Thoughts on America’s Protracted Cold Civil War


, , , ,

TeenVogue is not the most intellectually sophisticated of publications but the fact that the prospect of secession, stemming from growing concern over this nation’s protracted cold civil war, is now being openly discussed by the mainstream left speaks volumes about the increasingly intractable divisions in this country.

My only problem is with their argument that a blue-state republic – or, as the case may be, peoples republic – somehow will be inherently more democratic, economically successful, humane, and progressive, not only culturally but also in terms of its commitment to scientific and technological advancement.

How can they be certain of that in light of the turmoil that has transpired almost exclusively within blue regions of the country within the past few years?

In what is turning out to be the one of the most significant demographic shifts in U.S. history, Americans, apparently fed up with the dysfunction of blue-state social and economic policies, are fleeing the most prominent blue states in droves and relocating to solid red states such as Texas and Montana, which are associated with lower taxes, lower costs of living and traditional notions of law enforcement

For that matter, can blue states even bank on the certainty they will remain paragons of scientific and technological achievement? How can they be so certain of this when far-left ideology of wokism is making what appear to be steep inroads into blue-state political and social institutions?

A crisis that transpired at a relatively obscure public liberal arts college in Oregon, The Evergreen State College, portended much of the social upheaval in the Pacific Northwest that would follow in 2020. What transpired there hardly represents an affirmation of Enlightenment principles of open inquiry and free speech. In fact the cultural struggle on this campus arguably played a significant role in the strengthening of the Intellectual Dark Web, a loose league largely comprised of center-left scholars who, while embracing many of the values of the progressive left, still affirm the Enlightenment legacy.

Much of this ideology of wokism by its own admission espouses a turning away if not a outright rejection of many of the ideals of the 18th century Enlightenment.

For years, eminent secularist scientists, notably Christopher Dawkins and Daniel Dennett have heaped scorn on the fundamental/evangelical red heartland. Yet, the culture of this region is steeped in a religious faith, a uniquely Ametican brand of frontier evangelical Protestantism, which is based on Enlightenment principles. And while the culture of much of the vast red heartland has tended to reject some aspects of 19th and 20th century rationalism, notably evolution, the region by no means is unequivocally opposed to the values and the legacy of the Enlightenment.

Yet, red state America increasingly is being drawn into what seems like a protracted struggle with its blue-state counterpart, one that has been characterized as a cold civil war and that sooner or later could morph into something resembling a full-fledged hot civil war. And much of this animosity is being stoked by elites in the blue regions of the country who regard their counterparts in the vast red heartland as intellectual obscurantists.

Yet, when one considers the issues in deep context can we really bank on the guarantee that a blue-state republic (or republics) will emerge from this protracted struggle as the most viable governing model?

Given the growing affinity of the mainstream left for the woke left, how can we be certain that a blue-state nation will prove a successful nation, one that maintains a fidelity to the Enlightenment legacy, which vaulted America and the rest of the West into the front ranks of successful nation-states?

America Needs a Velvet Divorce


, , , , ,

A map depicting the products of the peaceful “Velvet Divorce” of 1993: Czechia and Slovakia

A column ominously titled “The Election that Could Break America,” featured recently in the pages of the elite coastal-blue publication The Atlantic, merely is the latest iteration of a running narrative of our ruling class and their minions in the commentariat: namely, that all presidential administrations to the right of center have been headed either by intellectually challenged or moral debased individuals – or a combination of both. I and countless other people who reside in the vast, conservative American red hinterland have learned to treat them with the insouciance and even outright comptempt that they deserve. 

Even so, this column strikes at a fact with which all of us ultimately must come to terms: that the 2020 election or some similar stressor that follows actually could break apart the country. Why? Because whatever the causes – that, depending on one’s political orientation, Trump is an authoritarian wannabe or that our ruling class is simply using Evil Orange Man as a foil for it’s own conspicuous failures – this nation is now in the grip of deep, wrenching and, as it seems increasingly apparent, intractable division. It is reflected in an increasingly pervasive sense among millions of us, irrespective of our political convictions, that the well of comity and good will required to hold together this increasingly sundered Union has run perilously dry.

Each side of the great political and cultural divide can assign blame, but given the animus that now characterizes all facets of political discourse in this country, the only thing really worth discussing now is how to secure a palatable and sustainable solution to this impasse.

This upcoming election is only one of many stressors that threaten to drive this country apart, psychologically, if not in formal political terms. And once this this psychological boundary is crossed, it may prove impossible for all kings horses and all the king’s men to put it together again except on the basis of something that resembles the incipient totalitarianism of the Xi regime in China. 

That is why we should regard columns such as these, despite their bias, as relevant and timely. They strike at an essential truth: that we are sitting in a tinderbox, one that any number of cultural and political stressors could ignite, though the most likely immediate cause is a protracted and acrimonious 2020 electoral dispute – which is why it behooves our political elites to work out contingency plans, much as British elites have conceived their own plans in the the face of the increasingly likely theat of Scottish secession.

Perhaps, we, like the British, can preserve some form monetary Union as well as a basis for mutual defense,  but the prospect of our governing ourselves on the basis of Lincoln’s mystic cords of memory no longer seems possible. A wide chasm now separates Americans in terms of how they define basic concepts such as liberty, civility and good governance.

We can wring our hands and flail our arms – or we can demand that our political elites begin working out a contingency plan. What we desperately require is an agreement leading to an American version of Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Divorce, an amicable separation agreement, one that gave birth to the fully sovereign, independent states of Czechia (the Czech Republic) and Slovakia in 1993.

Interestly, Article 1, Section 10, Clause 3 of the U.S. Constitution, informally known as the Compact Clause, arguably provides us with the basis for what ultimately could lead to a peaceful and perhaps even amicable separation of states/regions. With the approval of Congress, states sharing strong cultural and political affinities could form regional compacts among themselves, enabling them to reassert stewardship over domestic policy that has been seriously eroded since the advent of Wilsonian centralism and century ago.

These compacts would allow these clusters of states to function as embryonic federations closer to the scale of effective and humane governance that our Founders intended for the young American “republic of republics” in years following the Revolution.

Equally important, these compacts would buy time, precious time, for these incipient republics to work out their own permanent constitutional even as they flesh out a new vision of a post-constitutional American Union.

Is such a brokered settlement possible? Can Americans find some way to undertake peaceful divorce before the currently cold Second American Civil War runs hot?

That remains an open question. But for the sake of future generations, it is incumbent not only for us to face up to these divisions, which at this point appear insurmountable, but also to conceive ways that a national breakup can occur as orderly and as peacefully as possible.

The Crime of Biden Handling


, , , ,

An ailing Franklin Roosevelt accepting the Democratic presidential nomination in 1944.

I am no Biden partisan or admirer – I’ll admit that upfront.

I always have regarded him as a liar, a plagiarizer, and a dissembler – not to mention, an intellectual empty shirt. Yet, the way his family and Democratic handlers apparently are exploiting him and, in the course of which, humiliating him, is a travesty, not only for him but for the country, certainly in terms of the implications it raises for a Biden presidency.

The signs are so readily apparent, notably in the outright avoidance of questions from the media and in the deft – or, as the case may be, not so deft use – of teleprompters. We now encounter this phenomenon almost on a daily basis: fleeing images an occasionally befuddled, dottering setuagenarian man carefully cordoned off from the robust give and take that characterizes modern presidential campaigns.

The first time I really was struck by the former vice president’s seemingly palpable mental deterioration was shortly after completing heavily scripted speech. For a brief few seconds he seemed gripped by a sense of utter displacement and confusion until his wife quickly bounded onto the platform and embraced him. Everything about her behavior – the assiduous watchfulness and split-second intervention – implies to me a spouse who is attuned to her partner’s decline.

Sadly, there are historical precedents. Speaking as an avid reader of presidential history, I perceive some interesting parallels between Biden’s carefully choreographed candidacy and FDR’s final presidential campaign in 1944.

To allay persistent questions about the 32nd president’s fitness for an unprecedented fourth term, Roosevelt’s handlers arranged to have him paraded in an open limousine on the streets of New York for several hours in pouring down rain. They acquired space at three or four stops along the way where the ailing President was stripped of his soaked clothing, massaged thoroughly to restore his circulation, treated to a few sips of liquor, dressed in identical dry clothing and then carried miles down the street until the next recuperative stop.

Suffering from an a perilously enlarged heart and hypertension, FDR survived less than four months into his fourth term.

Granted, I am no medical expert. I base my views only on observation and conjecture. Even so, as one who has observed both parents undergo decline from the effects of dementia, I not only have been struck by how quickly these symptoms are expressed but also by the speed with which they erode one’s quality of life.

If the Biden family, the campaign, and the Democratic National Committee are enlisted in a conspiracy to hide the effects of a major party candidate’s mental deterioration even while subjecting him to the rigors of a national campaign, they deserve nothing from American voters other than sneering contempt.

Toward a Bipartisan National Divorce Settlement


, ,

Contradictory political and cultural trends seem to be playing out all around us.  For example, CNN’s Don Lemon, who remains, bar none, the dumbest and most untalented individual in cable news, urges the left to pack the courts as a first step toward abolishing the Electoral College.

It apparently has never occurred to him and to many others among our national commentariat class that the Electoral College underscores a vital truth: that the Constitution preceded the Union – or, to express it another way, that there is no such thing as a Union without safeguards such as the Electoral College.

Indeed, one could make case that Constitution and the Union, far from comprising a symbiotic relationship, are one in the same. The original 13 states joined the Union out of assurance that their sovereignty and independence would be protected. The remaining 37 that that joined over the next two centuries did so with the same convictions.

Lemon’s entirely uninformed argument about packing the federal courts partly with aim of subverting the Electoral College is tantamount to dissolving the Union.

With prominent news anchors calling for the dismantling of a vital safeguard of liberty, perhaps it’s not that surprising that another liberal columnist has  weighed in favorably on secession as a means of resolving this failing polity’s intractable divisions.

“Seventy percent of Americans are angry at a political system that is just not working for them,” writes  Chuck Bonfig, a small businessman and freelance photographer.

It seems that growing numbers of Americans on both ends of the political spectrum are coming to terms with what has heretofore been a rather unpalatable truth: that this country is simply too damned big and culturally diverse to be governed on the basis of an antiquated 100-year old Wilsonian centralist model.

Creative Acts of Dissidence


, , , , ,

A creative act of defiance in New York City

One of the most powerful essays I have ever encountered in my lifelong reading of political classics is Vaclav Havel’s “The Power of the Powerless.”

It ranks as one of the most brilliant pieces of political writing of the 20th century. Havel, a dissident playwright who later would become the president of post-communist Czechoslovakia, observed how communist authorities in his country and the rest of Soviet-dominated Eastern Europe always were busy imposing public displays of the officially accredited ideology.

Even more significant to Havel, though, was how this official ideology deviated from common, everyday thought and behavior and, moreover, how it would take only a few acts of dissidence for this whole facade of officially accredited ideology to come crashing down.

Of course, the Czechoslovakian communist authorities were well aware of this intellectual and cultural dissonance, which is why they rooted out all acts of dissidence, even seemingly innocuous ones, mercilessly.

Havel didn’t find any of that at all surprising. Employing a rather brilliant analogy, he compared Eastern European communism to a piece of very vulnerable meat, which, despite being hermetically sealed, was prone to rapid spoilage by a mere prick of the packaging.

Communist leaders understood this all too well. They were aware of how even relatively minor acts of defiance conceivably coukd threaten their deeply unpopular regimes.

More than thirty years have passed since the collapse of Eastern European communism, which reigned, however tenuously, over tens of millions of people for two generations. Yet, I’m struck by the various ways that the U.S. left in may notable respects now resembles Eastern Bloc communism, certainly in terms of how it imposes accredited ideology in public places while demonizing unaccredited expressions of dissent as unacceptable “hate speech.”

Rather conspicuous examples of this emerging orthodoxy are the BLM phrases painted along thoroughfares of major U.S. cities, notably New York and Washington, D.C.

Fortunately, for now, at least, a few Americans, fed up to their earlobes with these impositions of elite-sanctioned orthodoxy, are pushing back. A rather fascinating example of this occurred recently in New York when participants at a block party also doubling as a small business protest furtively painted “F*ck Cuomo and DeBlasio” on a public street, presumably at least partly in response to the BLM slogan painted with the assent and active participation of Mayor DeBlasio on a street adjoining Trump Tower.

Some police purportedly were amused by this act of defiance – and, frankly, what beleaguered NYPD cop wouldn’t be – though DeBlasio and other city officials predictably were entirely unamused and ordered a quick painting over of this act defiance.

This leads one to wonder: How common will these expressions of dissent become in the future, especially if the Democrats capture the White House in November? The left undoubtedly will intensify its efforts to impose its cultural and political orthodoxy in all facets of American life – public spaces and events, basically anywhere the state can exert its heavy hand – while recalictrants, hopefully, at least, will respond equally forcefully with creative acts of defiance.

We are, after all, Americans – people who historically have displayed comparatively little patience for officially imposed elite orthodoxies.

Our forebears foreshowed a revolution by boarding merchant ships in Boston Harbor and casting tea into the water, proudly characterizing this act of defiance as a “tea party,” a term that still resounds among millions of Americans almost a quarter millennium later.

This marked only the beginning of American obstinacy in the face of tyranny. Less than a decade after the constitutional machinery of the American Republic was put into motion, farmers on the western frontier fomented an open rebellion against taxes, namely the taxes that the federal government imposed on the whiskey that they manufactured from their corn to eke out a meager living.

Early in the 19th century a newspaper editor faced prosecution under the Alien and Sedition Acts for expressing publicly the wish that a 21-gun salute to President Adams would go awry and that one of the stray cannon balls would strike the chief executive squarely on his arse.

This only scratches the surface of the historical memory of recalcitrance.

With the left standing virtually at the helm of America culture and possibly primed to acquire most of the levers of political power in the immediate future, liberty-loving Americans will be challenged as never before to decry its attempts to impose its rigid orthodoxy into every nook and cranny of American life – one that is increasingly taking on many of the contours of a totalitarian ideology. The times are calling on us to engage in acts of contemptuous defiance of leftist norms. In the spirit of our revolutionary forebears, each of us must engage as often as possible in creative acts of dissidence.

Our obstreporous colonial forebears would expect nothing less from us.

A Church, a Country and a Crack Up


, , , ,

The late Thomas H. Naylor of the Vermont independence movement (Photo Source: Second Vermont Republic.)

Speaking as a member, albeit a rather nominal one, of the theologically and culturally beleaguered United Methodist Church, this article, published recently in the New Yorker, makes for fascinating reading at several levels – all the more fascinating because it is written by an elite columnist from a center-left perspective.

I personally find it interesting for three reasons: first, because it underscores how the United Methodist Church’s divisions, which at this point will end in a formal, negotiated breakup, merely serve as a bellwether for deepening, if not intractable, divisions at the national level. Recall that a similar breakup of the Methodist Episcopal Church foreshadowed the breakup of the American Union in 1861.

The second reason is because roughly a quarter century ago, a prominent United Methodist cleric as well as a university professor anticipated these schisms in a book they jointly authored titled Downsizing the U.S.A. At the time of publication, the authors were fellow Duke University faculty members: the Rev. William Willimon, dean of the University Chapel, who would later serve as bishop of the North Alabama United Methodist Conference, and Dr. Thomas Naylor, a Duke University Economics professor, who, following his retirement, relocated to Vermont and became active in the Vermont Independence Movement.

The third and final reason is because this article reflects how growong numbers within our national clerisy and commentariat are discerning the deep and likely unbridgeable divisions increasingly becoming evident in the United States. The country really appears to be careening toward some form of breakup, which is why it behooves the nation’s political leadership in both political camps to work out some kind of contingency plan to mitigate the effects – something that the United Methodist leadership, faced with its own impending schism, set out to do and apparently has effectively achieved.

To revisit a theme that I have raised time and again in this forum, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev was faced some 30 years ago with a similar set of circumstances in his country. In fact, he undertook a frenetic effort to negotiate what he called a new Union Treaty in an attempt to stave off a Soviet crack up, though he was overcome by the rapid pace of events.

Perhaps there is still hope that our political elites can engineer some sort of new federal compact whereby states and/or regions still can share a common monetary and defense policy.

Indeed, facing a similar set of conditions a few leaders in post-Brexit Britain, notably former Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown, have conceived a similar proposal whereby the traditional nations of Britain – England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales – essentially would function as sovereign states, though ceding a number of general powers to the government in Westminster.

As turns out, a few very perceptive thinkers among the U.S. political class perceived these fissures forming as far back as thirty years ago. One of them was a famous diplomat and renowned Sovietologist, George F. Kennan, who was predominantly associated with Democratic administrations. He discerned this approaching political impasse in his 90’s.  

In his valedictory memoir, written in his 90’s and published in the early 1990’s, Kennan envisioned states with strong cultural and political affinities, merging into what he called “constituent republics,” which would wield the bulk of domestic policy. He also advocated the same status for a few of the country’s largest cities – NYC, Chicago, LA, etc. 

In many ways, this concept resembles former British Prime Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s proposal for Britain, which basically was conceived as a means of staving off Scottish secession following the Brexit outcome.  

As with the Brown proposal, the general government would be left to handle larger national issues, such as monetary policy and defense. 
I remember Kennan’s proposals causing a brief flurry of interest and for a while this nonagenarian even was featured in the national talkshow circuit. 

However, sometime later, Kennan became associated with Thomas Naylor, whom I mentioned earlier, becoming a vocal proponent of the Vermont Independence movement. Many of his peers found this surprising, needless to say. 

In the end, proponents of radical decentralization and even secession may, like Kennan, be forced to look beyond attempts at national brokerage to grassroots efforts in which individual states and perhaps even municipalities act unilaterally.

Whatever the case, many of us who have observed these trends perceive an impasse fast approaching, one that may outstrip the ability of present-day political elites to assist with brokering a deal.

The Overhyped Judicial Branch


, ,

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

While I am sorry to hear about the passing of Justice Ginsburg, the highly charged reactions on both ends of the spectrum that have followed her death only serve to underscore the dysfunction of American federalism.

Our constitutional framers never could have imagined that the federal courts would wield this much power over our lives and, moreover, that selections of justices would be charged with such hyper-partisanism. Moreover, they always assumed that policymaking was the prerogative of the legislative branch.

Why should we find this so surprising?  The practice of judicial review was established by a comparative judicial activist, Federalist Chief Justice John Marshall, and arguably was not even regarded as a implicit constitutional function of the court.

If the passing of Justice Ginsburg and the turmoil that inevitably will follow should drive home one lesson, it’s that our country is too damned big and too damned politically divided to govern centrally, whether this stewardship is exercised by a legislative branch that is simply too small to provide any realistic representation of 330 million people, a president who operates on the basis of the century-old and increasingly inadequate Wilsonian model of progressive centralism, or a nine-member panel of legal technocrats.

A Last Gasp of Pluralism?


, , , ,

Harrison Plaza at the University of North Alabama, one of hundreds of U.S. universities that historically have served the children of the nation’s working and middle classes

If American higher education isn’t already faced with a bevy of challenges, there is the added complication of Covid, which has exposed the vulnerability of many American higher educational institutions, particularly the network of small but highly venerated liberal arts colleges as well as regional universities which generally grew out teacher colleges. These archetypes, despite their considerable differences, share one attribute in common: They have lifted countless millions of working-class Americans to the front ranks of the middle class.

A close childhood friend who teaches at a historically United Methodist Methodist College in the South, says that her institution currently is in negotiation to merge with the state’s flagship university system, which perceives the merger as the culmination of a long-term effort to serve students the southern half of the state.  

Yet, there is a deeper dimension to this story beside this university system’s aspirations, one rooted in this nation’s protracted cultural war: The United Methodist leadership, whose membership faces an impending breakup after years of infighting over theological and cultural issues, apparently prefers to part with the school, fearing that the impending schism will undermine the denomination’s ability to support historical United Methodist institutions throughout the country. 

Several other factors, it seems, notably the effects of the pandemic, have coalesced to to threaten the pluralism – I prefer pluralism over the more hackneyed term diversity – of many of our nations higher-ed institutions, especially those that have played such a consequential role on empowering the sons and daughters of the red headland’s vast laboring and middle classes.

The privately-supported elite schools, the ones on which our ruling class has depended for decades to maintain their standing within highest reaches of society, have remained essentially unscathed. It’s the schools far below the second-tier elite liberal arts institutions of Williams and Middlebury colleges, for example, and, for that matter, the large public university systems such as the University of Wisconsin and California that lack the endowments to carry them through this crisis. 

Small private liberal arts colleges are not the only vulnerable ones: The decline of international student enrollment stemming from the pandemic also threatens the financial viability of regional universities such as my undergrad alma mater, which have also played major roles in elevating generations of working-class Americans.

So it may be that large flagship university systems end up absorbing quite a number of public and private institutions. And to be sure, these beleaguered smaller schools will benefit in sundry ways – higher instructor salaries and expended curricula and physical plants.

But the cost will be a greater uniformity of American higher education and far less pluralism. And I remain unconvinced that this decline of pluralism in U.S. higher education in necessarily a good thing, despite all of the material advantages associated with these mergers.

Facing up to National Disunity


, , , ,

Photo: Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

It truly is fascinating how even the blue-coastal commentariat are discerning and even embracing the merits of secession. At this rate, public awareness of long-term unsustainability of American unity will soon be regarded as the proverbial elephant in the room.

I have been fighting this battle with my very modest resources more than a quarter century now.

As endeavors go, it hasn’t always been pleasant. My father, a retired U.S. Army Reserve Lt. Colonel and staunch American nationalist, became so exasperated with my Jeffersonian/secessionist views at one point that he jumped out of his seat, flailed his arms and called me a traitor. We eventually made up.

Today, I feel largely vindicated. In fact, I am more convinced now than a quarter century ago that the moral and intellectual underpinnings that have sustained American unity, however tenuously, for the last almost quarter millennium are fraying rapidly. As this author, who writes from an unmistakably center-left, blue-coastal perspective, readily perceives, many of us already have reached a kind of intellectual separation with the rest of the country. And it likely will not be too much longer before formal calls for a political solution to these deep cleavages emerge.

Yet, as I have argued time and again, the pace of events may outstrip our ability to react quickly enough. We are fast approaching what I have come to call our Gorbachev moment – the point at which we must improvise provisions for what was previously considered unthinkable, a national breakup – though, unlike the ill-fated Soviet president, we haven’t begun to conceive anything resembling a contingency plan.

White Animosities, Black Foils


, , , ,

Observations by Blair Nathan and other outstanding thinkers on Twitter have prompted some thinking on my part regarding the intractable divisions that seem to have have overtaken the country in recent years.

Yet, I don’t think that these divisions are of recent vintage at all but rather that they reflect deep historical animosities and rivalries that stretch back centuries and that predate colonial settlement.

Indeed, based on a long and fairly extensive reading of British and American history, I believe that because of these deep-seated animosities one could make the case that the North and South never should have confederated in the first place.

The recent upheavals in this country, which were only exacerbated by Trump’s 2016 electoral success, simply have placed these divisions into deeper perspective.

Within the last few years, I and other close observers of our national divisions have been surprised by the increasing candor with which some academic and professional political pundits have expressed this rather unpalatable fact, notably columnist Michael Malice in The Case for Secession, written shortly after the 2016 election.

These regional amosities may even be traced to genetic factors rooted in the ethnic cultures of the British Isles – a theme deftly explored by historian David Hackett Fischer in Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America.

A scientific exploration from this perspective of longstanding political division was supplied recently by Scientific American.

From the very beginning, the incipiently mercantilist Northeast, stemming significantly from the region’s East Anglian and Puritanical ethno-cultural roots, regarded itself as entitled to rule the country and was enraged that the agricultural South had garnered what they considered an unfair competitive advantage. In time, they contrived a brilliant strategy, feigning outrage over Southern slavery as a means of obfuscating their ambitions to become the young republic’s cultural and political hegemon.

The Civil War and a series of cultural and political flashpoints in the century and a half that followed have only served to underscore that the United States remains a deeply sundered country, though 20th century material prosperity and two world wars were effective in obfuscating for a time these profound  and intractable differences. But within the last half century, these deep-seated divisions have been exposed again in unusual raw form and conceivably could lead to a conflagration that even could rival the Civil War under certain  conditions.