A historian friend of mine and another of his friends were talking recently about the possibility of a new Civil War here in the United States. The subject comes up across social media fairly frequently, somewhat hyperbolically. The precise nature of this civil war, however, is being defined as Republicans vs. Democrats, or less narrowly, far right vs. far left.
The truth is that the first Civil War never really ended and the battle is over the same issue that we started killing each other to begin with: slavery. Not exactly the same institution as existed in early America, but a serious, dehumanizing and murderous version of it nonetheless. While institutional slavery, for the most part, ended, the forces that thrived by it and the philosophy itself is hale and hearty in virtually every city in the country.
While institutional slavery, for the most part, ended, the forces that thrived by it and the philosophy itself is hale and hearty in virtually every city in the country.
I’m not talking about racism. Racism is a by-product of the philosophy of slavery. An evil and prevalent by-product to be sure, but racism itself is not the cause. On the contrary, the pathological quest for “cheap labor” has always been the cause.
The Civil War was largely fought because a vast region that relied almost exclusively on agriculture for its economy insisted on maintaining its abhorrent system of free slave labor. Grant and Sherman and Lincoln may have ended one version of slavery with their victories in the war and in Congress, but the fight itself never truly ended. The fight for slavery has survived and evolved into the perpetual push from business owners to devalue manual labor and pay as little as possible for it. Today we see Trump’s administration talking about a national “right to work” law because Trump and his crew are nothing more than 21st century plantation owners, racist as hell and elitist as fuck.
Republican’s unrelenting assault on the notion of a “social safety net” – particularly those programs originating from FDR’s New Deal – for the poor, disabled and elderly inherits from the Southern slave owners its brutal presumption that those who can’t work may just as well die.
Ultimately, the Civil War was a class war against the very poorest of the poor by the oligarchs of the Old South. Today’s Civil War – the selfsame war – is between workers and owners of big businesses, as well as the 1% oligarchs.
Republicans fight this war with their uncompromising “pull yourself up by your bootstraps or die” policies, and by their perpetual handing of tax breaks and subsidies to the 1% (to be rewarded, of course, with millions in “campaign contributions”). Their unrelenting assault on the notion of a “social safety net” – particularly those programs originating from FDR’s New Deal – for the poor, disabled and elderly inherits from the Southern slave owners its brutal presumption that those who can’t work may just as well die. Unless, of course, you’re one of the rich owners.
The neoliberal Democrat spin of saying workers have to get a college degree or become entrepreneurs to rise out of poverty, while seemingly more humane, isn’t far removed from the Republican’s brutality.
First, given that the cost of a college education comes at the cost of near-crippling debt over the last thirty years, such a goal is financially prohibitive to the majority of Americans. The era of the generous G.I. Bill and grants for aspiring students is long over; it’s loans for tens of thousands of dollars that you can’t even dismiss if you go bankrupt.
Globalization, a neoliberal religion, is nothing more than global slavery, supported full-throatedly by the political lapdogs of corporate conglomerates of both parties. They’re just running their plantations in Vietnam, South Korea, Mexico, India and China.
Second, the presumption that non-college educated workers and the work they might prefer – manual labor, more than often – is somehow not worthy of making a middle-class income is reductive and dismissive of a whole swath of humanity that are more comfortable working with their hands or, at least, not in sit-at-a-computer-all-day “professions.” And I say this as someone who had several of those sit-at-your-desk-all-day jobs for decades.
That characterization derives its rationale from the devaluing of manual labor, the very same rationale that was used to justify slave labor and indentured servitude in the Old South. It is also that characterization that has been used to destroy the labor movement in the United States, by Democrats as well as by Republicans. (Where were the Democrats when the Fight for $15 battles were being waged? During the most recent election, Hillary Clinton couldn’t be bothered to endorse the idea, much less march with the workers during their protests.)
Furthermore, Democrats have effectively done nothing to fight this devaluing of manual labor. In their love of technology and their absurd “creative class” as the ultimate solutions to the problems of everyday Americans, they have done no less than Republicans in helping send millions of jobs out of the U.S. because American labor “costs too much.” Globalization, a neoliberal religion, is nothing more than global slavery, supported full-throatedly by the political lapdogs of corporate conglomerates of both parties. They’re just running their plantations in Vietnam, South Korea, Mexico, India and China. What’s a little shipping costs when you pay your employees pennies an hour?
This is the Civil War, and it isn’t a second one. It’s the first one, still being fought.
In fact, if you look at the combined Republican/Neoliberal Democrat policy platforms, you will find that they are almost entirely about diminishing the humanity of and reducing the economic and civic power of workers below the CEO and Ownership level. Just consider:
• Eliminate affordable healthcare
• Keep wages as low as possible
• Imprison as many people as possible and use them for free labor
• Cut taxes drastically for the very rich (the owners, the CEOs, the 1%)
• Decimate public education by privatizing most of it and defunding the rest
• Go to war to gain easy access to valuable resources like oil (oil being a close second to free labor as the most essential part of their economy)
• Dehumanize foreigners, minorities and the poor by characterizing them as terrorists and criminals (i.e., slave material)
• Make college education as expensive as possible
• Make debt insurmountable by deregulating banks and credit card companies
• Make running for office financially impossible for ordinary working Americans by not limiting campaign spending
• Maintain the political status quo by having a gauntlet of restrictive rules preventing third parties from entering elections
• Give corporations (the plantations of the 21st century) billions of dollars of tax breaks and “personhood,” virtually eliminating the chance of holding them liable for criminal behavior
• Punish the poor and working classes for minor crimes far more severely than the very rich and corporations are punished for so-called “white collar crime”
• Maintain separate communities for rich people that are gated while at the same time concentrating poor citizens into the most economically depressed and infrastructure-poor areas of cities
• Mask the dearth of governmental programs to help the poor with a “bootstrap Christianity” that puts the blame for poverty firmly on “laziness” and ethnic “deficiencies of character”
• Divide communities of workers by encouraging ethnic, sexual, racial, xenophobic prejudices, etc., diminishing their ability to coalesce into effective opposition to the very rich
In fact, if you look at the combined Republican/Neoliberal Democrat policy platforms, you will find that they are almost entirely about diminishing the humanity of and reducing the economic and civic power of workers below the CEO and Ownership level.
The goal of today’s Republicans, in particular, is to return as much as possible to a pre-Civil War southern economy, but not just in agricultural businesses. They want the entire economy to be reformulated by the model of the plantation owners of old, with employees being either slaves or indentured servants with little to no say in their employment and treatment. And the whole thing will be glossed over with genteel Southern Baptist “Christianity” of the worst kind, heavy on self-serving, out-of-context scriptures and extremely light on human kindness and compassion.
The phrase “We’re doing this for your own good” has always been the mantra of these Republicans because it excuses their barbarity. If you can’t succeed against all odds, they preach, that’s on you and no one else. Their religion has no use for sociology, psychology or clear-eyed economics. The only community it cares about is its own, and all the -ology’s are reduced to a single, perverted Puritan ideal: Work hard all the time, unless someone earned lots of money in your family before you, and now you can just loll about preaching the value of hard work to the poor and working class folks who didn’t have that kind of luck.
While there are degrees of difference between the Republicans’ whip-wielding bluntness, the carrots and kindness of Democrats have been watered-down so substantially that it was a Democratic president who did the real damage to our social safety net and criminal justice system, and another more recent one who entrenched a wildly intrusive system of surveillance of American citizens. Of course, Mr. Obama also escalated drone wars across the Middle East and Africa, further enhancing Democrats credentials as elitist monsters who not only indiscriminately kill civilians, but insist that doing so doesn’t require doing it with manual labor.
Will the Republican/Neoliberal 1% plantation owners finally eliminate all need for labor and just kill everyone without a tech job or a mansion? Or will they merely use technology to price us out of the for-profit work market altogether, reducing the vast majority of us to slaves or indentured servants?
(It almost goes without saying that Hillary Clinton wrote about and defended using “free prison labor” while her husband was the governor of Arkansas, but I insist on mentioning it. It’s like a giant punctuation mark on neoliberal collaboration with Republican inhumanity.)
You have to wonder how such a war will end. Will the Republican/Neoliberal 1% plantation owners finally eliminate all need for labor and just kill everyone without a tech job or a mansion? Or will they merely use technology to price us out of the for-profit work market altogether, reducing the vast majority of us to slaves or indentured servants? God knows they won’t endorse a Universal Basic Income. Neoliberal Dems can’t even endorse voting on single-payer healthcare in California when they have a “super majority.”
Should these monolithic political parties and their billionaire and corporate puppeteers accomplish the minimization of our government’s social safety net and optimize their self-serving militarization of the police, the Civil War may finally come to an end. The poor and working classes numbers will skyrocket by the decimation of the middle class, and from there it won’t be long. We’ll all be slaves or inmates without access to healthcare, a justice system or education.
That is the real Civil War in America. And we are losing it badly.