The presidential election of 2016 gave promise to be a watershed in American politics. Donald Trump appeared, a non-politician and rich enough to support his own campaign without selling himself to the usual special interests. He collected all the right enemies. He deflated a whole platoon of Republican celebrities down to their actual pigmy size. He vanquished them by something so simple you wonder why it is not used more often---by speaking to the people about real issues rather than spouting the near-identical and meaningless advertising slogans of his opponents. Something not done in presidential politics since George Wallace a half century ago. Amazing how far just a little bit of truth can go when inserted into the hullabaloo of lies and evasions that is American public discourse.
Most importantly, Trump inspired a despondent American people, nearly resigned to the vanishing of democracy, with hope that the system might develop some responsiveness to their beliefs and interests. Much of the people’s enthusiasm remains. The question is---is it any longer justifiable?
At the time of the election I published a little book called Annals of the Stupid Party: Republicans Before Trump. This book acknowledged the potential for bringing to power a populist revolt should Trump be elected. But the burden of the book was the lesson that Trump’s greatest obstacle to meaningful change would be the Republican Party itself. As I cataloged historically, the party is not a political party but an election machine. Aside from protecting and enhancing great wealth it has no ideas, values, or principles. It exists to provide power and perks to those who participate in the higher levels of its machinery. Its stock-in-trade, long successful, is to position itself as the decent middle-class alternative to Democratic radicalism. That stock is not selling so well anymore, because the customers are being squashed into the proletariat by the policies of the Democrat/Republican party, the leaders of which disagree on nothing important.
With such an institutional nature, it is no puzzle why the Republican party has no real interest in and has never put up any serious opposition to any leftist revolutionary initiative in American society. It is simply the “me-too” side of the one party Duopoly that governs---a.k.a. The Deep State and The Swamp. The election of Trump was only a beginning, as I and every other serious supporter believed. Ilana Mercer, in her book The Trump Revolution, wrote that the hope was not so much in Trump as in a process which he had begun.
I predicted several years before 2016 that a bold independent candidate might appear, one who could reach the people over the jamming of the media. The first requirement for such a person was to find and appoint people who shared the populist vision rather than the usual Republican hacks lined up for office. Trump failed in this first requirement and that has come near to destroying him from the get-go. No cadre of dedicated helpers was found. They were there, but they were never identified or promoted. I take no pleasure in having anticipated this. I see now that it was nearly inevitable.
We are now well into the first Trump administration and the government is still full of Republican hacks and Democratic holdovers. Federal district attorneys are doing little or nothing to curb illegal immigration or to prosecute the crimes of Hillary Clinton, other leading Democrats, and antifa mobs, not to mention the reported millions of illegal alien voters. (If Republicans had done a fraction of such evil deeds, they would all be in court in handcuffs right now.) People high up in the bureaucracy are sabotaging the elected President. Goldman Sachs clusters in the administration as in every previous one. Republicans get their corporate tax break but not the repeal of Obamacare, the issue that all the Republican grassroots was agreed upon.
The Swamp has not been drained. It is a massive and daunting job that is still to be done. The appointment of a couple of preppie Bush Republicans to the Supreme Court means little. That trick has been played so many times it is laughable. The misbehavior and radicalisation of the Left in recent months has led to predictions of increased Republican power after the November 2018 elections. Perhaps; but this will mean nothing unless the right kind of Republicans are elected. It is argued that the Kavanaugh affair has destroyed Never-Trumpism in the party. It remains to be seen who has conquered who.
The two magisterial planks of Trump’s platform were fixing the immigration catastrophe and toning down American global imperialism, especially the deranged hatred of Russia that serves no American purpose. On the immigration issue, although he has accomplished some change of focus, what has actually been done amounts to a drop in the bucket.
On the tempering of “democratic” imperialism nobody can really know what is up. Trump has made some truly statesmanlike moves, such as the opening to North Korea, and has perhaps avoided war by allowing the vicious neocons who he has appointed to the highest posts in his administration to enjoy useless saber-rattling. The danger here is that Trump, like Nixon and Reagan, will forget the domestic base that elected them and become absorbed in the game of foreign policy. That game means that the American people are no longer of any importance except as a base for an international contest that has nothing to do with their wishes or welfare. It is a great temptation for a President---a role of worldwide leadership instead of the strife and drudgery of internal reform. War is always a ready tool in the arsenal of a threatened Establishment.
Trump is thought of as a fighter, but he has not fought where it counts. I am not impressed by Tweets (although people more politically knowledgeable than me tell me it is his great strength). But tweets concern political party battles, not vital long term issues They do not substitute for frank confrontation of his enemies before the people. A revolutionary disintegration of American society is being carried out by the Deep State. Deals do not substitute for fighting for a real agenda. We hoped for a statesman and got a salesman. Of course, in justice we must admit that Trump more than any other President has faced an unprecedentedly hostile and dishonest media, not to mention a population with so many people with a childishly self-referential idea of politics. But so far he has reproached the media (and the Deep State) only as unscrupulous oppositionists. He must confront them as a revolutionary movement that is destroying the American fabric, which is its intention.
Earlier, it seemed entirely possible that by not fighting his real enemies Trump might be ejected from office on a technicality, with the collaboration of his own party leaders, as was Nixon. He seems to have succeeded at least for a time and in some respects in getting the support of the Republican Establishment. The populist appetite for reform has been thrown a few crumbs, but its hunger is intense enough that it may yet break out in a form more forceful.
Anyone who has been paying attention has heard many times the assertion that the flag of the Southern Confederacy is equivalent to the banner of the Nazi German Reich. That this idea should gain any credit at all is a sign of how debased American public discourse has become by ignorance, deceit, and hatred.
To make an obvious point: The Confederacy fought a defensive war against invasion. It had no design to rule others or exploit their resources---only wished to be let alone. Nazi Germany was a militarist state, dedicated to a boastful, bullying, brutal conquest of other peoples. Rather like the U.S. Army in 1861—1865.
Another obvious point. Nazi Germany was a regimented totalitarian state. On the other hand, a number of observers have suggested that the Southern people were too loosely governed and individualistic to accept the strong central authority that was needed to win their war against a larger aggressive state organized for conquest. In this respect the Confederacy was the last Jeffersonian regime in America.
The Nazi analogy rests on the idea that both the Confederacy and Germany were “racist” states. The term “racist” has become so elastic and pejorative that it is no longer used by honest writers. History and ordinary observation indicate a vast variety and gradation of the “racist” ideas that the various races of mankind have had about each other, many of them involving notions of significant differences and superiority/inferiority.
If “racist” means in this connection that the Confederacy generally assumed an attitude of “white supremacy,” it is true. This tells us very little. In the sense intended the overwhelming majority of white Europeans and Americans were white supremacists from the first contacts with Africa in the 16th century until well into the 20th century. Abraham Lincoln expressed this idea several times. Many of his supporters did so frequently and firmly.
By the time of the War Between the States, the South had been a biracial society with more than two centuries of adjustment to that situation. Certainly by that time, the widespread attitude of the South toward the blacks was paternalistic. It was an attitude assumed in everyday living. Unlike Yankees and Germans, Southerners did not make “racist” ideologies. Healthy black children proliferated in the South at a time when half the white children of New York City died before the age of five.
It is well to remember that until World War I, when factory labour was needed, the number of African American people who lived outside the South was very small---and moving North was discouraged. Undoubtedly one of the North’s motives in the War Between the States was to keep the black people in the South and out of the North. In the midst of the war the Radical Republican abolitionist governors of Massachusetts and Illinois fiercely protested the admission of a small number of freed slaves into their states. Governor Andrew of Massachusetts was certain that black people would not be happy there and would be better off in the South.
Yet another bootlegged assumption in support of the Confederate “racist” theory is that the war was being fought to emancipate the slaves and therefore was against “racism.” This is obviously untrue. Emancipation (partial) became a goal as a war measure after the conflict had assumed titanic proportions and seemed to Lincoln unwinnable. A number of the scrawlers of graffiti on Confederate monuments have declared them to be offensive as symbols against “racial equality.” Emancipation, tainted as it was, was not driven by desire for racial equality. In a sense it was a support to “racism,” indicating a lack of interest in the black people except as tools of conquest.
Emancipation of millions presented a tremendous problem for American society and particularly for African Americans who faced a daunting change of conditions and a catastrophic decline of everyday living standards that had compared favourably to those of Northern and European workers. It is evident that the emancipators had little interest in racial equality until after the war when they discovered the usefulness of Republican-voting black men in the South. When asked what was to become of the emancipated people, the saintly Lincoln replied, “Root, hog, or die.” The abolitionists’ foremost guru, Ralph Waldo Emerson, said that the black people were unfit for modern civilization and would become extinct.
Preserving slave property and “white supremacy” was not a primary incentive for those who fought under the Confederate banner, whether they were slaveholders or not. The incentive was repelling invasion. They did not so much defend slavery as resent interference in their society by an outside force that preached hatred against them and never had any constructive solutions for a difficult situation. Those the Confederates fought against were quite as “racist” as themselves. Although they lost, they put up a spectacular fight which has long been admired around the world. Confederate monuments, often erected by the financial sacrifices of ordinary people, are memorials of that fight and what it cost in blood.
Were the evils of Nazi Germany perpetrated in the name of the “white supremacy” that governed American belief for so long? I don’t think so. While the Nazis had a policy about “Aryan supremacy,” they in fact made wars of conquest entirely against other white people and countries, and in alliance with Japanese and Muslims. And were defeated by other white people, many or most of whom were “white supremacists.” I once saw a documentary about survivors of the great Battle of Stalingrad. The Russians were tall and fair “Aryans” and the German soldiers were mostly short and “Slavic” looking. Nazism was not driven by “white supremacy” but by German nationalism of a particularly grandiose and vicious sort. It caused the deaths of more white people than anything else in history.
It is worth mentioning in this connection that in the period before World War II there were strong manifestations of isolationism and pro-German sentiment in the North. A large pro-Nazi rally was held at Madison Square Garden. Such stuff hardly existed in the South. Public opinion surveys showed overwhelming pro-Allies sentiment among Southerners.
It is also worth pointing to the strong connections that German statists had with Lincoln and the Northern war of conquest. Early German settles in what became the U.S. were mostly peaceful farmers. After the failed European revolutions of 1848, many militant, aggressive Germans immigrated to the U.S., especially the Midwest. These were revolutionaries experienced in conflict, dedicated to social revolution by violence, and ignorant or contemptuous of American constitutionalism. Lincoln courted these people assiduously. It has been shown that Lincoln’s election as President was a product of the influx of Germans into the Midwest, outvoting the traditional Democratic majority there. Some of the Germans were also ignorant peasants who could be made to believe the cynical Republican lie that Southerners intended to enslave them.
These immigrant “Union” enthusiasts were proto-fascists or proto-communists. It amounts to the same thing. A number of Germans were generals in the Northern army, which also had several entire divisions composed of German immigrants. European Communists boasted that these people had played a big role in the federal government’s winning the war. This is not true---their battle record was quite poor. But it was certainly known that these German immigrants were the most brutal of Union troops in their treatment of American civilians in the South.
The Christian philosopher Gerhart Niemeyer recorded an experience when he was studying in Spain just before World War II. At the next table were two Germans, discussing what a fine country Spain was and what a valuable conquest it would make for the Reich.
Here is a Massachusetts colonel of the Union army writing to his sympathetic governor in the midst of the war:
“The thing we seek is permanent dominion: and what instance is there of permanent dominion without changing, revolutionizing and absorbing the institutions, life and manners of the conquered peoples? They think we mean to take their slaves. Bah! We must take their ports, their mines, their water power, the very soil they plow.”
This is a far more typical expression of what the Confederate soldier was against than pleas for “racial equality.” Who are the best candidates for the Nazi label in the War Between the States?
Clyde Wilson is a distinguished Professor Emeritus of History at the University of South Carolina He is the author or editor of over thirty books and published over 600 articles, essays and reviews