Posted on Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, 2022
The schism that has divided Americans since before America was a “thing” still divides us. Not that most Americans know this, because educators of my generation have failed to adequately educate a half-century’s-worth of American children about the history of our Republic. This failure is the reason why millions of Americans are susceptible to media outlets of all stripes that ride roughshod over the truth of things and take advantage of the propaganda tool first identified by Hitler: the power of the Big Lie.
What divides us began as a philosophical battle between Founding Fathers who were in favor of a strong central government and those who favored the sovereign rights of states. Sound familiar? It should.
The political army currently standing for a strong federal government is the Democratic Party, and on the surface, that stance would have been voiced by Founders who came to be called Federalists. Federalism* is based upon a belief that individual states (and other entities today, e.g. the District of Columbia, large municipalities) do not have sufficient resources to deal with major economic, political, and public health crises (e.g. Shay’s Rebellion, Portland Riots, January 6 Insurrection, pandemics, et al), nor do states have sufficient political capital and raw power to advantageously deal with foreign relations, international trade, and national defense.
Antifederalist Founders at the Constitutional Convention (1787) “believed that the greatest threat to the future of the United States lay in the government’s potential to become corrupt and seize more and more power until its tyrannical rule completely dominated the people.”* Such tyranny, Antifederalists worried, would destroy individual human rights. Contemporary conservative voices, especially those on the “far right,” are often heard bemoaning the danger of the Deep State, a complaint that often leaves many people scratching their heads. Quite simply, using the name “Deep State” is a way of expressing contempt for America’s federal government, a view that likely would have been quite at home in a conversation among Antifederalist Founders 245 years ago.
George Mason, an Antifederalist, complained that the broad powers provided to the central government in the proposed Constitution were “totally subversive of every principle which has hitherto governed us. This power is calculated to annihilate totally the state governments.”* This view became a clarion call 73 years later when the Confederate States of America seceded from the Union. Further, states had constitutions that required states to protect individual rights, something Antifederalists believed was “a major Revolutionary improvement over the unwritten protections of the British constitution,”* and something not included in the proposed United States Constitution.
All of which leads to the great irony–to my mind, at least–of the two-and-a-half-century-long American Schism that separates those who advocate for states’ rights and those who advocate for a strong federal government:
The concept of individual rights, the rights embodied in The Bill of Rights, were championed by Antifederalists who were the ideological ancestors of the modern Republican Party. It is ironic because the GOP, the current and most powerful advocate for states’ rights in America, has championed and implemented the use of states’ rights to deny people of color the right to vote, to deny reproductive rights to women, and to deny the right of American children the right to be taught truths about American history that should never be forgotten.
The American Schism is exacerbated by a closely-related conflict that is world-wide and has been in our faces but unrecognized since before our founding: the war between Equality/Justice and Freedom/Liberty. On the day we have chosen to recognize the efforts of Martin Luther King Jr.’s efforts to bring the right to vote to all Americans, it is important to recognize that the words and actions of the Republican Party (which could accurately be referred to as the Neo-Confederate Republican Party or the Army of Liberty) suggest that it is looking at the 2022 elections as the last battles of the Civil War. The shooting war ended in 1865, but the political sniping and symbolic assassinations by the ideological descendants of the Confederacy have never stopped.
There are truths that the Neo-Confederate GOP does not want acknowledged or become part of public discourse. These truths underlie the January 6th Insurrection, the Big Lie, and the GOP’s intention to undermine and destroy the power of a strong federal government to enforce human rights.
Despite the importance their Antifederalist, states’ rights ancestors attached to human rights, the truth is that Republican Party members are the ideological descendants of Confederate traitors who created “an antidemocratic, centralized state,” a country based upon a belief system that will be resurrected in parts of our country unless those of us who believe in American Democracy stand up against those who want to deny Americans their constitutionally guaranteed rights. What follows (as described by Stephanie McCurry in The Confederacy Was an Antidemocratic, Centralized State) is the philosophy that undergirds and motivates a significant portion of Neo-Confederate Republicans:
… the centerpiece of the Confederate constitution—the words that upend any attempt to cast it simply as a copy of the original—was a wholly new clause that prohibited the government from ever changing the law of slavery: “No … law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed.” It also moved to limit democracy by explicitly confining the right to vote to white men. Confederates wrote themselves a pro-slavery constitution for a pro-slavery state.
Alexander Stephens, the vice president of the C.S.A., offered a political manifesto for the slaveholders’ new republic … The original American Union “rested upon the assumption of the equality of the races,” he explained. But “our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas: its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery is his natural … condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based on this great … truth.”
It is imperative for true democrats to understand and acknowledge that American Democracy has always been an unfulfilled dream, albeit one that may be the loftiest dream to which humans have aspired, a dream inspired by prophets, and a dream imagined and lauded by MLK Jr. It is a dream that we can see fulfilled, but only if true democrats do everything we can in the political realm to dominate the 2022 elections with the full appreciation that the elections are destined to be the final campaign of the Civil War!
Many of the links in this post connect with Wikipedia. This has long been my practice, not because I am assured that Wikipedia entries are definitive; rather, I share them because they are a good place to begin if a reader is interested in learning more about a person, event, or topic.
My criticism of American Education is consistent among my blog posts and is supported by my having been a career educator: classroom teacher, district curriculum administrator, high school principal, state bureaucrat, and consultant. Our collective failure to create an educated populace that has a love of our Republic remains a constant regret to me.
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