The US Civil War continues

Updated: 2013-10-11 07:23

By Stephan Richter (China Daily)

  Print Mail Large Medium  Small 分享按钮 0

A big hoax of American history is that the Civil War ended in 1865. It has not ended yet. What was achieved then was more of an armistice.

As the current logjam in United States Congress makes plain, the Civil War is still going on in today's America - and with virulence that most other civilized nations find as breathtaking as it is irresponsible.

Plenty of US commentators are trying to make light of the government shutdown. They argue that it is just a bunch of Tea Party Republicans who is causing the current mayhem. Such an interpretation underestimates the forces of history and the continuing deep divisions in American society.

The reason why the Civil War was declared to be over was the military defeat of the South. But can anyone seriously doubt that, culturally, the same anti-Union spirit is still heard in the halls of US Congress today?

The fight against "Obamacare" (President Barack Obama's healthcare law) is cast by Republicans as fighting the authoritarian - and, in the words of some conservative commentators, "fascist" - views of the Obama administration and the American "left". In their eyes, the Republicans are staking out the democratic and libertarian political high ground, all in the defense of "freedom".

The fight in Washington thus is not about any of the things in the headlines, the budget, debt or Obamacare. These are proxies in a fundamental battle over the structure of American society.

Democrats want that structure to create more economic opportunity for the underprivileged, so that the national economy can grow. To Republicans, any such investment is a net negative on what they see as their core mission - defending the interests of rich and middle-class Americans.

Thus, we are largely dealing with a battle over redistributing shares of economic power in the clothing of cultural values. That is why it is being fought so bitterly.

The proper way to understand the underlying issue of the Civil War, slavery, as well as the healthcare law, is to see them as symbols of deeper conflicts.

The parallels in the legislative history bear that out. Slavery was formally abolished in the US in 1865 and, for a few years, there seemed to be a will to move the country forward. One step was setting up a bank that would grant loans to freed slaves, so that they could build a prosperous future for themselves and their families.

The so-called Freedman's Bureau met a fate similar to what today's Republicans have in mind for Obama's healthcare law.

The Freedman's Bureau lingered for a few years before it was allowed to fade away. The economic, social and cultural consequences of condemning freed slaves to a life of continued servitude, albeit of another kind, are well known. They are the main cause of the culture of dependence which sadly continues to this day - and which Republicans are quick to use as a justification not to do more for African Americans.

With their countless de-funding moves, the Republicans are now trying to keep nationwide access to healthcare from becoming a reality in the land. Amazing how history repeats itself.

Of course, there is one very important difference that should make today's Republicans squirm. In the Civil War, it was the Republicans, mostly found in the North at the time, who were the political force aligned against slavery (then president Abraham Lincoln was a Republican - indeed he was a Republican for most of his political life). It was the Democrats in the South who fiercely resisted its abolition, as well as resisting the Civil Rights Act a century later.

The equivalent of politically and economically freeing the slaves back then is granting healthcare to all Americans today. The old order is about to be toppled and that leads Southerners and white conservatives everywhere to fear for the end of the United States, as they know it.

Now the South is once again rebelling against modernizing shifts of American society. In one of the greatest political realignments of modern politics, that region is the power base of Republicans.

Look at the list of state governors who refused to expand the medical program for low-income people (Medicaid) and compare that to the list of states that fought to preserve slavery. There is an amazing overlap.

Of the 11 states of the former Confederacy, only Arkansas has agreed to accept federal funds to expand Medicaid. Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia have all refused, or are leaning in that direction.

For America's future, it is vital for the still ongoing US civil war finally to come to a close. However, as current events in Washington demonstrate, the odds for that to happen do not look good.

The author is publisher and editor-in-chief of The Globalist, where this article originally appeared.

The Globalist

(China Daily 10/11/2013 page9)