You can’t boil one of the most tumultuous periods of American history down to one paragraph, but here goes: Lincoln was assassinated by a domestic terrorist and replaced by Andrew Johnson, who was an incompetent hothead and an unapologetic racist. Within a few years the ambitious project of Reconstruction fell victim to a sustained insurgency led by the Ku Klux Klan and similar white militia groups. By the late 1870s white supremacist “Redeemers” controlled most local and state governments in the South, and by the 1890s Southern blacks had been disenfranchised and thrust into subservience positions by Jim Crow laws that were only slightly preferable to slavery.
So even though it’s a truism of American public discourse that the Civil War never ended, it’s also literally true. We’re still reaping the whirlwind from that long-ago conflict, and now we face a new Civil War, one focused on divisive political issues of the 21st century – most notably the rights and liberties of women and LGBT people – but rooted in toxic rhetoric and ideas inherited from the 19th century.
We’ve just emerged from a presidential campaign that exposed how hardened our political and cultural divide has become, and how poorly the two sides understand each other. Part of the Republican problem, in an election that party thought it would win easily, was that those who felt a visceral disgust toward both the idea and the reality of President Barack Obama simply could not believe that they didn’t represent a majority. As many Republicans are now aware, the party now faces an existential crisis. It’s all very well to go on TV and talk about attracting Latinos and downplaying cultural wedge issues. But the activist core of the Republican Party is neo-Confederate, whether it thinks of itself that way or not. It isn’t interested in common cause with Mexicans or turning down the moral thermostat. Just ask Rick Santorum: What it wants is war.
You know when we first started talking about this, in the run up to the election, I think a lot of people were fairly skeptical that things could deteriorate badly enough that we might actually have concerns of another civil war erupting. I would imagine that a number of those skeptics have had second thoughts as they have watched how entrenched the Southern Republicans have become in Congress, the reaction of some conservatives to the shooting in Newtown, and the emotional meltdown that we observed after President Obama was reelected.
It is interesting that this article talks a great deal about the movie "Lincoln," because when I was watching the movie all I could think about is that if I were sitting in a theater in Mississippi or Alabama, I am pretty sure the mood inside the theater would have been significantly different. And I somehow doubt that on THOSE movie houses the audience rose from their seats at then end, as they did in Anchorage, and clapped their hands as the credits rolled.
No somehow I believe THEIR reaction was something else entirely.
At this point I am not convinced that there will be an actual exchange of gunfire between the two ideological sides, however I will point out that the rather startling increase in gun sales is certainly NOT so that these yahoos cans shoot more tin cans off of fence posts.
And with President Obama discussing placing limitations on access to those guns, you can almost smell the fuse being lit on this powder keg right now.