Rebecca Solnit: Trump is a Confederate president
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 •