Can America Pull Off a Second Reconstruction?
Barack Obama‘s election in 2008 was the tipping point for millions of racist Republicans trying to maintain over 200 years of legal white supremacy…
America today is in the midst of our second attempt at creating a truly pluralistic, multiracial democracy. The GOP is doing everything they can to sabotage the effort: can we pull it off despite their treachery?
Kali Hollaway is reporting at the DailyBeast:
“A Southern Poverty Law Center poll from April found nearly 70 percent of Republican voters believe in the Great Replacement Theory, and the Cato Institute finds that more than 7 in 10 Trump supporters think that “discrimination against whites has become as big a problem as discrimination against Blacks and other minorities.” The GOP has led on the white racist CRT-social panic, with Republican legislatures in at least 24 states successfully passing anti-CRT measures.”
Racism is now the single most powerful force in the Republican Party, and the tipping point was the election in 2008 of America’s first Black president.
Republicans on the Supreme Court, the white supremacist GOP base, and a broad and well-funded international campaign to replace liberal democracies around the world with racial ethnostates are all working to block efforts to make our Founding promise available to all Americans.
It’s a cliché to note that the American ideal of “all men are created equal” really meant all white men, but clichés are clichés because they’re usually grounded in self-evident truths. While America was founded on radical and egalitarian democratic principles, almost all of the Founders were quite clear that equality and the right to self-governance were strictly limited to one racial group.
That changed for the first time in American history immediately following the Civil war: we tried a multiracial democracy for about 12 years during a period referred to as Reconstruction.
But when over 1500 African American men achieved elective office during that 1866-1876 decade — over 600 of them in state legislatures and 17 in the US House and Senate — white backlash ripped across the nation.
It was so intense it led straight to the “compromise” of 1877, giving the White House to Rutherford B. Hayes, who lost both the popular and the Electoral College vote, ending the entire multiracial democracy experiment, and legally relegating Black Americans back to second-class status.
Lincoln was long dead when the Supreme Court nailed white supremacy back into law in 1896 with their Plessy v Ferguson “separate but equal doctrine,” blocking African Americans from holding any meaningful elective or appointed office or judicial positions.
This rigid racial hierarchy only started to crack again a century after Reconstruction, in the 1960s, after the Brown v Board decision overturned Plessy and LBJ pushed through the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act.
Those two laws, along with ending racial immigration quotas in 1965, saw the steady “browning” of our population and a dramatic increase in Black and Hispanic participation in our elections.
At that time, in the late 20th century, white racists across the country — although uneasy about the state of affairs — were still largely relegated to the Klan- and militia-type fringes of society.
Until America elected her first Black president in 2008.
Much like the massive and widespread white backlash to Reconstruction over a century earlier, a new generation of white racists moved from simply muttering about Black people to sonic-boom levels of freak-out.
New York real estate grifter Donald Trump led the charge that year, asserting that this bright, charming, Black new president couldn’t possibly be a real or “natural born” American who got to the White House on his own: his presidency had to be an international plot by Kenyan and international socialists (including Jews led by George Soros) to install a Black fifth column in American government.
With a huge assist from Fox “News” and rightwing hate radio, Trump’s 2008 “Birther” grift moved from the fringes into the mainstream of the Republican Party, galvanizing around Obama’s effort to provide affordable or free health insurance to all Americans, including Black people.
Former slave states still under the control of white racists had, up until then, successfully resisted implementing LBJ’s Medicaid program for low-income working people and the poor.
As I detail in The Hidden History of American Healthcare: Why Sickness Bankrupts You and Makes Others Insanely Rich, their racism was so deep they were willing to consign their own poor white people to disease and death, so long as Medicaid’s free healthcare was also out of reach for the Black people in their states.
Obamacare would have extended Medicaid to every state in the union, including giving every Black person in the country free or low-cost access to healthcare regardless of income, a situation the white racists who control the GOP, their white billionaire funders, and the white base that keeps them in power declared intolerable.
“Tea Party” groups, funded by white supremacist billionaires, popped up in state after state and were given breathless wall-to-wall media coverage by a then-almost-entirely-white press.
In 2012, in the case of NFIB v Sibelius, five Republicans on the Supreme Court stepped into the act, declaring that former slave states that wanted to continue to deprive their citizens of medical services were perfectly within their right to do so.
To this day 12 mostly former slave states, with America’s largest Black populations, continue to withhold federal Medicaid funds and services from their working poor: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
The Obama years also saw an explosion of white supremacist militia activity and associated gun sales. Starting in 2016, when Trump encouraged the Oathkeepers to act as election monitors across the nation, the entire GOP began a warm and official embrace of these racist militia groups, the 21st century version of the Klan.
Republican members of Congress and high-profile figures associated with the MAGA movement began using white supremacist militias as security.
Here in Oregon the statewide Republican Party voted to officially “utilize volunteers from the Oregon Three Percenters, Oath Keepers, and other security groups” to intimidate protesters at their events, as did Michigan Republican leaders.
Multiple Republican members of Congress, most famously Marjorie Taylor Greene, now routinely use white supremacist militias to provide security for their events.
In this exploitation of racism to gain and hold political power, the GOP is following the examples of Russia’s Putin and Hungary’s Orbán, who both proudly describe their nations as white ethnostates.
Maintaining white rule in America got a massive boost in 2013 when five Republicans on the Supreme Court gutted the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which had been re-ratified by a 98-0 vote in 2005.
Racism has ended in America, Chief Justice John Roberts cynically proclaimed in his decision, so it is no longer necessary to restrain white racists’ behavior in former slave states. His proof was the election of Barack Obama to the White House.
When the Voting Rights Act came up for re-ratification last year, every single Republican in the House and Senate voted against it, in sharp contrast to 2005 when every Republican in the Senate voted “Yes.”
They also voted as a block against the We The People Act which would have expanded the Voting Rights Act’s protections.
This is how radically the GOP changed after that singular event of a Black man stepping foot into the White House. Now they’re looking to overseas ethnostates for inspiration.
White supremacists like Tucker Carlson have repeatedly praised and defended Putin’s white nationalism and even broadcast their shows from white supremacist Hungary, openly endorsing white control and claiming a plot by Democrats to “replace” white people.
The simple reason white voters still cling to Trump, after all his lies and scandals, is his open racism; the reason they’re willing to go with DeSantis as an alternative is because he’s also proven his racist chops with his anti-CRT laws, book bans, and attacks on “BLM.”
The GOP has, since Obama‘s election in 2008, become a racist anti-democratic insurgency rather than a pluralistic and legitimate political party.
Under the lie of “voter fraud” they’re now criminalizing both voting and registering voters in the states they control.
With big money from rightwing billionaires and corporations, and the support of an explicitly white supremacist media machine, just by May of last year Republicans had passed 34 laws in 18 states restricting the right of citizens to vote. This year 229 new laws have been introduced in 33 states to limit minorities’ right and ability to vote.
As Ki Lerner writes for the Iowa Capitol Dispatch, Republicans are trying to terrify potential Black voters with a threat of prison:
“In total, states enacted more than 60 new felonies and more than 50 new misdemeanors [all related to voting].
“The new offenses, made law in dozens of voting bills, range from low-level misdemeanors to felonies punishable by up to 20 years in prison.”
Foreign governments run along white supremacist lines are getting into the act, too, since the Supreme Court legalized foreign election interference with their 2010 Citizens United decision.
The Russian propaganda and influence campaign directed at the GOP has worked: Republicans in Congress are now, in increasing numbers, voting and speaking out in favor of white supremacists Putin and Orbán and against American aid to Ukraine and other nations and programs that support multiracial democracy around the world.
Before 2008, Republicans were willing to work with (and work around) democracy but avoided trash-talking it or letting foreign autocrats influence American domestic politics. Nixon, Reagan, and Bush all took the White House under highly dubious circumstances, but still generally supported democracy and the elections that underpin it, both here and abroad.
No high-profile Republican was willing to tear apart Americans’ confidence in our democracy by claiming a president was illegitimate or won a election through criminal action — until a Black man, Barack Obama, got elected to the presidency and triggered their racist frenzy.
Today there’s a worldwide movement toward race-based autocracy (aka fascism) with which the GOP has aligned itself. From Hungary to Russia to China, in each case, governments openly maintain and elevate the status and power of racial majorities while crushing racial minorities.
That was also true of our entirely-white-run nation until, in the 1960s, we chose to again try multiracial and multiethnic democracy; that second American experiment, a second Reconstruction if you will, is now under direct assault by the white supremacists who have taken over every level of the GOP.
The modern Republican assault on our post-1965 pluralistic democracy began when Blacks in America “got too much power” — specifically, the election of Barack Obama as president in 2008 — just as happened in the 1870s when large numbers of African Americans achieved elective office, provoking the white backlash that ended the first Reconstruction.
Today’s backlash is also aided and promoted by rightwing billionaires and giant corporations who recognize the core racism of the GOP base but continue to pander to it to retain their fat tax cuts and the deregulation of their industries.
These white billionaires like the status quo given them by 42 years of Reaganomics; as Senator Bernie Sanders noted Friday on my program:
Today three white men own as much wealth as the bottom 50 percent of Americans; the top 1% has more wealth than the bottom 92 percent; and three Wall Street firms own assets worth more than the entire GDP of our nation.
Racism’s damage to democracy in this country — facilitated by Republicans on the Supreme Court and now openly pushed by Republicans in Congress — has succeeded in tearing our nation apart while producing legislative paralysis.
It’s going to take a generation or more to finally cut out this cancer of racism, but if enough Americans stay awake and politically active it still is possible.
It’s going to require massive citizen engagement and voter mobilization to produce that peaceful multiracial revolution, but it’s possible.
The last time we tried, in the 1870s, we failed at achieving our founding goal of all Americans being “created equal.” Racism froze our semi-democratic republic in place for the following century.
Now we’re in America’s second era of Reconstruction, an new attempt to reinvent our country in line with the ideals expressed in our founding documents.
This time, as more and more white Americans awaken to the damage the poison of racism has done all these 240+ years, it’s possible we can pull it off. For the first time in our nation’s history, as many nonwhite children are entering elementary school as white ones.
We have a hell of a big job ahead of us, but a new and fully multiracial generation, the Zoomers, is stepping up toward leadership. Let’s hope, pray, and work to help them make it happen.
This should be headlined in all the media, read by every voter, and discussed in every public forum possible. But is has to be spoken along with the massive pollution killing and sickening mush of the planet. We are the last farm left in our part of upstate NY that is not spewing poison on the land. We are surrounded by king corn being grown by big ag having taken over every family farm for miles around. This mean roundup, chemicals, poisons of all sorts being spread on the land then into the aquifers, streams and lakes to eventually make this area a "bulls eye" for cancers and autoimmune diseases. There is no such thing as protections against this despite what the GOP tells the public about the necessity of deregulation all our protections and sabotaging efforts to control overpopulation.
It’s no exaggeration to say I’ve heard a dozen times here statements attributing the rise in right-wing ideology and authoritarian influence in the US to the ending of civics education in our schools, post Reagan. But, in an authoritarian milieu, nonwhite children merely get what white children get from that experience.
I refer to a paper from 1972 by Bruce Romanish, a prominent educator, reprinted in 1995: Authoritarianism and Education – a comparative approach, Miles Simpson. Sociometry, Vol. 35, No.2 (Mar., 1972) Amer Sociological Assn..
I’m copying excerpts from the Romanish article with some commentary for this audience and some from my unpublished book on authoritarianism. Quotation marks and bold print (as well as his more polished academic lingo) distinguish Professor Romanish’s remarks from mine. He strongly supports public schools.
I agree with the professor on most of his observations. I’m critical of his ability to blithely accept the pathetic chronic conditions which have brought us to where we are, however. Indeed, what has changed in these respects in 50 years?
First, here is what Romanish was saying in 1972 about the inadequacy of education for citizenship:
“Missing are ends which have democratic experiences at the center. There are occasional references to citizenship education along with the dispositions required of the good citizen. But this is a view of citizenship that is primarily passive and lacks an articulated concept of the active, participatory citizen and citizenry.”
In addition, the professor said:
“Overall, most students receive a steady diet of what can be described as a lifeless intellectual experience.”
He perceives the roles played by schools as “…making the future citizenry governable”, as opposed to making them capable of the complicated tasks associated with self-governance and participatory democracy.
He speaks about “order for order’s sake”, the “institutional norm of tranquility” and “subsidiary assumptions among which include learning as an essentially passive act, learning equates with knowledge acquisition and transfer, and sounds are disruptive to learning…”.
His stated purpose in the paper was to “…determine how groups arrive at authoritarian orientations and what role the school may play in that development.”
In reflecting on the rise of right-wing authoritarian extremism and fascism in Europe and the US early in the last century leading to the two world wars, he notes that “…it took the form of a slow accumulating avalanche that eventually overwhelmed any resistance or opposition.” Does this not happen in schools primarily because of authority dressed in sheep’s clothing?
He traces a primary route from both hard-nosed child rearing practices and the “educational system” to that devastating end point we would like to forget. We see an educational parallel to the slow accumulating avalanche of authoritarian orientations leading to world war.
He speaks about what one author termed a ‘poisonous pedagogy’ “whereby the child is silenced and taught obedience to authority by whatever means necessary.”
Where have we heard all that before? Yet, he proposes no effective means of preventing the “avalanche”. He has glossed over the realities to conclude that the fix is already in. The authority inherent in compulsory attendance is our friend. If only his ivory tower posturings were matched by his convictions! Focus on the next eloquent statement:
"A basic assumption in what follows is that if public schools are to be in some sense a life line for political democracy they should in turn exhibit characteristics and behaviors which point in that direction. Schools must go beyond platitudes about literacy and democracy by giving evidence they are conscious of the political implications of the way they are organized, the way power is exercised within schools, ways in which the young are classified, categorized, and controlled, etc. "
How true. Next: Romanish noticed that the “…constant danger in schools that authority will degenerate into authoritarianism because a good portion of those attracted to teaching and school administration consciously or (more commonly) unconsciously wish to exercise authority in order to satisfy some unfulfilled need within themselves”. This did not strike him as a reason to remove the coercion inherent in mandatory attendance itself.
Moving on, Romanish says:
“Freedom in a democracy does not accompany the birth process. It is an acquired status not easily achieved. If the schools do not give evidence that they are consciously and actively engaged on behalf of the kind of education required for active democratic citizenship, then by definition they are contributing to its demise. People who are kept in a state of infantile dependence, in which all major decisions are taken for them, fail to develop the strength of personality that would enable them to exercise freedom if they were offered.”
Despite that sobering and beautifully phrased appraisal, Romanish accepts nevertheless that some kinds or degrees of authority (and infantile dependency) in schools is legitimate. Only when abused (typically by authoritarian individuals with inordinate power who got their “education” in this same hierarchical environment) is it harmful and a serious problem. I think of it as akin to placing an alligator in the classroom.
Getting back to authoritarianism in schools, he says:
“…scant attention has been paid to the school's role as a shaper of patterns of belief, conduct, and ways of thinking in relationship to authoritarianism.”
In the same vein, comparing the lack of efforts to counteract authoritarian tendencies and proclivities in our schools to those of the Allies who strove to address those issues in Germany after WWII, he says:
“Since it was clear the Allies believed that school organization and structure are directly related to social aspirations for democracy, one must wonder why so little attention has been devoted to the same ends in the U.S. Even the current wave of reform which seeks school "restructuring" and employs concepts such as 'site-based management' does so with rhetoric that rarely gestures in the direction of the democratic.”
We cannot say it too many times. Laws which compel attendance in school or anywhere else for twelve years are antithetical to democracy and freedom on their face. Romanish has put his finger on the culprit and properly named it. Yet he fails to connect it with the causal circumstance which not only invites, but actually requires, that harmful agent he identified.
Later he complains that “Students must absorb the curriculum which is presented in an almost fixed and final form.” He uses the terms “homogenized” and “pasteurized” in referring to curricular content.
Elsewhere he says, “Authoritarians equate freedom with chaos.”
We hear reassuring echoes of Holt, Postman, Goodman, and many others.
“Authoritarianism favors absolute obedience and stands against individual freedom. It has been described as the most conspicuous political fact of modern times and survives politically with the helpful assistance of parallel and auxiliary structures designed to propagandize the citizenry. This implies an overt structure dedicated to the task of shaping the thoughts and beliefs of a populace. Yet an overarching structure implies the creation of an official means of inculcating a people whereas one can point to a host of authoritarian agencies in place prior to the crowning of any authoritarian political system. In other words a chicken/egg dilemma does not appear to exist. Authoritarian political systems do not create oppressive settings out of whole cloth but instead rise in the context of authoritarian seedbeds sown by various social and cultural institutions and practices.”
Cut to the chase. Authoritarian seedbeds. A 900-page book of rules. Romanish argues that there are indeed clear and evident dangers from authority in schools. Still, he needs to believe that authority can be limited and kept under control in this through some unidentified mechanism or that its arbitrary nature can be changed somehow.
“If schools exhibit democratic characteristics, that may reflect democratic features of the larger social order or the schools are making a contribution to society's movement in that direction. Conversely, an authoritarian experience in school life suggests either a broader cultural authoritarianism or reveals an institution contributing to the future advance of authoritarianism. It is possible for schools to reflect political values incongruent with the larger social order but the symbiotic nature of schools and society make it unlikely.”
In that vein he also refers to consent produced through intentional subterfuge echoing Chomsky:
“Modern authoritarianism does not necessarily seek to reduce individuals to mere passive subjects but tends rather to seek politicization on behalf of a specific ideology. This makes it possible for individuals to have political convictions of sorts so long as they correspond to official ideology and are in keeping with what they have been expected to believe. In this way a cognitive style can be associated with authoritarianism, namely, a close-minded cognitive functioning. This is explained in part by the fact that agencies of power sustain control by eliciting consent more than by means of repression.”
Is it paranoid or conspiratorial to suspect that “common core” and “mind-control” or behavioral modification are linked?
Schools that are not dysfunctional or inimial to democracy do not attract severe criticism or privatizers.