The one area of American history that I really like reading about is the Civil War. It’s not that I like war, and the Civil War was the most gruesome of our wars (from an American perspective.)
It’s just that it’s one of the few times in American history where the good guys won.
Let me explain a little: I tend to think of American History as being controlled by squabbling and fighting interests and ideas. There is a liberal and good version of American ideas. All men are created equal, Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
His truth is marching on, That government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth, Nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws, Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice, and so on.
But there is a darker side to America. The country was also founded on slavery and the genocide of Native Americans. It’s how this country got its land and its wealth in the 19th century.
And sometimes those better angels of our nature win out. And sometimes those darker impulses and forces get the upper hand.
But the Civil War! For once, the good guys won, once they decided (eventually) to adopt a noble cause, and they crushed the rotten slavers. Burned their cities and plantations to the ground, and freed the slaves. There was a righteous fury to the North at the end of that war. And the better angels seized power, and passed the 13th and 14th Amendments.
I love reading about it. It’s thrilling and wonderful to see the Union and eventual freedom cause advance and triumph. I am invigorated by reading about the assault of the mountains outside of Chattanooga, Grant’s maneuvers to get Vicksburg, and Lincoln managing, somehow, to carry to war to its end.
There were a good 8 years after the war. But the darker parts of America- the vicious, greedy, racist, and cruel parts of America tore down Reconstruction. They kicked out all of the black Congressman, and by sue of violence and terrorism instituted Jim Crow in the south. (And in the North, we gave in to our worst impulses, and made segregation de facto, even if it wasn’t always backed by the law.)
The good guys eventually gave back a lot of their gains that the Union boys. Sure, slavery was illegal. But we got the convict leasing system in its place. And somehow, traitors like Robert E. Lee and monsters like Nathan Bedford “One of the founders of the KKK” Forrest got statues put up in the names.
Reconstruction fell for a lot of reasons, but it mostly fell because there weren’t enough good people to stay and fight. The North traded the withdrawal of troops from the south in exchange for the Presidency.
They were willing to tolerate a wave of terrorism and oppression in exchange for political power.
If the Civil is thrilling to me, American history between 1877 and ~1960 is terrifying. It’s a second civil war, fought covertly, and the bad guys won it.
But! The better side of ourselves came back again. Progress was genuinely made. Half steps, to be certain, but there was genuine progress in a lot of areas. Shit, we managed to actually elect a black President. There was a moment in 2016 where it even seemed like the Supreme Court might be a liberal majority for the first time since the Warren Court.
And the other side came roaring back. In as monstrous a form as it could have.
It’s been a series of body blows. The current administration has been separating thousands of children from their parents, throwing them into cages, and giving them foil blankets. They’re letting attorneys in to give these kids “Know your rights” legal seminars, because these kids are going to have to defend themselves in court.
And the Supreme gave Trump all of his wins. They put a big old smile of Mitch McConnell’s face- a reward for the seat he stole.
And Justice Kennedy is retiring, and there’s not much the Democrats can do to prevent a radical appointment from Trump. They’ll be 5 votes to overturn Roe v. Wade, and a whole slate of conservative judicial mischief is going to be foisted upon us.
There are bad, very bad times ahead of us.
There was an article by the wonderful Adam Serwer in the Atlantic in November 2016 here about how we were entering a second redemption, similar to what happened after the fall of reconstruction. I think the prognostications in that article of how bad things would get are coming true. The good guys are losing. And we may not be able to get up, not for generations. Maybe the Democrats take back Congress in 2018, maybe Mueller imprisons every last Trump, even Tiffany, for treason. It could happen, but I have my doubts. I think we’re going to lose this fight. The Republicans control everything in Washington, and they are entirely Donald Trump’s party now.
There’s a part of me that has wondered recently- what would I have done 1877? I don’t know. It was a doomed cause, but I like to think I have fought the good fight, which is easy to say from 2018.
But I know what I’m going to do in 2018. I’m going to take Woody Guthries advice- it was part of his New Year’s resolutions in 1942.
The last one (in a good list, God bless him) is “Wake up and Fight.”
That’s really the only advice I have. There’s going to be worse things ahead. The baby snatching I think, was just the beginning, but you have to be willing to fight against this stuff. The other side is going to show up. They’re going to kidnap babies, and then us to be civil to them when he politely ask them to stop being monsters.
You got to Wake up and Fight then. Do what you can within your power.
This Saturday. There’s a march in Chicago against the kidnapping of refugee children. They are stealing babies from their parents. This is worth fighting about. It’s all worth fighting about.
Go off and march. Go off and vote in November. We may lose. We’ll probably lose. But that doesn’t mean our better angels aren’t worth fighting for.
Wake up and fight.