The overlap between the modern self-described “conservative” movement (from teatards to wingnuts to blowhards to GOPers) and the old Confederate movement from 150 years ago is stunning. Especially when one digs into the framing, memes, rhetoric and philosophical underpinnings of both movements. This is really just the latest iteration of a movement in America that can not accept defeat and that does not believe in any compromise. It is a movement that offers the rest of us only a choice between capitulation or gridlock. And it is a movement that keeps the threat of violence at hand to intimidate folks to meet their endless demands.
The biggest shared element between the Teatard/Wingnut denizens of the modern
Republican Confederate Party is the tactic of “NO”. The firm dedication to only offer the rest of the Nation a binary choice between capitulation or gridlock, complete surrender or violence (“Nice Country you have here, it would be a shame if anything were to happen to it…”). This is the golden thread that connects this neo-Confederate movement to their real Founding Fathers of 1860.
In 1859 the Confederates had won a series of major political battles through a tactic of always rejecting any compromise short of absolute capitulation to their demands. From time to time a ‘compromise’ was accepted by the Confederates, but before the ink was dry on any agreement they moved the bar and demanded a fresh capitulation as the price to end their latest temper tantrum. Through their control of the Supreme Court they had basically won the right to extend slavery to any territory of the United States and still there were Democrats and old Whigs throughout the North who favored more capitulations thinly disguised as compromise. Finally a majority had enough of this shit and elected Lincoln. The Confederates had a hissy fit and went out and then the War came.
Before 1860 there were decades of Confederates demanding an endless series of capitulations from the rest of the Country. Early on, back in the 1820s through the 1850s, they mostly threatened the Nation with gridlock (unless you were black, lived in Kansas or were an Abolitionist Senator from Massachusetts–then it was violence). Decade after decade, almost every story in American politics could be boiled down to a tale of the rest of the Country finding a way to compromise with Confederate extremists and their never ending series of demands. Through it all, time and time again, it came down to a choice: surrender or gridlock, capitulation or violence. This is the go-to Confederate tactic of “NO”. And this is still the core tactic of the current crop of neo-Confederates who once again are tying to hold this Nation hostage to the demands of their rich fantasy lives.
The Teatard/Wingnut rhetoric about the Founding Father and the Constitution is NOT an American reading of history, instead it is a Confederate understanding of history firmly rooted in Confederate rhetoric, philosophy and framing. Of course owning up to their Confederate roots might get some bad press, so it must be hidden. “Confederacy” is the name of their movement that does not dare to reveal itself and so they cover up their Confederate roots as best they can–going to crazy leaps of logic and twists of history to pretend that their old-time CSA values are actually USA values. And yet they can not hide from themselves. The old Confederate arguments and tactics keep bubbling to the surface.
In one of David Blight’s lectures of the Civil War he was discussing why the North won the war. In this discussion Blight lectured on the concept of Confederate Nationalism and isolated the core myth that separates a Confederate world view from an American world view (emphasis added):
Now, in the end this is an argument that what the South lacked was a deep mystical emotional level of nationalism. Well that’s been countered, that’s been countered by numerous historians. Drew Faust is one of them, in an earlier book called The Creation of Confederate Nationalism. She’s been joined, or she actually joined a whole group of historians studying this idea. It’s been one of the recurring, fascinating questions about the Civil War, and the question is essentially what kind of nationalism did the Confederacy actually develop? After all, it only lasted four years. The question really is, was there a confederate nation or were they just a band of states that came together in military defense of homeland? Well there are arguments on all sides of this. And I’ll just say a couple of things. I think those–and it’s Drew Faust, it’s John McCardell, numerous historians. The weight of the best argument, I think, is that the South did indeed, rather quickly–and there’s a lot of lessons in this historically–develop a serious level of this mystical kind of nationalism. They developed an ideology that they said their nation was based on. They said right up front, at the beginning of the war, Jefferson Davis, speech after speech after speech, he said the Confederacy is the logical vessel of the American Revolution; what the Confederacy really was was the carryover of 1776. 1861 was 1776. That George Washington, they will argue, was the founder of the Confederacy. That true American democracy was in this resistance to centralization.
This core myth–that the American Government is the enemy–is at the heart of the rhetoric, talking points, spin and bullshit of wingnutopia these days. It is an old-time core belief of the Confederacy as well. The recently released ‘pledge’ is a document anchored in a Confederate understanding of how America should function. So is the question of taxes or health care reform or infrastructure spending or education or protecting workers or whatever. Time and time again the effort is to replace the notion that a central government is a legitimate center of power with a belief that each state has the right to do whatever it wants to do regardless of any Federal mandates (unless of course a State wants to do something that might threaten a Confederate power base like free slaves or fight climate change). This notion that the central government must be kept weak is rooted in an elitist understanding of Liberty–the Confederate belief that Constitutional Liberty is based on protection of property and not based on individual rights. For some reason, the concept of individual Liberty fills Confederates–old and neo–with a sense of dread.
In another lecture Blight discussed the very different ways that the Confederates and Unionists viewed the US Constitution:
Now, another argument here, and again Phil Paludan has made this better than anyone I think, is he’s argued that southerners and northerners have sort of come to view the U.S. Constitution, this document we live under, in different ways; that northerners had come to see the Constitution as a kind of protector, much violated now by Kansas-Nebraska Act, Dred Scott decision, et cetera, whereas southerners had come to see that constitution more as a destroyer, as something to fear, that might, if the wrong people get hold of it, begin to attack or erode their society…
What the Confederates feared 150 years ago and what their neo-Confederate descendants still fear today is the concern that the wrong sort of folks are gaining power in America and that they might not share a CSA interpretation of this living American document. That is the core of so many political battles in America–which view of the Constitution rules the land: USA or CSA. Is Liberty only about property or does a more expanses view of Liberty–one that includes individual rights–define our Nation.
The tactic of “NO”–the demand of capitulation backed up with gridlock and a threat of violence–has been a very successful Confederate tactic over the years. It almost succeeded in protecting and expanding the institution of slavery. After the Civil War it helped to scuttle Reconstruction and then protect segregation for almost another Century. In 1994 it helped sweep the Gingrich Congress into Washington and today the neo-Confederates are banking on a successful repetition of the age-old tactic.
At some point a majority of us will have to say NO to these bastards once again. It would be best to get that done this November at the ballot box.