We were taught in history class that the Civil War ended in 1865, but the violence continued, as white southerners including Nathan Bedford Forrest formed the Ku Klux Klan in the late 1860s, the specific aim of this First Riding being to put blacks back “in their place,” under heel, through murder.
That effort was successful, as Union troops abandoned the field in 1877, after a disputed election where southern electors became crucial. The “war” won, the overt violence died down and lynching took on its aspect of ritual.
The Second Riding began around the year 1901, after Booker T. Washington was invited to dine at the White House by the new President, Theodore Roosevelt, and southern “Wool Hat” populists saw their control of the population threatened. The Atlanta Riot of 1906, and the lynching of Leo Frank outside Atlanta in 1912, were just two events in this Riding.
The Second Riding culminated in the 1912 election of the first southern President since the Civil War, Woodrow Wilson, He had been born in Virginia, practiced law in Georgia, and was a violent racist. He notoriously screened D.W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation” at the White House in 1915, conducted violent wars against Latin America and Mexico in the name of white power, and saw Jim Crow segregation made semi-permanent throughout the South, and much of the North.
Despite all this, his economic progressivism and effort to make peace among white men after World War I made him a great liberal hero. A recent disruption at Princeton meant to take his name off university buildings came as an enormous shock to white liberals.
The Third Riding began after the 1954 decision in “Brown vs. Board of Education.” It ran right alongside the Civil Rights movement. Names from that rising, like Bull Connor, Orval Faubus and George Wallace, are now notorious in American history, and history further claims that this rising failed. The Civil Rights, Voting Rights, and Open Housing Acts were all passed, and hundreds of thousands of southern blacks entered the middle class in succeeding decades.
The Third Riding was not restricted to the South. I know. I was there. In Massapequa, NY, the town where I grew up, a cross was burned into a lawn in 1968 when it seemed a black family was about to move in, spurred on by unlikely Civil Rights agitators like Dr. Benjamin Spock.
The Conservative Party of New York was Wallace-ite – I know because I was in it. The Conservative alliance with Nixon forces to elect James L. Buckley in 1970 represented a sea change in the state’s politics, after which moderates like Nelson Rockefeller and Jacob Javits were gradually replaced by hard-liners like Al D’Amato and conservatives like George Pataki. Even Democrats, like Ed Koch, eventually turned right, the election of David Dinkins as Mayor was followed by decades of reaction under Rudy Giuliani, and black politicians like Al Sharpton became as isolated within their neighborhoods as leaders like Adam Clayton Powell had been decades earlier. Please don’t tell me how “liberal” New York is. I know better.
Wallace voters and Nixon voters across the country aligned after 1968, in what was called the “Southern Strategy,” creating a coalition that dominated the nation’s politics for 40 years. Some blacks, those who adopted middle class “white” values, did integrate some neighborhoods, but southern cities remained, predominantly, segregated, as all-white suburbs expanded or, when blacks moved in, became all-black suburbs.
Obama, like other crisis Presidents before him – like Lincoln, like the Roosevelts, and like Nixon, delivered on the change he promised. Immense social change, a health care law Teddy Roosevelt could have written himself, and a foreign policy emphasizing diplomacy and economic pressure over military might. It wasn’t everything his supporters wanted, but Lincoln and FDR didn’t do all their supporters wanted either.
Still, it was threatening enough. Threatening enough to Wallace-ites that, spurred by money from two sons of the John Birch Society’s founder, Fred Koch, they literally took over the Republican Party. The Tea Party was, has been, and remains a Wallace-ite revolt against Nixon-style Republicanism, an uncompromising, neo-Nazi party of reaction, in which whites who have suffered under the rise of technology are encouraged to believe that they have a right to kill their neighbors, that they have the right to impose their religion on their neighbors, that they can deny science and education in all its forms, that they can literally stop history and turn it backward.
What fuels the Fourth Riding are the same the dark forces that have engulfed America since before the Republic’s founding. The same desire for religious absolutism that sent Roger Williams fleeing the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1636. The same fear that spawned the Salem Witch trials later that century. The same intolerance that put John Peter Zenger on trial in 1735. The same selfishness that brought slavery to America in the 17th century, that made founders like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson slave-owners in the 18th century, and that put the Second Amendment into the American Constitution, guaranteeing that southern militias could arm themselves against slave insurrection, anywhere in the country.
Slavery lay under the discussion of the Constitution like a serpent, and racial animus was not eliminated by the Confederacy’s destruction. It was passed on from father to son, from mother to daughter, often gaining new adherents in unlikely places.
I saw this, too.
When I was 12 a new friend moved into my neighborhood, a Jewish kid quite unlike my other friends, in that he had moved from another suburb, and not directly from the City. His home was some miles from the water, and he told me his parents once had better, in the nearby town of Roosevelt, until the “black busters” moved in, real estate agents who first integrated the town at high prices, then preyed on the fears of whites to re-segregate it again, sending families like his, who formerly held progressive values, fleeing with what little capital they had left to places of safety. Places like Massapequa, all-white, peopled by cops and firemen. The kind of town that would indeed burn a cross on a black family’s lawn to warn them out. We argued about that. He seemed supportive.
The Fourth Riding has had many motives, too. There are economic motives, social motives, as well as racial motives. It has been enabled by the 2008 decision in “D.C. vs. Heller,” holding for the first time that the Second Amendment meant what the National Rifle Association had argued unsuccessfully for decades that it meant, that gun ownership was protected by the Constitution. (It’s not.)
The “militia” amendment has since come to be used for its intended purpose, as a tool by the minority to suppress the majority. It has created a great re-armament, among Wallace-ites, Nixon-ites, and the police, and given all three the power to act against their fear and hatred against the “other.” It has encouraged the attitude that power comes from the barrel of a gun, not from a ballot box, that the power of the latter can be subjugated by use of the former. This is precisely what the first three Ridings did, gradually overturning the verdict of the Civil War, creating Jim Crow, over overturning the verdict of the Civil Rights Era.
That’s what the present fight is about. That is what our politics comes down to, in 2015. The Republican Nervous Breakdown follows the successful effort of Wallace-ites to take control of their party from their Nixon-ite masters. It is as crazy, in a Fascist way, as the McGovern era was in its collectivist way, but with the added danger that, when you look back at America’s history, such Ridings have succeeded in time. Through persistence.
How far will this one go? Will the Obama Thesis be overturned? Will we enter a new dark period of reaction in which black people, immigrants, women and all those with liberal impulses are made to stifle themselves, on pain of death? Or are we going to put an end to it, as they say, once and for all?
You tell me. I just report history. You, the reader, you create it. You have the power, for ill as well as for good. Will you confront this Fourth Riding and validate the changes of the last 7 years, or will you, by doing nothing, let evil triumph?
As we enter the year of 2016, that remains the central question of America. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of Earth.