One thing I notice as I read the growing warnings that this is the case is the assumption that suddenly the USA has become a divided nation, a splintered democracy, when, in point of fact, it has always been deeply – and for much of its history, good God, legally – divided.
Indeed, Jim Crow America was the prime model for a certain would-be European dictator.
You may have heard of Adolf Hitler. In Mein Kampf, the biography he wrote before he came to power, he “praises America,” according to Alex Ross, writing in the New Yorker, “as the one state that has made progress toward a primarily racial conception of citizenship,”
And History.com, citing James Q. Whitman’s book, Hitler’s American Model, points out that two laws passed by Nazi Germany in 1935 – the Reich Citizenship Law and the Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor, known collectively as the Nuremberg Laws, which laid the legal groundwork for the Holocaust – were inspired by U.S. law at the time.
“America in the early 20th century was the leading racist jurisdiction in the world,” writes Whitman. “Nazi lawyers, as a result, were interested in, looked very closely at, (and) were ultimately influenced by American race law.”
OK, the country has been changing over the years, but its blatantly racist history cannot be ignored. Excuse me, yes it can. Just attach some academic name to it – how about Critical Race Theory? – and start stoning it to death. The problem, from the MAGA point of view, is that this isn’t enough, bringing up the point political scientist Barbara F. Walter made in a recent Washington Post interview.
Walter, who has studied and written about the causes of modern civil wars around the world, cites several factors precipitating an attempted governmental takedown. One of them is the coming together of groups who begin organizing, not around complex issues, but “almost exclusively around identity: ethnic, religious or racial identity.” You know: We’re better than you.
This is different from, for instance, the civil rights movement, the women’s rights movement, the environmental movement, all of which were focused on complex institutional change – on inclusion and awareness rather than me vs. you. Their aim was and is the creation of fairer, more sustainable social structures, and they have had an impact over the last half century or so – which is part of the problem, from, say, the Jan. 6 insurrectionists’ point of view. The goal of that insurrection wasn’t complex social change. The goal was getting Joe Biden’s ass out of the White House and reinserting the MAGA monarch, Donald Trump.
America was born as a slaveholding, racist country. African Americans, whether slave or free, were three-fifths human. It was also sexist. Women couldn’t vote; their job options were limited, keeping them financially dependent on men. They certainly weren’t allowed to choose to get a medically safe abortion if they got pregnant (they always had the back alley, of course). While these realities began changing politically and legally in the 1950s and ’60s, they remained psychologically embedded in part of the country. As I have previously noted, this remains the national divide, defined with a razor cut across the soul. White supremacists fear their racism is being taken away.
So it’s no surprise that an insurrection is brewing. The insurrection has already, seemingly, captured the Republican Party, whose members have either shrugged their shoulders at the Jan. 6 melee or participated in it. And while the Republican-controlled Supreme Court has repealed Roe v. Wade, shattering women’s choice and reclaiming legal control over their bodies, the Court, along with Congress, have relaxed legal interference in gun rights and the availability of military-grade weapons.
Civil war! Civil war!
So are we looking at the collapse of the American democracy? Well, ironically, those who are in the process of helping it collapse think so. The New York Times recently quoted none other than Donald Trump, who delivered the keynote address at the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s annual Road to Majority conference last month.
“The greatest danger to America is not our enemies from the outside, as powerful as they may be,” he said. “The greatest danger to America is the destruction of our nation from the people from within. And you know the people I’m talking about.”
Uh, the Jan. 6 mob? Apparently, he meant the Democrats. And others tossed further big-screen glory at the situation: “The backlash is coming,” Sen. Rick Scott of Florida said. “Just mount up and ride to the sounds of the guns, and they are all over this country. It is time to take this country back.”
His words conjured up not just the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys, but also at least some of the country’s mass murderers, who have taken it upon themselves to make grocery stores white again, to start eliminating people of color, “illegal aliens” and such.
As Katherine Stewart put it in the New York Times story: “Christian nationalism isn’t a route to the future. Its purpose is to hollow out democracy until nothing is left but a thin cover for rule by a supposedly right-thinking elite, bubble-wrapped in sanctimony and insulated from any real democratic check on its power.”
The only positive I see in all this is the fact that the participants feel a need to “take the country back.”