The pattern for modern American politics was set by Lincoln and his cronies in the 1850s—1870s, although it took an immense war against other Americans to make it stick. The pattern involved making the federal government (not the “Union” or the Constitution) the center of power and the fount of good (and goods). This meant, in everyday terms, that the victory of Lincoln’s Republicans established control by those who regard the government as a machine to make money for themselves, covered by a blasphemous religion of Americans as the chosen people who are to lead all mankind into what a later Republican would call “global democracy.”
Until Lincoln there had been a strong Jeffersonian/Jacksonian counter-current: preference for low tariff, avoidance of public debt, limited government expenditure, dispersed power, distrust of moralistic movements, and patriotic but non-entanglement sentiment in regard to affairs beyond the continent. There was some sense, not always dominant but understood and sometimes prevailing, of a “public good.”
You will find in Confederate statements appeals to this former good faith of peaceful preservation of the larger good as previously understood. In Union statements you will find appeals to power and righteousness that would have made no sense to Americans before the 1848 revolutions in Europe.
Lincoln’s unseemly combination of control of the government by big capital in alliance with occasional irresponsible “reform” crusades is where we are now. It is the Deep State and it is the Deep State that is sovereign. We find the ever-increasing control of great capital joined at the hip with the revolutionary crusade of antifa and Black Lives Matter.
Under the old dispensation we would not have entered into international imperialism in the late 19th century or the senseless bloodshed of World War I “to make the world safe for democracy.” We would not have allowed the government to permanently deform natural American society by the “Great Society.” We would not have to listen to Joe Biden blithely promise that with him the government will soon make us all equal, prosperous, and happy while his minions kill and loot. Donald Trump disagreed only marginally.
Under the Lincoln regime American issues never have been and never can be decided on the basis of “the public good.” The genuine thing does not exist in American discourse.
Many are rightly concerned about threats to the environment. But in addressing this matter we are confined to debates within the regime---on the one hand the power of capital and on the other the irresponsible and revolutionary tree-huggers. It is theoretically possible that a “public good” approach of responsible stewardship, not controlled by this division, might be found. It cannot happen in the regime that governs.
Medical care is a continuing concern for all. The costs of drugs and insurance threaten most of us. The quality of care is often marvelous and always potentially so, but it declines in the nightmare of government bureaucracy of a semi-socialised system and the bottomless expense of serving millions of wastrels and aliens. The Covid fraud should have convinced any awake American of the corruption of the federal medical bureaucracy. Once again we have the collaboration of the money interests that can easily buy Congress with claims for universal control and benevolence without regard to cost.
In regard to foreign affairs we have the same dilemma. We are governed by a combination of vast vested interests that will never freely give up their immense purchase on the public purse, combined, as in the Lincoln regime, with fervid delusions that the U.S. government must and can punish all in the world who refuse to obey their good and right. It is theoretically possible to devise a prudent policy of “national interest” in regard to the world (such as is outlined by Srjda Trikovic) but it will never happen and our country will plunge forward to the disaster that always awaits the deluded.
The two sides of the national character that I have described are dominant. The rest of us don’t count and haven’t for a very long time. The two are really one, the same Puritan penchant for money-grubbing and moral imperialism that was implanted in Massachusetts in the earliest days, amplified by European socialism and minority demands. It is said that character is fate and this national character will in the long run, decide our fate.
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