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Op-Ed: Divided Once More

"A house divided against itself cannot stand." According to Yoni Ariel, these words said by Lincoln in 1858 are as true now as they were then. Ariel explains that the choice America may find itself facing soon will not be Trump or Clinton but a reasonably civil divorce or another bloody and ruinous civil war.
Trump and Clinton Photo Credit: Reuters/Channel 2 News

Margaret Thatcher, when comparing Europe to America, said, “Europe was created by its history, America by its philosophy.” The question that has haunted America since its inception is what that philosophy is.

Throughout its history, America has been plagued by conflict between two inherently incompatible and conflicting visions as to the country's essential nature means. One vision sees the US as an inclusive liberal meritocratic democracy. The other one believes that the US should remain a white ethnocratic republic.   

Those who believe in the former vision see America's destiny based on a future that arises primarily from a common philosophy, not a joint past. They support the ongoing evolution of America into a multi-cultural multi-ethnic society in which "all men (and women) are created equal" and all have the inalienable rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Those who adhere to the latter vision believe in a very different America. They believe that since the founding fathers were White men, America is and should remain a country in which being White and male means having the privilege of entitlement, irrespective of brains and talent. Since the only way ethnocratic privilege and entitlement can be maintained is at the expense of those non-members of that elite group, they believe America should continue to be dominated by Whites (preferably men) and that if ensuring ethnocracy requires curtailing democracy, so be it.        

Several times, America has found itself at the crucial crossroad where these two incompatible vision met. Until 1860, the issue was slavery, the ultimate means to ensure and perpetuate White dominance. Several times during the debates over the constitution, it threatened to tear the new country asunder. Each time some compromise was found. By the 1850s, partisan divide made government increasingly dysfunctional.

In 1860, an increasingly liberal (by the standards of those days) electorate elected a President and Congress opposed to any more compromises over this issue. Unwilling to accept the result, the South, the base of White Supremacists and their slave-based economy, took their marbles and went home, precipitating the Civil War.

After five years of bloody conflict, the prostrate CSA finally surrendered. The South may have rejoined the Union but it soon became clear the only way of enforcing it to accept the new rules of the game, which gave Afro-Americans equal rights, was by force. Within a decade after the end of the Reconstruction era military occupation, Jim Crow laws were in force in every Southern state. This, in turn, triggered the Great Migration and large numbers of Afro-Americans moved to Northern states to escape segregation, discrimination and oppression. 

By the mid-fifties, the house once again was sitting on a fault line. A new generation of Afro-Americans, many of whom had served in the military during World War II, began demanding equality and civil rights. History was on their side. Martin Luther King Jr. was an internationally respected leader. TV coverage brought the struggle into every American home. Pictures of police brutalizing unarmed protestors galvanized public opinion against the South. Deacons for Defense and Justice, an armed self-defense militia founded by World War II and Korean War Afro-American veterans, by its very existence made it clear that if peaceful protest did not succeed in generating change, America could find itself facing an armed insurrection. With public sentiment growing increasingly anti-South and anti-segregation and knowing the potential for an effective insurrection existed, President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act in 1964.

Johnson, however, knew that was not the end and prophetically said that within a generation, the South would be solidly Republican. Actually, it took a decade and a half. In the 1964 election, he swept the South. By 1980, the transformation of the South from blue to red territory was completed. The majority of Southerners preferred to abandon the party they had totally identified with for almost two centuries, rather than abandon their desire to see America remain a White ethnocracy.

At the same time, the Northeast, West Coast and the Midwest (except for traditional swing state Ohio, and Indiana), long the Republican heartland since Lincoln, have become reliably Democratic. It should be noted that both Ohio and Indiana are states who were settled mostly by pioneers from Southern states, as opposed to other Midwestern states, which were populated primarily by Northerners (in the 20s and 30s, the KKK had a major following in these states).  

This transformation has been exacerbated by a series of changes that have significantly impacted American society. Thanks to the GI Bill and the unprecedented prosperity of post-World War II America, American society is far more educated today than it was seven decades ago. A more educated society tends to be a more liberal one. The higher the number of college graduates a state has, the less conservative and racist it is likely to be. In most of the Red states, approximately 25% of the population holds a B.A. and about 6% have an advanced degree. In most of the Blue states, over a third of the population has a B.A. and approximately 15% have a second or third degree.

America has also grown much more culturally and ethnically diverse thanks to liberalized immigration laws and a policy of making asylum easy to obtain for almost anyone coming from a Communist country.  

This diversification and liberalization of America were anathema to conservative White nationalists. Demographically, they had to accept that they were no longer the majority but merely a plurality. Culturally, they have lost one of the two main religious values struggles as even a conservative Supreme Court gave single-sex marriage a green light.

Economically, their situation was also deteriorating. The economic basis of the lower middle class, which was predominantly composed of Whites with at most a high school education, was factory jobs. Before the age of globalization, a man knew he could get a job at a nearby factory or mine that would enable him to support his family, provide job security and health care and pension benefits and enable him to help his children pay for college. Globalization and technology devoured this economic order like a swarm of locusts devours a field of grain. Men earning $15-$25 in a factory, often in the factory their parents and even grandparents had worked in, found themselves replaced. If they were lucky, they found themselves working at McDonald's or Walmart for about half of what they had been earning before, pushing them down the ladder of success towards the underclass their families had escaped two or three generations previously. Their environment had changed and they found themselves unable to evolve accordingly, like mammoths at the end of the ice age. 

The anger reached a boiling point in 2008. In July, the subprime crisis, which had been brewing for several years, exploded, pushing this class, which was already holding on by its fingernails, over the cliff. Four months later, an Afro-American was elected president. This was the ultimate insult and sacrilege. Not only were their houses being  foreclosed, as far as they were concerned their home and their country had been stolen from them by a bunch of usurpers who were trying to evict them from it by forcing them to accept values that were anathema to them.  This ultimate double whammy was the last straw and the volcano erupted, poisoning the political atmosphere with a toxic cloud. 

This was the point where the Republican Party made its fateful choice. For over a generation, it had been rearing a tiger, feeding it a diet of red meat and training it with dog whistles. In 2010 and 2012, they had the option of getting rid of the tiger, instead, they chose to ride it. The result was four years of paralyzed dysfunctional government, with a Republican Congress that would rather attend an ongoing Tea Party than in government.

In 2016, the tiger decided the call of the Trump was preferable to mere dog whistles and turned on its trainer. The trainer however still refused to get off while it could and opted to try to hold on for dear life.

It is unclear whether anyone can put this tiger back in the cage. It has become crystal clear that around 30% of America would rather see the house burn down than accept the changes within it. When John McCain, long regarded as the Republican's elder statesman, supposedly the responsible adult in the circus, says that a Republican Senate will block every Clinton appointment, including to the Supreme Court, it is a warning sign that neither the capacity nor the will to stand up to this exists.

Just as a century and a half ago, America could not survive half slave and half free, so today it cannot survive half democracy and half ethnocracy. Neither side is giving any indication of being willing to compromise an iota over this core issue. Unless this changes, and quickly, divorce seems increasingly inevitable. What Americans need to start thinking about is whether the divorce will be relatively civil or will it turn into an ugly visceral bloodletting.       

JOL Blogger | Yoni Ariel

Yoni was born in South Africa, where he is known as Jonathan Schwartz. He fled to Israel as a political exile. He served in the ANC and subsequently worked with the ANC leadership and Nelson Mandela.

He worked for many years as a journalist. He was the News Editor at Makor Rishon and Editor-in-Chief of both Ma’ariv International and JOL.

He currently works as an entrepreneur and strategic consultant. He worked closely with former Defense Minister Benyamin (Fuad) Ben Eliezer and has worked with other politicians who entered public life after serving in the IDF or other security agencies. In addition, he was a contributing writer to The Encyclopedia of Military Science (Sage Publications), produced by University of Tennessee, as part of its ROTC program.      

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