A really big chunk of Americans really like to be told what to do.
What do you look for in a political leader? Do you value intelligence? Religious faith? Commitment to national security? An assertion of family values? Or, do you find yourself drawn to leaders that separate the weak from the strong; that promise to use all of their accumulated power to advance the interests of the U.S.A. as the most dominant country on earth? If you find yourself identifying with the former description, then you just might be attracted to the presidential campaign of a certain billionaire braggadocio with a gnarled squirrel on top of his noggin.
That’s right, of all of the qualities that have transformed Donald Trump’s presidential run from a seemingly Quixotic national experiment in the limits of extreme narcissism into a viable path to the White House, few are more important than his appeal to conservative voters’ authoritarian instincts. While not necessarily interchangeable, conservatism and authoritarianism go together like peas and carrots, like bread and wine, like trigger-happy white police officers and unarmed black dudes.
The pro and anti-Obamacare protesters at the the Supreme Court epitomize the ultimate divide in American politics.
Obamacare is dead; long live Obamacare. Or maybe not. Early in 2015, thanks to incessant conservative teeth gnashing, the Supreme Court will once again gird up its robe-covered loins to make a major ruling on Barack Obama’s signature law.
The plaintiffs in the upcoming King v. Burwell case claim that, according to the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) statute, the IRS exceeded the limits of its regulatory powers by allowing for both state-run AND federal exchanges. It’s a classic right-wing “states’ rights” argument. 22 states have already balked on setting up exchanges, and conservatives are betting that weeding out the federal cash that’s picking up the slack in red states will undermine the entire structure of Obamacare. No matter that blocking federal subsidies could yank insurance coverage away from upwards of 11.8 million people: after all, are there no prisons, no poorhouses?! Continue Reading
Norman Rockwell’s Freedom from Fear (1943). This depiction of American kids getting safely tucked in at night while England experienced The Blitz had a clear message: Americans should, above all else, be free from fear.
Be afraid, America, be very afraid. It’s a dangerous world out there, with a never-ending series of threats laying siege to the republic from every possible angle, each of them exposing the quivering globule of disquietude that is modern society.
If Americans have wanted nothing else over the span of their history, they’ve wanted freedom from fear, but they never seem to get it. With each passing era, new fears arise in the form of internal and external threats that shake American society to its foundations. Sometimes these fears have been real and justified; other times they’ve been born of prejudice and paranoia, but the results have always struck terror into the American collective psyche. Indeed, it’s no stretch to say that U.S. history has been one long age of anxiety.
Some pissed-off white people protest school integration in Little Rock, Arkansas, 1959. That guy in the middle of the photo gets the award for angriest white dude EVER.
Let’s all shed a tear for the untimely and tragic demise of American whiteness. No, I’m serious. At no time in history have those-of-the-pasty-complexion had it so bad. It’s almost as if they’re on the brink of losing their sacred, inalienable rights to reap the best social, economic, and cultural goodies just because they’re melanin-challenged. To quote one of the most famous of all white philosophers, “this aggression will not stand, man!”
I mean, just look around you! White peoples’ percentage of the electorate is shrinking fast; their standard-bearer lost the presidency to a communist-socialist-Kenyan-Muslim-Buddhist-Podiatrist-usurper in the 2012 election, and perhaps worst of all: white people can’t even hold their annual “White History Month” parade in the proud American small town of Hope Mills, North Carolina without fear of being criticized by dusky people who just don’t know their place, dammit.
A scene from Steve McQueen’s Oscar-winning film, 12 Years a Slave, which reminds us that slaves were property no matter how they were treated.
In the year 2014, most people would agree that slavery was — and is — a very, very bad thing. In an American context especially, slavery and its proponents flouted supposedly sacrosanct ideals such as freedom, equality, and liberty – you know, the really important stuff. Moreover, the “peculiar institution” caused unmeasurable human misery and left a cultural scar on U.S. society that still hasn’t fully healed. So if historians’ work hasn’t been in vain — and I think it hasn’t — then most of us will have long been informed about the nature of slavery and why it was (one of) the greatest atrocities ever committed by the United States.
American intellectualism at its finest.
Pity the suffering American intellectual. I’m serious about that statement. Despite hosting the finest universities and producing some of the most ground-breaking scientific research in the world, the United States has always been a haven for an especially virulent strain of anti-intellectualism that never seems to go away. These days in particular, it seems as if we’re living in the “Age of Uncuriousness,” if not the “Age of Willful Ignorance.” Okay, neither of those phrases are catchy, but damn if they don’t describe the intellectual rabbit hole down which the U.S. has descended in the last 50 years. Heck, we even have a Tea Party that’s twice as nutty as the one Alice experienced.
Eugène Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People (1830) has long symbolized both the triumphs and failures of modern liberal thought.
If you’ve read this blog before, you know that I’m a political liberal. I make no apologies for this stance, and have spent plenty of time on this blog critiquing conservatism as a political theory. Simply put, I think that an examination of modern history supplies sufficient evidence to prove that liberalism, despite its many flaws, remains the best hope for individual freedom and small “r” republicanism in the modern world.
Liberalism, therefore, must be preserved and vigorously defended against the relentless conservative onslaught that, for decades, has sought to delegitimize it in the eyes of the American public. On many fronts, the Right has succeeded in doing just that, often with the unknowing aid of wishy-washy lefties who are quick to descend into hyperbolic pits of despair in moments when their ideas and policies falter. But this doesn’t mean that liberals shouldn’t critique their ideas in order to make them better and to justify why such ideas are superior to those of the Right in terms of extending freedom in America and across the globe.
Poster advertising a “Save the Union” meeting, Frederick, Maryland, September, 1860.
The situation was unprecedented in scope. The conservative party in America, its hardcore base mostly relegated to the South, had just suffered a devastating electoral defeat in which a lawyer and political progressive from Illinois won the U.S. presidency along mostly sectional lines, carrying primarily northern and west coast states. In response to the stinging rebuke of their policies by the majority of the American people, the conservative party decided that rather than accept the outcome of the presidential election, they would instead try to prevent the victorious party from governing by denying their very political legitimacy. In so doing, the conservative party in America waged war against democracy itself.
1861 U.S. Coast Survey Showing Prevalence of Slavery in Southern Counties.
At the Vault History blog, Rebecca Onion posted a really cool map of the United States in 1861 (shown above), which uses data from the 1860 census to determine the percentage of enslaved people per county in the southern states. Onion explains that:
The map, which shades counties based on the percentage of total inhabitants who were enslaved, shows what a range there was in levels of Southern enslavement. Some counties, the map explains, “appear comparatively light … this arises from the preponderance of whites and free blacks in the large towns in these counties.” The population of Orleans Parish, La., in one example, was 8.9 percent enslaved. Places that were rural but were located in mountainous areas devoid of plantations were similarly light-shaded: The people of Harlan County, Ky., were 2.3 percent enslaved.
Meanwhile, a dark belt of counties bordering the Mississippi River held more than 70 percent of their residents in slavery, with Tensas Parish, La., at 90.8 percent and Washington County, Miss., at 92.3 percent.