We are taught in school how the Civil War was made inevitable by the compromises of the Constitution. But the Civil War is still being fought. It can still be lost.
Right now, it is being lost.
Jim Crow replaced slavery as the guiding rule of the South after northern troops left in 1877. The chain gang kept black men from building lives for their families. Poll taxes and tests kept them from voting. The KKK killed anyone who disagreed with the new order from raising their voice, on pain of death. Segregation kept the races from achieving any understanding, other than that of master and servant.
Voter ID laws replaced the poll tax. When the state requires you to buy a document to exercise your rights, and then makes you buy other documents to get that document, such as a birth certificate, that’s a poll tax. The required documents are easy to get if you’re rich and white, harder to get if you’re poor and black. It’s racist. Thanks to Voter ID, the 24th Amendment has been vitiated.
You got black voters? Convict them of crimes you don’t convict white people of, throw their asses in jail, and never worry about them voting again. One third of black men have a criminal record, and in most states their right to vote is gone, forever. What about their women? Send them a letter, and when it is returned undelivered, “cage” those votes so their rights can be questioned. Or just purge their asses when they don’t show up once. Reduce the number of their polling stations, shorten voting times, but remember to keep plenty of machines available for those voters you like.
Are there still too many of the wrong people around? Gerrymander. Put them all in one or two rotten boroughs, never mind what the resulting borders look like, but there’s then no way they can overturn your majorities in the legislature. It is done very scientifically now, block by block, house by house. We know where the other half lives. We can keep them from being heard.
Today’s political crisis, which in a democratic system would have ended with the 2008 election, instead began there. That is because the Republican Party, seeing the demographic trends, decided to take its “southern strategy,” its Jim Crow project, national. Are you a woman, Hispanic, maybe then a little liberal? Doesn’t matter if you’re white. You live in Jim Crow. We’re all Paul Ryan’s niggers. More to the point, we’re Scott Walker’s niggers. Or John Kasich’s. Or Greg Abbott’s. More precisely, Kris Kobach’s.
Gerrymanders, voter purges, voter caging, voter intimidation and limited voting opportunities were all used in the states Trump won narrowly last year. They were the decisive factor, even more than the Russian interference. The man behind those policies is now deep inside the Trump Administration, at the center of power.
Small wonder, then, that the current government acts with impunity, ignoring the press and the polls, the demonstrations and the lawsuits, calling opponents who demand a return to the rule of law “the deep state,” as though democratic norms were now its adversary. They are.
We are occupied. America has, perhaps temporarily and perhaps permanently, become an autocratic state. We are headed down the road that leads to Russia, that leads to Turkey, that leads to Venezuela and Zimbabwe.
We can still turn back. We’re no further down the road than the state of Georgia itself was, in 1930. But we shouldn’t underestimate the battle that is required of us to recapture our nation from the invader.
Don’t believe me? Consider the key differences between a democratic and an autocratic state, then match it against today’s headlines.
In a democracy, politics tends to drift toward some ill-perceived center. Compromise is necessary to gain a majority. In an autocracy, politics tends to drift toward the political edge, toward the personal position of the autocrat. That’s because those on the side of the autocrat are engaged in a conspiracy against their own people. They know, every one of them, that losing power could mean losing everything – their fortunes, their lives, their families. Rule or die.
That’s what gave us the Assads. Their Alawite group represents just 10% of Syria, yet they have ruled for two generations with an iron hand and nothing – not demonstrations, not civil war – can be allowed to challenge that. To lose power would be to invite genocide against the Alawite minority. The same is true for people around Mugabe in Rhodesia, around Maduro in Venezuela, and around Putin in Russia. There is no off-ramp. If the people of these countries were given their way against their occupiers they’d kill them, and their wives, and their children. So, they hang together.
That’s why Republicans remain loyal to Trump, and to the leaders of their state machines. They fear that a loss of power would be permanent, that their businesses and other institutions would suffer as a result, that their children might be denied preferment, if they returned to the status of “ordinary” citizens in a democracy where the majority rules. They are right. The reaction growing against these people is increasingly angry, and will become increasingly violent, the longer this occupation lasts.
There have been a few highly-publicized defections. People like David Frum, and Steve Schmidt, and Michael Steele, have condemned the autocratic rule of their fellow Republicans, and warned about what it means for the party’s future. They have been ignored, isolated, and made pariahs.
The Republican Party no longer against Democrats. It is against democrats. It has become profoundly, perhaps irretrievably, anti-American. For America to rise again, for America to become again what the Founders hoped it would be, this Republican Party must be destroyed. Nothing less will suffice.