Subjugation, Dissolution, or Renewed Federalism?
Where does this all end? You know what I mean, the turmoil and conflicts -- the great roiling that is now America. This can’t go on indefinitely. Nothing under the sun does.
How might the conflict long underway -- which has been intensifying over the last half dozen years – between opposing visions of America resolve itself? Not just politically, but culturally. The conflict is existential, as they say nowadays. Will we only acquire peace -- albeit uneasily -- through the defeat of one or the other side in our divided nation? Or will peace come through the dissolution of the nation? Or can divisions close through arrangements that allow for the preservation of the Union, a respect for rights, mutual benefit, and tranquil coexistence?
The last is admittedly the toughest to envision and achieve. But might a “reset” to basic federalism be the means to protect our freedoms and promote the common good while allowing for divergent worldviews and ways? Wasn’t that an aim of the Founders: pluralism within the framework of highly decentralized government?
Democrats and so-called progressives don’t think so -- at least, those who define their party and movement. Let’s revisit the analysis by Democrat pundits Peter Leyden and Ruy Teixeira. In their January 2018 article, “The Great Lesson of California in America’s New Civil War,” they wrote:
America’s original Civil War was not just fought to emancipate slaves for humanitarian reasons. The conflict was really about the clash between two very different economic systems that were fundamentally at odds and ultimately could not coexist. The Confederacy was based on an agrarian economy dependent on slaves. The Union was based on a new kind of capitalist manufacturing economy dependent on free labor. They tried to somehow coexist from the time of the founding era, but by the middle of the 19th century, something had to give. One side or the other had to win. [Italics added]
What Leyden and Teixeira are offering is leftist revisionist rubbish. The American Civil War was principally driven by slavery, not a clash between the South’s agrarian economy and the North’s emerging manufacturing economy. It was about the enslavement of blacks, which provided cheap labor for Southern agriculture. There were disputes about tariffs (protectionism versus free trade), and the South was acutely stung by the coming loss of political dominance due to halting the extension of slavery, but the institution of slavery was the fault line that ruptured and led to war.
Nonetheless, what’s critical to note is that Leyden and Teixeira have drawn a parallel to the most destructive war in American history. The issues in dispute today are many; no one issue like slavery dominates (though, ironically, Democrats -- the historic party of slavery and racism -- are working overtime to make “systemic racism” center stage). But today’s stark differences, they claim, mean that “[t]he opportunity for compromise is… lost. This is where America is today.”
One last very revealing excerpt from Leyden’s and Teixeira’s article:
At some point, one side or the other must win -- and win big. The side resisting change, usually the one most rooted in the past systems and incumbent interests, must be thoroughly defeated -- not just for a political cycle or two, but for a generation or two. That gives the winning party or movement the time and space needed to really build up the next system without always fighting rear-guard actions and getting drawn backwards. The losing party or movement will need that same time to go through a fundamental rethink, a long-term renewal that eventually will enable them to play a new game. [Italics added]
We can have a spirited argument with these Democrats about which side is most rooted in old systems and vested interests. Statism is oppressive, leftism -- whatever the type -- is a demonstrated epic failure, and cronyism and corruption are rife among Democrats and their allies. But here we need to appreciate that Leyden’s and Teixeira’s remedy for division and conflict -- conquest and subjugation -- needn’t be. The course of events, like history, isn’t determined. The Civil War was arrived at through choices made (poor choices by Southern leaders, in fact).
Leyden’s and Teixeira’s prescription courts disaster. There are no guarantees that the cold civil war now happening won’t turn hot. That’s the great risk of zero-sum games. Defining victory and defeat as absolute leaves practically no room for anything other than the most extreme conflicts.
Most of us are given to offhandedly saying that the nation is divided into two peoples: Democrats and Republicans, left and right, traditionalists and progressives. But are we really so sharply defined?
As Eric Hoffer remarked in his classic work, The True Believer:
“The game of history is usually played by the best and the worst over the heads of the majority in the middle.”
But need that be? Shouldn’t the best among us attempt to rally the “majority in the middle” to engage so that this nation doesn’t descend into ruin?
There’s a powerful argument to be made that a majority of Americans -- despite labels -- share similar values and virtues, and that they’re most amenable to living and letting live… that they might welcome a reset that significantly decentralized government, if doing so meant appreciably decreasing tensions and minimizing conflicts.
A majority may be open to re-empowering states and the flourishing of localism. Lift the heavy hand of national government. Let Californians and Texans live as they wish. Allow local communities to be reflections of their citizens and, therefore, each unique in the constellation of communities. Give Americans the space to be themselves and associate accordingly while living peaceably with others not like themselves.
Does that sound pollyannaish? Perfection will never be achieved on Planet Earth, and perfect harmony is the fodder of an old Coke commerical -- and foolish Marxism. The Constitution exists for reasons. A return to original federalism doesn’t mean that New Mexico can prohibit the right to peaceably assemble. Oregon can’t abolish free speech rights. Virginia can’t end religious liberties. And so forth. There will be ongoing tensions and conflicts (to be resolved in favor of liberty), but they needn’t be the stuff of an American Apocalypse.
The final alternative is dissolution -- or disunion. That’s certainly not preferable to Americans living as one, decentralized nation. But it’s far preferrable to conquest and subjugation, which Leyden and Teixeira are pushing. An amicable divorce – as amicable as possible – would serve all Americans better than the likely national suicide resulting from a zero-sum game.
So, I’ll end this article where I began: Achieving peace, safeguarding our rights, and keeping the nation coherent through a rediscovery and recommitment to our original federalism is the hardest outcome of all. But we need to be bold in our aims (the left always is).
Powerful forces are at work pulling us apart. Among Democrats and the left, there are persons who relentlessly hunger for dominance and are unsatisfied unless they impose their values, their ways, and themselves on others. They’ll destroy first to achieve their ends. After all, what has over a century of leftism across the globe taught us?
Yet, a majority of Americans are differently constituted. It falls to us who are fighting to protect Americans’ rights and freedoms to offer this “third way” to that majority. We needn’t be at each other’s throats. We needn’t insist that others become us. Conquest, subjugation, or dissolution aren’t our only options. A renewed commitment to our basic rights and freedoms and rededicating the nation to thorough decentralization are antidotes to ruin, tyranny, or permanent rupture.
J. Robert Smith can be found on Parler @JRobertSmith and at Gab, again @JRobertSmith. He also blogs at Flyover.
Image: Ron Cogswell
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