We committed to this course in 1968, when America elected Richard Nixon on just such a platform. Order at home, American order abroad. Vietnam was a Cold War activity, and even before it ended we had started another one, in Afghanistan, a war that even a Nobel Peace Prize winner, Barack Obama, has found unable to end “with honor.”
Peace with honor, to Americans, means peace with a promise by the other side not to attack us again. We left Vietnam, the North took over, but they have kept that promise and we have no problems with them today. Afghans won’t make that promise. They never have, they never will. So that war goes on.
What of the war back home? That war seemed to end in the 1970s, but it never really did. It remained a low-grade conflict under many names, the most common being The War on Drugs. The name of the drug changed, but the battlefield never did. It was poor people, brown people, often Hispanic people that generations learned to fight, hate and fear.
In 1864 the Civil War seemed intractable. It had been hiding under the tables when the Constitution was written. Slavery’s hands are all over the document. So that war had been going on, with increasing intensity, for a lifetime by 1864’s battles. That was to be war’s bloodiest year, and the outcome wasn’t certain until the November re-election of Abraham Lincoln. That result was made certain by some of the bloodiest battles of the war, especially one that destroyed my own home, Atlanta, and which is still remembered with an annual celebration that is taking place now.
In 2016 the Second Civil War also seems intractable. So, too, the foreign war. But as in 2016 we may be closer to the end of both than we realize.
This has been a very bloody year, and a very uncertain year, in the global conflict. ISIS is being pressed in its self-described Caliphate, and has called on its followers around the world to attack everyone with everything they have. The result has been to unite the world against ISIS, in a way it has not been united before. ISIS has not just attacked the West, through proxies and claimants, in places like Brussels and Orlando. It has also attacked organized Islam, in Istanbul, in Dhaka, most crucially in Medina, in Saudi Arabia itself.
What seems to us as strength is an acknowledgement of weakness. ISIS has run out of allies. What it has left are those angry young men its propaganda can convince to strike in its name. Cyberwar is neutralizing that. ISIS is becoming less an organized force than a semi-organized criminal gang. It will be crushed between the wheels of Islamic dictatorships and Western law enforcement. Once ISIS is gone we can deal with the dictatorship and overreach made necessary by the violence of the war.
This Civil War is based on what I have long called the Nixon Thesis of Conflict, a set of political assumptions that see opponents as inherently illegitimate, as enemies that must be destroyed. To those who follow the Nixon Thesis, only absolute loyalty is enough, loyalty to a Noble Cause as false and fractured in its way as the Lost Cause of the Confederacy. This is not anti-Democratic. It is profoundly anti-democratic.
The Noble Cause is not a cause of hoop skirts and mint juleps, but of Chevys and barbecues, of men who work hard for a living, of women and children who obey them. It’s based on an idealized version of the 1950s, that brief moment when the country was united by the Cold War, when suburbs were growing, and when the domination of white, blue collar working men was unquestioned.
Both the Lost Cause and the Noble Cause are dreams framed on lies. The Lost Cause was based on slavery, which degraded white and black alike. The Noble Cause is based on Jim Crow, on pre-feminist women, on kids who obey their parents and preachers without question.
Trumpism is built on the Noble Cause. It is what Nixonism was built on, what Reaganism was built on. It fell from power as Bushism because its policies had become obsolete, then returned as the Tea Party and the fight to render Barack Obama un-American, a fight Trump was leading on a Spring evening in 2011 when Obama lit into him after giving the order to take out Osama bin Laden, an act that proved his bonafides in the larger, and longer conflict.
They say that what history writes first as tragedy comes back as farce, and 2016 is in many ways a farcical version of 1968. Trump is a farcical version of Nixon or Wallace, a jazzman who intuits the sound but can’t really carry the tune. His followers, too, are now a farcical version of the Confederacy, with their AR-15 worship, their refusal to be “politically correct” (meaning their inability to see their beliefs as obsolete), their weaknesses for food, drugs, and gasoline.
These people are clearly a minority, their leader a Fisher King, but the proper forms must be followed. The media must imagine that Trump can win, he must be given his nomination and his chance. He must be taken, by all voters, as seriously as a heart attack. He is the final warning, the last trump.
War is all hell, said William Tecumseh Sherman, in a letter to the mayor of Atlanta, written in September of 1864. It is a far more eloquent testimony than anything I could write, or that anyone has written since. The only way to live in peace and quiet at home, he wrote, is to stop the war, “which can only be done by admitting that it began in error and is perpetuated in pride.”
The war ends when the shooting stops, when the guns are put away, and when those of the Noble Cause surrender to the cause of the Union, represented by the Obama Thesis of Consensus . General Grant in this case is a short, aging veteran in a tunic and pant suit. You hand your sword to her, and you can go.