Re­becca Sol­nit: Trump is a Con­fed­er­ate pres­i­dent

The Guardian Weekly - - Contents - Re­becca Sol­nit Il­lus­tra­tion Dom McKenzie

In the 158th year of the Amer­i­can civil war, also known as 2018, the Con­fed­er­acy con­tin­ues its re­cent resur­gence. Its vic­tims in­clude black peo­ple, of course, but also im­mi­grants, Jews, Mus­lims, Lati­nos, trans peo­ple, gay peo­ple and women who want to con­trol their bod­ies. The Con­fed­er­acy bat­tles in favour of un­con­trolled guns and poi­sons, in­clud­ing tox­ins in streams, mer­cury from coal plants, car­bon emis­sions into the up­per at­mos­phere and oil ex­ploita­tion in pre­vi­ously pro­tected lands and wa­ters.

Its premise ap­pears to be that pro­tec­tion of oth­ers lim­its the rights of white men, and those rights should be un­lim­ited. If you are white, you could con­sider that the civil war ended in 1865. But the blow­back against Re­con­struc­tion, the rise of Jim Crow, the myr­iad forms of seg­re­ga­tion and de­pri­va­tion of rights and free­doms and vi­o­lence against black peo­ple kept the pop­u­la­tion sub­ju­gated in ways that might as well be called war. It’s worth re­mem­ber­ing that the Ku Klux Klan also hated Jews and, back then, Catholics; that the ideal of white­ness was anti-im­mi­grant, anti-di­ver­sity, an­ti­in­clu­sion; that Con­fed­er­ate flags went up not in the im­me­di­ate post-war pe­riod of the 1860s but in the 1960s as a ri­poste to the civil rights move­ment.

An­other way to talk about the United States as a coun­try at war is to note that the num­ber of weapons in cir­cu­la­tion is in­com­pat­i­ble with peace. We have 5% of the world’s pop­u­la­tion and 35%-50% of the guns in civil­ian hands, more guns per capita than any­where else – and more gun deaths, too. Is it any sur­prise that mass shoot­ings are prac­ti­cally daily events?

We had an ar­dent Union­ist pres­i­dent for eight years, and now we are 21 months into the reign of an openly Con­fed­er­ate pres­i­dent, one who has de­fended Con­fed­er­ate val­ues and Con­fed­er­ate goals, be­cause Make Amer­ica Great Again harks back to some an­te­bel­lum fan­tasy of white male dom­i­nance.

So much of what is at stake is the def­i­ni­tion of “us”, “ours” and “we”. “We the peo­ple of the United States, in or­der to form a more per­fect union,” says the pre­am­ble to the Con­sti­tu­tion. It was murky about who “we” were, and who “the peo­ple” were. That doc­u­ment gives only some white men the vote and ap­por­tions each state’s rep­re­sen­ta­tion ac­cord­ing to “whole Num­ber of free Per­sons, and ex­clud­ing In­di­ans not taxed, three fifths of all other Per­sons”. “All other per­sons” is a po­lite way of say­ing en­slaved black peo­ple, who found the union pretty im­per­fect. “Who’s your ‘us’?” could be what we ask each other and our elected of­fi­cials.

We never cleaned up af­ter the civil war, never made it anath­ema, as the Ger­mans have, to sup­port the los­ing side

The cur­rent pres­i­dent has harped on for al­most three years with the idea that im­mi­grants are crim­i­nals who pose a dan­ger to the rest of us. He has preached the gospel of a mon­u­men­tally re­stric­tive “we”. A Florida Trump en­thu­si­ast ac­cused of send­ing bombs to lead­ing Demo­crat­ics and to prom­i­nent lib­er­als, some of them Jewish, the other week. In Ken­tucky, two el­derly black peo­ple were shot by a white su­prem­a­cist. Af­ter the at­tacks, the pres­i­dent ranted about “glob­al­ists”, an an­tisemitic code word for Jews, and when part of his cul­tic crowd shouted Ge­orge Soros’s name – af­ter Soros had been among the bombers’ tar­gets – and then “lock him up”, the pres­i­dent re­peated the phrase ap­pre­cia­tively. Then came the syn­a­gogue mas­sacre.

The man who al­legedly killed 11 peo­ple in the Tree of

Life syn­a­gogue last month was fo­cused on what the far right pushed him to fo­cus on – the Cen­tral Amer­i­can refugees in south­ern Mex­ico: the “car­a­van”. He bought into it as a threat and blamed that threat on Jews in gen­eral and the He­brew Im­mi­grant Aid So­ci­ety in par­tic­u­lar. “All Jews must die,” he re­port­edly shouted as he al­legedly shot el­derly wor­ship­pers with the high­ve­loc­ity bul­lets of his AR-15. He had posted just be­fore: “I can’t sit by and watch my peo­ple get slaugh­tered” – “my peo­ple” mean­ing that re­stric­tive “us” the white na­tion­al­ists urge peo­ple such as him to iden­tify with.

We never cleaned up af­ter the civil war, never made it anath­ema, as the Ger­mans have since the sec­ond world war, to sup­port the los­ing side. We never had a truth and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion process as South Africa did. We’ve al­lowed stat­ues to go up glo­ri­fy­ing the traitors and losers, treated the pro-slav­ery flag as sen­ti­men­tal, fun, Dukes of Haz­zard, white iden­tity pol­i­tics.

The Con­fed­er­acy, which should have died a cen­tury and a half ago, is with us still, and the re­cent at­tack on birthright cit­i­zen­ship is an at­tempt to re­turn us to its vi­sion of rad­i­cal in­equal­ity of rights and pro­tec­tions.

You don’t have to be op­pressed to stand with the op­pressed; you just have to have a def­i­ni­tion of “we” that in­cludes peo­ple of var­i­ous points of ori­gin and lan­guage and re­li­gious be­lief and sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion. A lot of us do. Those who don’t are not a ma­jor­ity but they have an out­sized im­pact. The Con­fed­er­acy didn’t win in the 1860s and it is not go­ing to win in the long run, but in­flict­ing as much dam­age as pos­si­ble seems to be how they want to go down.

Long af­ter Trump is gone, we will have these delu­sional sol­diers of the Con­fed­er­acy and their weapons, and end­ing the war means end­ing their al­le­giance to the nar­row “us” and the en­ti­tle­ment to at­tack. Per­haps peace means cre­at­ing so com­pelling a story of abun­dance that it en­cour­ages peo­ple to put down their weapons and come over.

I do know that so much of what makes this coun­try mis­er­able is imag­ined poverty, the sense that there is not enough for all of us. We are a vast land, a coun­try of un­equalled af­flu­ence, a coun­try that has al­ways been di­verse, and one that has pe­ri­od­i­cally af­firmed ideas of equal­ity that we could some­day live up to. That seems to be the only al­ter­na­tive to end­less civil war, for all of us •

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