Does that overlap include the tendency to choose war, I have asked? With respect to the political process during the 1850s, I have argued in the previous posting, the answer is yes. It was -- predominantly -- the South that pressed the political battle and generated the dynamic that polarized the nation so intensely that continuation of the Union came into question.
Now the question is: at the climax of this polarizing process, when the states of the South made the decision to secede and form a separate nation, did that decision in itself represent a choice for war?
It is only recently, after much study, struggle and consultation, that the answer has become clear to me: Yes, in the drama over secession, as in the process leading up to it, the conduct of the South shows that same spirit that prefers war and conflict over peace and cooperation.
Here's the path that leads me to that conclusion. First, it should be noted that secession was not an explicit declaration of war.
I'm wondering: Does Great Britain backing out of the idea of attacking Syria, because the British Parliament today voted not to attack and Prime Minister Cameron says he will abide by that, make stronger or weaker James Fallows' argument, in his article in the Atlantic , "Here's a Wild Idea About Syria: Make the Case to Congress," that what Obama should do is have Congress vote for or against an American attack on the Assad regime as punishment for its use of chemical weapons against its citizens?
The new format pairs me with a young, educated libertarian/ Tea-Partier / Republican. I find him a responsible interlocutor. (Mr. Huffman is sufficiently disgusted with the negativity of Ken Cuccinelli's campaign that he's working on behalf of the campaign of Robert Sarvis, the Libertarian nominee.)
We chose what to talk about, and had free rein to discuss the issues as we please.
We discussed Obamacare, the Constitution, and what the Republicans are trying to do to repeal it. My interlocutor does not like the federal government involved in much.
We discussed climate change-- about half way in-- about the science, about the Republican Party's climate-change-denying dogma, about the energy companies' acting as the tobacco companies did, etc.
Both those topics gave me ample opportunity to make, in a less provocative way than sometimes, my main points about the off-the-wallness and destructiveness of today's Republican Party.
I felt good about the show. I commend it to your attention.
I recognize that some people reject the question, proposing variations either of "He's in cahoots with the Republicans, only pretending to want to achieve the things they defeat" (this one was popular on Daily Kos) or of "He's doing just fine given what he's up against." Those people will doubtless not be interested in my proposed answer to a question whose premise they reject.
To me, that premise --that President Obama has been extraordinarily unable or unwilling to confront his implacable Republican political foes-- is clearly true. In fact, I think it likely will be considered by future historians the salient truth about Mr. Obama's presidency (at least up to this point-- we can only hope the coming showdowns will show him to be readier for battle).
So I maintain that this question is the one to be asking. As for my proposed answer, I don't want to oversell it. As I said yesterday, it's speculative, and only partially developed. Consider it a "clinical intuition" (and yes, I do have a background in psychology). I do think I've come up with something.
The whole idea rests on a single observation: While President Obama seems astoundingly handicapped in wielding power against his enemies within the American political system, he shows no such incapacity for toughness against external enemies. He's attacked them with drones. He ordered the lethal attack against Osama bin Laden.
Against those outside the "We" of the community, he can seek and destroy. It's within the boundaries of the community that he shrinks from confrontation.
My clinical intuition tells me an inference can be made here.
It is because of your failure to fight back that the Republican Party - behaving more scandalously than any political opposition in memory - has grown stronger, while you have grown weaker [I wrote in late 2009]... Your opponents are relentless, single-minded and ruthless in their efforts to weaken and destroy you. This is a continuation of the same struggle for which Americans chose you to be their champion. It's your job not to ignore the battle but to fight and win it.That was a year before the Republicans swept away the huge Democratic majority in the House of Representatives with their own huge majority, and the problem I wrote about in 2009 persists still.
The Republican opposition has consistently treated President Obama as an outright enemy. They've done everything they could to make him fail. They've successfully delegitimized him with their base. And they've treated him with contempt, far from according him the usual degree of respect that has traditionally been given to a president even by his political opponents.
Meanwhile, with a few scattered gestures aside, President Obama has never fought back with anywhere near the intensity -- not to say the ferocity -- that his enemies bring to their fight against him.
It is remarkable, really-even bizarre. No one becomes President of the United States without having an extraordinarily strong desire for power. But here is a man who labored long and hard to gain the most powerful position on the planet who then showed less acumen in coping with a power struggle than the average boy on the playground.
The MC was our class president. He'd been our class's most outstanding athlete, and he stood out also back in the day for driving a fancy Chrysler 300 to school. He has a reputation for being a pretty good guy. And he's also a Republican.
That Republican bit should be irrelevant. Had I been the MC, it surely would have been irrelevant to the job I'd have done that I've spent my last nine years alarmed and disgusted by what the Republican Party has become. I'd have figured that that had nothing to do with what brought us classmates together, a half century after graduation. I'd have thought it contrary to our feel-good purposes to intrude any views of mine on matters that divide us.
But as it turned out, it wasn't irrelevant. For whatever reason, our star quarterback thought himself entitled to compel us all to join him in his brand of patriotism. It's a brand I recognize, and it's not one I like.
He did it in three distinct moves, over about a fifteen minute period, mixed in with thanks to the rest of the reunion committee, a bit of reminiscence, and a series of jokes (with a misogynistic theme running through them).
Was one side more responsible than the other for driving the process, from say 1848 to 1861, when the United States polarized, broke apart, and plunged into a bloody Civil War?
Let me acknowledge the great complexity of the history on which any such judgment must rest. Even a correct judgment would best be presented at book length. All I will do here is say briefly how it looks to me after considerable study of the era.
The process by which the United States came to Civil War might usefully be divided into two periods. The first would be the conflict -- mostly, but not only, political -- over slavery from, say, 1848 through 1860. The second would start with the decision by the Southern states to secede from the Union and to up the ante by firing on Fort Sumter.
And if a predilection for war over peace, for conflict over cooperation, isn't one of the strongest indicators of the workings of evil, I don't know what is.
Our religious and moral traditions tell us: Peace is better than war. Jesus is announced as representing "Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men." Blessed are the peacemakers, said he. Jews and Muslims greet each other with "Shalom" or "Salam," indicating the holy nature of harmony. Swords may be necessary sometimes, but the vision of the world as it should be has them beaten into plowshares.
In this and the two subsequent postings, we'll look at the question: "Who chose war over peace (or conflict over cooperation)?" First, here, with respect to the conflict-filled dynamics of America's current politics. And in the next two postings, with respect to the process that drove the nation into a terrible Civil War.
Our politics in these times are more about conflict than at any time in living memory. (Perhaps more so than any time since the era of the Civil War.)
With respect to this political pathology, no clear-eyed observer can doubt that it is the Republican Party that has chosen to make our politics almost all-out conflict. Politics in a democracy is always a combination of inter-party competition, in which the actors seek advantage in the quest for power, and inter-party cooperation to serve the national good. Clearly, the Republicans have chosen to discard the usual balance and to make a fight over virtually everything.
"Two years ago, the Republicans in Congress took this nation to the brink of disaster, threatening to make the nation fail to pay its bills, damaging the faith and credit of the United States. They used the threat of making the nation default as a means to extort concessions, saying, in effect, 'Meet our demands or we'll hurt America.'
"We reached a deal, one from which we're still suffering today. But the mere fact that the Republicans --one of our two major parties-- had made such an irresponsible threat, and brought the nation to the brink, was enough to set back our economic recovery, to cost the American taxpayers billions, and to damage America's reputation in the world.
"That's not going to happen again. There will be no crisis over the debt ceiling this time
"I am convinced that it is in my presidential powers to make sure that we pay our bills. The 14th amendment declares that, "The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, ... shall not be questioned." I believe that part of the U.S. Constitution invalidates the legislation that creates some artificial debt ceiling, thereby calling into question whether bills already incurred will be paid.
"Congress already spent the money. I'll see to it that our debts get paid.
"If the Republicans want to challenge my right to protect the full faith and credit of the United States, I'll be glad to defend my position in Court.
"In the meanwhile, I will defend the American people, and the health of the American economy, and our international standing against injury inflicted by political blackmailers.
No empathy whatever for the distress that black people feel about a young black man getting shot and killed because of a train of events triggered by his doing nothing more than walking through a white neighborhood and then being followed by a "Neighborhood Watch" man who thought he didn't belong there.
At my otherwise mostly extremely good high school reunion (I just returned from my 50th!), one classmate channeled the right-wing line that President Obama's talk about "Trayvon could have been me" speech did more damage to race relations in America than anything in recent memory.
Amazing. Besides the complete lack of empathy, and probably connected with it, we see here an insistence on denial of the realities of what the historical experience has been, and the wounds that this experience has left.
Here's how I see the meaning of the Trayvon killing for black people in America, growing out of many generations of experience.
The present event can be described in these terms: a black man is accosted, and shot to death by a man acting (as he saw it) as an agent of the dominant white world (one valid way of characterizing Zimmerman's neighborhood watch role).
This represents a pattern associated,from the experience of many generations of black Americans, with deep trauma.