fresh voices from the front lines of change







When I read David’s post about the intransigence of the Confederate rump of the Republican Party, I thought of this tweet from the other night:

Amazing, no? I’m going to guess that Paul Ryan is also seen as a conservative who cannot be relied upon (which will undoubtedly give him extra standing among the Villagers to run for president.)After seeing Lincoln, in which Stephen Spielberg and Tony Kushner sought to portray Honest Abe as the great negotiator who made cats and dogs lie down together, I could see that the filmmakers had it in their minds that if he could do it then, gosh darn it, we certainly should be able to do it now, right? Well, wrong. The president had just won a bloody civil war, which I think we can agree is a unique moment in history and perhaps not a good one to use as a template for future negotiations.

But, in light of the behavior of the lunatic GOP over the past few days I’ve been thinking once again about what Lincoln said before the war when he was trying to deal with the Southern Democrats over the expansion of slavery. Let’s just say that the problem is a habit of mind, not strategy or ideology.  I’ll just excerpt a small part of the speech, but I think you’ll recognize the dynamic:

And now, if they would listen – as I suppose they will not – I would address a few words to the Southern people.

I would say to them: – You consider yourselves a reasonable and a just people; and I consider that in the general qualities of reason and justice you are not inferior to any other people. Still, when you speak of us Republicans, you do so only to denounce us a reptiles, or, at the best, as no better than outlaws. You will grant a hearing to pirates or murderers, but nothing like it to “Black Republicans.” In all your contentions with one another, each of you deems an unconditional condemnation of “Black Republicanism” as the first thing to be attended to. Indeed, such condemnation of us seems to be an indispensable prerequisite – license, so to speak – among you to be admitted or permitted to speak at all. Now, can you, or not, be prevailed upon to pause and to consider whether this is quite just to us, or even to yourselves? Bring forward your charges and specifications, and then be patient long enough to hear us deny or justify…

But you will not abide the election of a Republican president! In that supposed event, you say, you will destroy the Union; and then, you say, the great crime of having destroyed it will be upon us! That is cool. A highwayman holds a pistol to my ear, and mutters through his teeth, “Stand and deliver, or I shall kill you, and then you will be a murderer!”

To be sure, what the robber demanded of me – my money – was my own; and I had a clear right to keep it; but it was no more my own than my vote is my own; and the threat of death to me, to extort my money, and the threat of destruction to the Union, to extort my vote, can scarcely be distinguished in principle.

A few words now to Republicans. It is exceedingly desirable that all parts of this great Confederacy shall be at peace, and in harmony, one with another…Judging by all they say and do, and by the subject and nature of their controversy with us, let us determine, if we can, what will satisfy them.

Will they be satisfied if the Territories be unconditionally surrendered to them? We know they will not. In all their present complaints against us, the Territories are scarcely mentioned. Invasions and insurrections are the rage now. Will it satisfy them, if, in the future, we have nothing to do with invasions and insurrections? We know it will not. We so know, because we know we never had anything to do with invasions and insurrections; and yet this total abstaining does not exempt us from the charge and the denunciation.

The question recurs, what will satisfy them? Simply this: We must not only let them alone, but we must somehow, convince them that we do let them alone. This, we know by experience, is no easy task. We have been so trying to convince them from the very beginning of our organization, but with no success. In all our platforms and speeches we have constantly protested our purpose to let them alone; but this has had no tendency to convince them. Alike unavailing to convince them, is the fact that they have never detected a man of us in any attempt to disturb them.

These natural, and apparently adequate means all failing, what will convince them? This, and this only: cease to call slavery wrong, and join them in calling it right. And this must be done thoroughly – done in acts as well as in words. Silence will not be tolerated – we must place ourselves avowedly with them.

This is why I am convinced that this isn’t a structural problem of governance, at least in terms of process and procedure. It’s a longstanding cultural and sociological divide that’s been with us from the beginning.  It’s no longer strictly regional (although Tom Price’s comment in that tweet above shows that the power and security of the revanchist tribe still resides in Dixie.) It’s a fact of American life that we will divide along these lines. It is who we are. And although it bought us a century of disequilibrium the civil war didn’t really change it.

So, here we are. Again.  Still.

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