broader collection of fronts — immigration, abortion, health care, the governance of schools, the issues of transportation policy.”

“Kettl sees the initial red state Republican goal primarily as consolidating these new rules and blocking any interference ... . But like Grumbach and other experts on state policy, Kettl is dubious that Republicans will settle for imposing their values solely on the states now under their control. As the red states pursue a more consistent and coordinated course, Kettl predicts that Republicans will ‘try to impose [this] policy on the nation as a whole’ if they achieve the federal power to do so.”

Apparently, Brownstein and Leopold fantasize there is an underlying national cohesion that is threatened by this new red menace. I don’t see the national cohesion they imagine. Having an Olympic team doesn’t do it. Elections don’t display it. It remains to be seen if there is even cohesion where you would most expect it: in the military.

From a sideways glance, rather than as national unity and cohesion, it looks to me like a war. Not every war has to be a shooting war. (And it’s not that there don’t appear to be some folks itching for one of those, too.) It looks to me like the civil war continuing, still seeming to lack a clean end date.