The Trumpian Civil War
‘The Conversation’ as
More Poison for the Festering Divide
we begin another year, the earth has turned, and now moves to make anew its annual
year long bow, lowering then raising its crown before the sun; and we, its
both blessed and hapless riders, make our own way to war, to peace, and to
all the love, hate, brilliance and folly that lies in between - but, mostly
hate and folly.
the president, in his final State of the Union address, referred to the
divide and called on us, lectured us - and we believe with all earnest
sincerity - to set aside the venom and poison we are gathering for our fellow
Americans of different persuasions, in favor of patient ears, extended hands,
and presumption of good faith.
yet the president, in that very same speech, made clear why in his own
seven-going-on-eight years of ‘hope and change’, the racial, religious, sex
(and now ‘gender’), and ideological divides - all of them - have grown
starker and more shrill. To summarize
what he did in that speech, we call to mind the image of an unselfconsciously
self-centered lover telling the other that if only the other would give up
and surrender, and stop being so ridiculous, childish, selfish, ignorant, and
remember who is the winner and who is the loser, then everything would be
why can’t we get along? I just want us
to be friends and be nice to each other, if only you could stop being such an
idiotic, disgusting, hateful, ignorant, bigoted jackass. Besides, you’re a loser. C’mon, whaddaya’ say?” Of course, the point here is that Johnny is
a jackass if he does not admit that he is a jackass. There is no other option offered, only
one-sided judgment before any peace.
Well, it appears that millions of Johnnies are now saying “fine, call
me a jackass, I no longer care, and I will do and say what I want; and while
we are at it, I have a few choice words for you.”
is actually “the conversation” the liberal progressives are always telling us
they want. On the surface it’s
presented as a fair and open reach for mutually respectful dialogue. But in actual practice It’s never an
exchange of ideas and understanding between opposing sides they seek; instead
“the conversation” they intend is only one where they preach and the rest of
so we have the rise of Trump.
Protest What You Sow
national cultural agreements are beginning to fracture. The cultural schisms are real, and Donald
J. Trump is only but the easiest to spot.
Norms of speech and manners that used to be expected from all educated
people, then later only from adults, and more recently only from people in
the ‘serious’ professions (doctors, lawyers, office holders, etc.), have lost
their last hold on normal expectations.
And, ironically, as we so often try to warn our friends on the left as
they giddily, but fervently, go about dismantling our social framework, those
first to feel the bite of disorder are those our leftist friends claim they
are so eager to protect.
those liberal progressives who have for decades supported, if not produced,
an avalanche of rudeness, coarse language, and disregard for social norms,
and have applauded the open disrespect of those who are socially
conservative, now recoil at the sight of that same avalanche and disrespect
aimed right at them. Sadly, the damage
is real, and will be almost impossible to reverse before it gets worse. For as coarse speech goes so goes coarse
thought, taking us slowly back to the days when we found the need to invent
all these norms in the first place.
the meantime, the Hollywood-led liberal progressive infotainment media are
now shown to have lost the influence they had on public figures. Not sure what is worse - a biased
information cop, or no cop at all - but leftist causes will ultimately suffer
the more from the social lack of decorum - though we all still will suffer.
Left and Right
Join to Split
evident sign of these new failing clamps of the national culture is found in
our fracturing view of history. Even
now, as Confederate flags are lowered across civic and academic spaces across
the South by way of new political demands, a new, more robust and
unapologetic defense of that flag, and what it stood for, is growing and
gaining more open expression.
against all historical evidence and scholarly consensus from both left and right
historians, we have a new assault on one of the core agreements of the
national view of what the Civil War was about, what it meant and what it said
about America. The attack from the
strident left says the war was not over slavery because it is not possible
for America, let alone white America, to do anything good and noble, ever,
and especially not for a minority. Any
advances are despite its every effort, if they are not outright illusions.
attack from the right, concentrated now in the South but spreading
everywhere, is growing from a new willingness to deny any moral guilt over
slavery. The South was just trying to
protect its rights, the war had nothing to do with slavery, and Lincoln was a
racist, don’t you know? In that mutual
denial process, there is less of a United States.
See next column >
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To Judge a Mockingbird
Yet, looking at
the American Civil War, America’s deadliest in both absolute and relative
terms, there is a lesson there for us today. It is the lesson of the context of human
morality, and moral judgment.
During the summer
of last year, a controversy arose over the release of a new book which was
really an old book, “Go Set a Watchman” by Lee Harper. Written as a first draft for what
eventually became the seminal uplifting story of courageous heroic nobility
of Atticus Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird”, the earlier draft released as
a new story, a sequel, reveals Finch as a pro-segregation racist, to the
shock and distress of millions who now for decades had greatly admired the
character described in the first book.
But here is the
question: is the moral nature of an
individual person, or a people, totally and absolutely defined by any
single view that offends people in a different place and time? If the semi-fictional Atticus Finch, a
character based on the author’s own lawyer father, did defend a black,
underprivileged man in court against unfair charges from a biased, white
supremacist system, yet still harbored segregationist views like most
everyone around him, do we then say that there was no good there at all,
not in him, and certainly not in anyone in his world?
Blue jays All!
What are we to
say of the millions of pre-Civil War people of the 19th century,
or even the pre-Civil Rights Act 20th century, that held tightly
to views on race that most of us today not only find abhorrent, but hard to
understand? Shall we say they were
all inhuman monsters? That they were
an evil people, irredeemable to their core?
That nothing in their lives was of any value, bore any glimmer of
nobility, the totality of their existence contained by their blindness to a
single sin common to most everyone they knew? That no true kindness or
sacrifice they ever gave for another could ever count for anything because
they could not cleanly rise above their morally compromised
surroundings? Can we say this when
we have witnessed millions abandon bigoted or wrong-headed views when
exposed to new views and ideas?
guilt aside, how total should be our condemnation of the Aztecs and their
horrific human sacrifices, the peoples of slave-selling African tribes that
started the whole nasty business, the people of Rome who enjoyed watching
fellow human beings murdered and devoured by wild animals, or the Native
American tribes that had no concept of sparing women and children in war?
Now for some
added perspective: if that gives us any pause, then should it not more so
in today’s age of a Court-divined law requiring recognition of same-sex
marriage? After all, what do we say about the 90% of the human race that
still objects to it, and the nearly 100% of the near past who would have
found the idea anywhere from objectionable to abominable?
If we give in to
that self-righteous and self-serving temptation, than what are we really
saying when we look back at the past whole human race, not to mention about
how we should be judged ourselves in a far future by standards we cannot
And yet, we do
have people, millions of them, who will say “haters all!”
Exceptionalism for Me
None for You
Do people really
walk about our country today, thinking that they individually, unlike their
fellow countrymen, are some kind of lofty lot of moral exceptionalism? Yes they do. We do.
Hint: If you
often find yourself calling people “haters”, look in the mirror: you are
exactly the same.
We don’t speak
here of the exceptionalism of America, for America is truly exceptional as
a nation, a union of people under a visionary and brilliant star of freedom
powered at its core by the Declaration of Independence and its
Constitution. Rather, we refer to
the self-proclaimed exceptionalism of individuals who deny it in the union
with their fellow citizens as they reserve it for themselves.
We have always
done this, but in the mid-20th century we seemed to have
progressed momentarily to a point where people on both sides appeared to
culturally, perhaps only half-consciously, to understand the reality of
this temptation, and even occasionally recognized this fault in
themselves. These were the days when
no one knew the news anchor’s politics, and educated adults could and did
argue politics without angry words.
Restraint, decorum, dignity, the dutiful and personally taxing
polishing of words before they left our conscious mind and made contact
with another fellow human being - these things adults practiced more often
then than they do today, and we are seeing the effects.
Humans ought to
be celebrated for every step taken in the opposite direction from the
caves, up from where they stand, to reach higher and above from where they
can see with their own eyes. Too
many, instead, judge others by the experience of their own lives – exactly
the opposite of what we were taught to do by the most influential moral
Teacher in all of human history. We
are very slow learners.
A Failed Conversation
It is interesting
to note that decades prior to the Civil War, Americans on opposite sides of
the slavery issue were not as angrily divided as they became over time;
after all, they forged a new nation together. But, the contentious issue of slavery,
there from the very conception of the country, truly America’s original
sin, instead of resolving itself gradually over time, as some hoped it
would, instead became ever more polarizing, and the souring rhetoric of the
early 19th century reflected that change.
Continued column 3 >
Southerners actually evolved to embracing slavery evermore tightly,
discarding an apologetic argument (it’s a necessary evil) for a proud and
incredibly insolent one (it’s good for them). Conditions for slaves actually grew
worse, and new outrageous laws were passed forcing even people in northern
states to protect and return escaped slaves back to their southern masters. White and black abolitionists were beaten
and killed. Abolitionists, who were then largely Christian activists,
retaliated, and often also violently.
In some cases, the existence itself of slavery was moral provocation
enough to kill.
past political compromises collapsed, and lawlessness began to break out in
frontier zones like Kansas over whether slavery would grow or wither, there
was only one path left for resolution, and over 600,000 men would have to
die to make its way. At the time,
that was one out of every six men of fighting age. We in these United States have not seen a
cataclysm of that magnitude since.
Fortunately for us, out of the ashes of whole cities and half the
country burned to the ground, and the painful loss of a son or father, husband
or brother felt by almost every American family, a new, nobler and more
enlightened nation, truer to the promises of its star of freedom, did
rise. It does not always happen that
way. Could slavery have been dismantled
without passing through the blistering gates of war? We don’t know.
The Truth Will
is not just like it was then.
Everything is different, and critically - Oregon aside - there is no
single issue over which people are taking up arms. And yet, though we may wince to consider
it, we are not as different from those past Americans as we might like to
are all, in some form or manner, and to varying degrees, not all that
different from Ms. Harper’s more perplexing and morally flawed hero, in
both the vices we cling to and the virtues we aspire to, and sometimes
face that uncomfortable truth is to take a step towards our own redemption,
to elevate all human existence ever so slightly, to open the door to where
God would have us go.
2016 Presidential Watch
Rubio Will Rise
Fox News Rewards Trump
On Iowa Caucus Eve
As we watched the
Republican debate Thursday night, it became apparent that GOP front-runner
Donald Trump made a smart decision in skipping the debate. While Fox News showed video clips during
the debate of Mr. Trump’s closest rivals that put those rivals in a very
uncomfortable light, it simultaneously spared Mr. Trump himself. As the footage flashed across the screen
showing those rivals seemingly contradict their current claims of what
their positions have always been on immigration, and those rivals then
proceeded to defend themselves by trying their best to turn each other into
liars, we realized just how smart, or lucky, Mr. Trump’s move turned out to
be. In a sense, by showing those
past video clips of Texas U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, Florida U.S. Senator Marco
Rubio, polling in 2nd and 3rd place respectively, and
of former Florida Governor John “Jeb” Bush to a lesser extent, but not doing
so for Mr. Trump, Fox News essentially rewarded the snub by the maverick
billionaire who made a ‘hyooooge’ point of it.
this may hurt Senator Cruz in the polls a bit, and maybe the others, we
believe that come Tuesday morning we will find that that debate did not
really make a difference in the minds of those who bothered to show up to
caucus in Iowa.
You may recall that February
last year we made predictions on the presidential prospects of former
Texas Governor Rick Perry, Kentucky U.S. Senator Rand Paul, New Jersey
Governor Chris Christie, Governor Bush,
then in April, of Senator Cruz, and lastly in August
of the late entrant Mr. Trump.
All have turned out true to date – almost exactly true – except for
one: the prediction on Trump. We
forecast his ceiling at 25% of Republican voters. This turned out to be a major
underestimation of his potential appeal to frustrated voters. Mr. Trump is
a political mutant, a “Mule” a la Issac Assimov, a historical wild card
where normal rules of cultural reactions and political analysis are
suspended. Nevertheless, while we
agree that there is a hard floor for his support that, as Mr. Trump himself
says, would allow him to shoot someone in Times Square without a suffering
a dent in his poll numbers, we also believe that there is still an equally
hard ceiling of potential support which remains hidden by the splitting of
the opposition among so many candidates.
It is our assessment
that in a race that narrows to Mr. Trump, Senator Cruz and Senator Rubio,
once the other candidates withdraw or trail so badly that further support
seems a waste, Rand, Christie, Kasich, and eventually Bush supporters will
all fall into the Rubio camp before they do into the other two (Rubio
supporters, by the way, would not similarly flow to the other candidates –
easily half would prefer Cruz or Rand to the others). Carson supporters will likely split
between Cruz and Rubio. Huckabee supporters go to Cruz, Fiorina supporters
to Rubio, and Santorum supporters split.
Probably a smattering go to Trump.
Nationally, based on current polls, this would put Mr. Trump,
Senator Cruz, and Senator Rubio roughly split three ways, with Senator Rubio
on the rise.
The danger is a
three-way race that does not resolve itself before the national Republican
Convention to be held in Cleveland, Ohio, in July. In that case, it may all come down to art
of the deal. The Bush campaign will
likely exhaust all options, even those that risk destroying better odds for
the GOP. Still, we are putting our
money on Marco.
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