Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Trump and the Civil War: "Belief That the Civil War Could Have Been 'Worked Out' Reflects the Influence of the White Supremacist Neo-Confederate Movement on the Republican Party"

I think Susan Rice is correct: the current president is seeking in every way possible to create smokescreens to deflect our attention from the probe into his probable knowledge of an probable collusion with Russia in that nation's project to subvert the electoral process in the U.S. in 2016. The video above is embedded in a tweet by Jonathan Beeley that says, 

Susan Rice says #Trump is trying to create smoke to 'distract or deflect' from #trumprussia. It is a threat to our institutions & democracy.

The silly controversy about the Civil War — Who knew it might have been about slavery? — and about the hidebound old slave-driver Andrew Jackson, the only president who, to historians' knowledge, ever personally drove a slave coffle, is all diversionary. As is the impending signing of a  spurious "religious freedom" executive order attacking the rights of LBGTQ citizens, an action designed to play to the same white Christian base to whom the dog whistles about the Civil War and the hidebound old slave-driver Jackson are directed . . . .

While we Americans squabble amongst ourselves, having been set at each others' throats by the current administration, we take our gaze away from the Russia probe: and this is what Mr. Trump clearly wants. So that, in continuing the discussion of the president's fatuous statements about the Civil War and Jackson, I'm only playing into his hands.

Still, nonsense must be challenged, when it drops out of the mouths of powerful players on whom our fates hang. And all the more so when it's toxic nonsense. So, since much good sense has been written in the past day or so about what Trump said on Monday, I feel it's important to direct you all to some of the good statements I've been reading.

Trump isn't wrong to think there was a deal that could have prevented the Civil War. There was. But the price of that deal was the maintenance of slavery; in fact, the strengthening of a monstrous system of violence and exploitation. 
That this wasn't obvious to President Trump—that, judging from his continued tweets on the issue, it still isn't—is as revealing as it is troubling. It suggests a worldview in which everything can be resolved by deals, where there are no moral stakes or irreconcilable differences, where there aren't battles that have to be fought for the sake of the nation and its soul. Slavery had to be eradicated, and war was the only option. Any deal that was achievable would have been an immoral maintenance of an abominable status quo.

Trump's belief that the Civil War could have been "worked out" reflects the influence of the white supremacist neo-Confederate movement on the Republican Party. Neo-Confederates believe the Civil War was "forced" on the South and that "states' rights" deemed that whites could and should own black people as slaves. Despite overwhelming evidence that the Confederacy seceded precisely to protect slavery as a social, economic and political institution, neo-Confederates circulate the lie that slavery was not central to the War Between the States. Unfortunately, through extremist groups such as the Tea Party as well as educational initiatives funded by the Koch brothers, such historical fictions are being written into the textbooks used by America's public and private schools.

While Trump casts doubt on the cause of the Civil War, French and German populists try to minimize the crimes of the Holocaust. . . . 
The reasons for the Civil War are, of course, well documented — and for those who are still perplexed, multiple news outlets had already answered Trump's rhetorical question within hours of when it first went public. The simple truth is that the Confederate states seceded in order to protect the slave labor system. 
There isn't any reasonable debate to be had over this. But by pretending otherwise, Trump was participating in a time-honored American political tradition. Segregationists, neo-Confederates, and other white populists have spent the past century and a half trying to retcon the Southern cause into something more innocuous or noble-sounding — something like 'states’ rights. 
This is not just an American pastime. In fact, Trump's fumbling attempt at revisionism mirrors the current efforts of French and German right-wing populists to erase their own national guilt.

Yale historian David Blight by way of Tim Murphy:

Worked out?' God!... 
Well, I just read these postings? So he really said this about Jackson and the Civil War? All I can say to you is that from day one I have believed that Donald Trump's greatest threat to our society and to our democracy is not necessarily his authoritarianism, but his essential ignorance—of history, of policy, of political process, of the Constitution. Saying that if Jackson had been around we might not have had the Civil War is like saying that one strong, aggressive leader can shape, prevent, move history however he wishes. This is simply 5th grade understanding of history or worse. And this comes from the President of the United States! Under normal circumstances if a real estate tycoon weighed in on the nature of American history from such ignorance and twisted understanding we would simply ignore or laugh at him. But since this man lives in the historic White House and wields the constitutional powers of the presidency and the commander in chief we have to pay attention. Trump's 'learning' of American history must have stopped even before the 5th grade. I wish I could say this is funny and not deeply disturbing. My profession should petition the President to take a one or two month leave of absence, VP Pence steps in for that interim, and Trump goes on a retreat in one of his resorts for forced re-education. It could be a new tradition called the presidential education leave. Or perhaps in New Deal tradition, an 'ignorance relief' period. This alone might gain the United States again some confidence and respect around the world. 
Hope this helps. God help us.

Jackson's ad [in 1804 about a runaway slave], one of thousands of runaway ads catalogued for a Freedom on the Move project by the history department at Cornell. The project offers what Edward Baptist calls "little windows" into the barbarism of slavery. "I call them the tweets of the master class," he says, aimed at alerting "the surveillance system that was the entire body of white people in the South" to help recover "human property." The ad's details tell the brutal tale, describing scars, missing fingers, a woman's back that "appears to have been used to the whip." Jackson adds an extra dose of cruelty: His runaway slave - "stout made and active, talks sensible, stoops in his walk" — will fetch a reward of $50, plus "ten dollars extra, for every hundred lashes any person will give him" up to 300. Amidst a racist culture boasting public exhortations to make money by assaulting people of color fleeing for their lives - which often included the puzzled note, "Ran away without cause" — Jackson fit right in. So does Trump.

Zimet provides a snapshot of the ad she's discussing, from the Tennessee Gazette in 1804, in a Library of Congress collection:

The truth is that Americans went to war over slavery in 1861 because those who sought a peaceful solution had been systematically suppressed for decades by leaders in Washington—starting with President Andrew Jackson. Such historical polemics are not important because they reveal Trump's limited understanding of Jackson, his favorite president. They matter because Trump's answer, intentionally or unintentionally, glosses over Jackson's attack on American democratic norms in the 1830s, just as Trump seeks to gloss over his own attacks on democracy today.

[Trump stated], "He [AndrewJackson] was a very tough person, but he had a big heart." (Jackson engineered the deaths of thousands of Native Americans while he was in office.)

And so it goes: toxic nonsense, and then sense. While the fate of the world hangs in the balance.

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