Thursday, August 13, 2009

Immune to the Lessons of History?

In December 1832, following the landslide reelection of President Andrew Jackson, the governor of South Carolina appointed himself a military aide-de-camp who was "charged with the duty of raising, inspecting, and granting commissions to volunteer companies" of soldiers -- an armed militia, in other words -- to fight what the governor actually hoped would be a coming war with the United States government. (I've been reading Jon Meacham's new book on the Jackson presidency, "American Lion.") In that long-ago December, the Republic was still young (the Revolution had been fought -- what? -- a mere 50 years prior), and the Civil War was still almost 30 years away, so the Republic was also still naive.

Over 175 years later, the Republic is still full of public dunces willing to spill blood because of allegiance to stupid ideas and towering emotions.

In 1832, South Carolina had been declaring that it had the right to "nullify" any federal law it didn't like. President Jackson thought not. The micro issue at the time was some federal tariff the South didn't like, but its real fear was that the Federal North would take away its right to live comfortably on the backs of thousands of slaves. Although civil war was averted in the 1830s, it would take less than three more decades before that gross Southern inhumanity, and the self-interest of white planters who intended to go on profiting from human bondage into the full bloom of history, would force a settlement of the slavery issue once and for all.

South Carolina claimed the high ground of "states rights," the biggest and most important of those "rights" being the ability to keep other people in chains to grow your food, cook your food, coddle your children, and wash your filthy underwear.

The current presidency of Barack Obama is such a bitter pill for the Old South specifically, and for those possessed of the Old South mentality wherever they live, and even though it was a New Hampshirite who brought the most recent loaded gun to a presidential appearance, we fear that it is a majority of Southerners who are crying "fire" in this crowded theater, denying legitimacy, and making cozy with emotional gun-toters itching to spill blood.

You might take a look at "The Second Wave: Return of the Militias," a special report from the Southern Poverty Law Center. Paranoid conspiracy theories ("the Federal government has set up 1,000 internment camps and is storing 30,000 guillotines and a half-million caskets in Atlanta," etc.), hatred of dark-skinned immigrants, 50 new militia training groups, and a mounting number of violent incidents. The proximate (and obvious) cause? The election of a black man to the presidency.
One man "very upset" with the election of America's first black president was building a radioactive "dirty bomb"; another, a Marine, was planning to assassinate Obama, as were two racist skinheads in Tennessee; still another angry at the election and said to be interested in joining a militia killed two sheriff's deputies in Florida. A man in Pittsburgh who feared Jews and gun confiscation murdered three police officers. Near Boston, a white man angered by the alleged "genocide" of his race shot to death two African immigrants and intended to murder as many Jews as possible. An 88-year-old neo-Nazi killed a guard at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. And an abortion physician in Kansas was murdered by a man steeped in the ideology of the "sovereign citizen" movement.

I had an e-mail last night from another student of history (actually a retired professor of history), who closed this way: "The racism behind the anger at Obama's victory will be around a long time, I fear. And, as the white, rural, and southern demographic continues to dwindle, we will see more of this outrage as the measuring stick. Folks who are sensing losing, will go down fighting."

We can pray for calm and reconciliation, but those genes are obviously weak in our bloodlines.

No comments: