Will America Be Torn Apart Again By Wealthy White Men?
Or will we avoid the horrors of Americans killing each other in another futile effort to protect wealth gained by evil and destructive business practices, this time in service of fossil fuels?
Christopher Sheats wanted no part of the insanity the rich people in the rest of his state were ginning up.
The wealthiest plantation owners of Alabama had hatched a scheme to join up with the fabulously rich planters of several nearby states and try to take down the government of the United States.
They had the money to make it happen, controlled most of the political power in the state, and had already required thousands of Alabama’s young men to prepare their slave patrol militias for a much larger war against their own nation.
But Sheats was from the one county in Alabama that had no big plantations, and thus very few enslaved people. The “right” to free labor from enslaved humans was driving the politics of Alabama then, but Winston County wanted no part of the coming rich man’s war.
Which is why the good people of Winston County elected the 22-year-old schoolteacher to attend the Alabama secession convention and make clear to the rest of the state that they had no intention of joining in the civil war the rich planters were openly preparing.
William Looney lent Sheats his tavern for a countywide meeting on July 4th of that year, and the people assembled there first agreed Sheats had done the right thing when he refused to sign the Alabama statement of secession.
They further agreed that if Alabama could secede from the union, then Winston County could secede from the state (leading to a cheer: “Hoorah for the Free State of Winston!”), although they never formalized that step.
Finally, the men at Looney’s Tavern declared for posterity that they had no interest in fighting in any civil war that may be brewing, on either side. Their resolution asked that the state leave them alone to “work out our own political and financial destiny.”
Thus, Winston County Alabama became the sole holdout in the War Between the States, even sending its young men north to aid the Union Army in a formation known as the “First Alabama Cavalry, USA.”
As Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr noted around that same time, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”
Marcella Mulholland, writing in the Kansas Reflector about the power and influence of the billionaire Koch network, noted just two weeks after the Trump attempt to overthrow our government and assassinate the Vice President and Speaker of the House:
“Earlier this month, when domestic terrorists overran the U.S. Capitol, they did not act alone. Not only did they have the full and expressed support of the president and other Republican electeds, they also had the backing of oil companies that have spent billions of dollars undermining our electoral process and normalizing the rejection of science and facts.”
Replace “oil” with “cotton” and history is tragically repeating itself. The Center for Media and Democracy has the receipts, in their article How The Koch Network Hijacked The War On Covid.
As I laid out in detail in The Hidden History of American Oligarchy, by the late 1830s the South had ceased to resemble a real democracy in any meaningful way, largely because of the newly-invented and very expensive cotton gin that could, with water power or a single horse, do the hard cotton-cleaning work of 50 enslaved people.
It made large plantation owners so fabulously rich they easily ran smaller cotton farms (who couldn’t afford to buy a gin) out of business, leaving their owners to sell their land to the planters and work as employees or sharecroppers. Most of Alabama, by that time, had more in common with feudal Europe 300 years earlier than with any of the northern states.
Because the southern states were fully captured by a few thousand wealthy planter families by 1861, Alabama had become a regional fascistic police state where dissenting newspapers were closed, dissenting politicians assassinated or imprisoned, and the absolute life-and-death power of wealthy planter families over even their poor white employees wasn’t questioned.
Today’s equivalent of the families who owned and controlled most of the South in 1861 are a few dozen rightwing American billionaires and a few hundred massive companies. And since the Supreme Court legalized political bribery with their Citizens United decision, those folks have been busy.
As Mulholland notes:
“When Trump came to power, the Koch web of political advocacy groups had a clear wish list of anti-environmental rollbacks. Four years later, nearly every one of these wishes has been granted — including the elimination of the Clean Power Plan, U.S. exit from the Paris Agreement, expanded fracking on public and indigenous lands, and gutting of the National Environmental Policy Act.
And now, as Walker Bragman and Alex Kotch write in a stunning piece at The Daily Poster, the same billionaire-funded network that created the Tea Party to water down Obamacare and fight climate change legislation has now mobilized to fight the Biden administration’s efforts to return the country to normal by getting the pandemic under control.
“To fight its war,” they note, “the Koch network also relied on the astroturf roadmap behind the anti-government Tea Party movement, using its dark money apparatus to coordinate anti-lockdown protests.”
The vast majority of Americans are like the good citizens of Winston County Alabama in 1861: they just want to work, raise their families, and be left alone.
Just like in 1861, however, when Abraham Lincoln’s election threatened the entire (slavery-based) business model of the South’s oligarchy, today’s Democrats threaten the profits of the trillion-dollar carbon industry by trying to get the nation off our fossil fuel addiction.
Rightwing oligarchs who use the language of freedom and liberty to justify replacing democracy with authoritarianism are at it again, pitting Americans against each other without regard to the damage it does to our republic.
Winston County didn’t get their wish for neutrality: Sheats was imprisoned as a traitor to the Confederacy and men from across the county were forcibly drafted to fight in the morbidly rich plantation owners’ Civil War.
But in the end, democracy returned to the South after what was then called “The Rich Man’s War” had killed over 600,000 Americans. President Grant appointed Sheats US Consul to Denmark and he later served his now-free state honorably in the US House of Representatives.
White people in the South have repeatedly been suckered into taking the side of oligarchs, once to support the cotton industry and now to prop up fossil fuels and tax breaks for the ultra rich.
Most recently they’ve been following a libertine billionaire from New York who manipulated their fears with birtherism and racism while mocking them behind their backs.
Will America be torn apart again, now that a new network of fabulously rich white men who see their fortunes threatened by social and political change?
Or will we avoid the horrors of Americans killing each other in another futile effort to protect wealth gained by evil and destructive business practices, this time in service of fossil fuels and tax cuts?
Time will tell, but at least this time we can look back into our own history — and hopefully learn from it.
(For the “Daily Audio” of Thom reading this article, available only to paid subscribers, check the “Daily Audio” tab on HartmannReport.com.)
Pardon me for pointing out the obvious, but the wicked forces of the rich white bastards have ALREADY torn apart America (again). And Americans are ALREADY killing each other (again) to the horror of a million deaths so far. (Add at least 20% of the uncounted to the official COVID toll.)
That is mass genocide, folks, committed by your fellow citizens. The selfish, dishonest actions of your friendly neighbors across the street (willful ignorance) and the selfish, dishonest actions of their blindly ambitious leaders (criminal negligence) are all very deliberate actions taken by a minority of uncaring fools and assholes clinging to power and privilege, forcing their will onto the majority, the core definition of anti-democracy and authoritarianism.
(Of course, these despicable traitors are not answerable for every single COVID death or for the millions suffering “long-COVID.” But they sure as hell are liable for most of it, enough so that it’s laughably disingenuous to quibble over the truly shocking numbers in the aggregate.)
We can say the same for America’s two-tier economy and her Dark Age social structure: hopelessly indebted peasants crammed into tiny hovels slaving away at miserable, dead-end jobs with no future to speak of, while their money-mongering masters dominate the landscape with gilded castles.
This is the reality right now, not some future dystopia. It is also the cold-eyed reality from time immemorial.
For instance, consider the Irish famine (“The Great Hunger”) in the mid-nineteenth century: It was triggered by the potato blight, but it was caused and sustained by a landlord system that denied prosperity to an ever-growing population of working poor relegated to ever-dwindling sections of land they could never own and which could never sustain them without the potato crop. Much like the cotton gin’s impact on the slave economy in the American South, modern farm machinery in Ireland brought the whole fractured structure of inequality crashing down.
Landlords chased the now-useless laborers off their lands. They died in droves in the ditches along roadways that exported the best meats and produce to other markets that could afford the price. There was no other public land to house the destitute other than “famine houses, which provided the slave labor to operate machinery and perform the services landlords still required on their vast holdings. Neither were there public social programs to match the scale of the crisis. And the heroic efforts of religious organizations simply could not keep up with the numbers of sick and dying.
History is replete with countless examples of the same old story. The demons of greed and cruelty and violence are integral parts of the human psyche, despite all the energy squandered by a-wishin’ and a-hopin’ they weren’t. Facing hard facts point-blank without interjecting pathetic excuses and fragmented “solutions” is the only way to change course on our winding path of chaos and destruction. The magnitude of the problem must be felt at a visceral level more than merely “learned” and then added to a bank of memory soon forgotten.
How many worthless words and useless intellectual concepts does it take to remove your hand from an open flame? None; action is instantaneous. If we as individuals cannot see, simply, directly, the totality of the implications of foolishness and insanity on a personal level and how our own adverse behaviour and those of our neighbors contribute to the whole, then how can we expect society ever to change?
Living is an ongoing experiment in evolution. In essence, a person’s life is a moment-by-moment discovery of both profound beauty in all its glory but also of shocking ugliness in all its savagery. So, is it possible to understand — and therefore to act upon — the deeper aspects of life on Planet Earth with no intervening false judgements of good and evil, all that nonsense conveniently provided by outside “authorities” who know not of what they speak? Is it possible to change such a mind weighed down by a lifetime of conditioning that devises ponderous ideologies and gradual processes toward “gaining” what it falsely conceives as “enlightenment” when it doesn’t even know how to act on the spot in the immediate present, when reality and its boundless energy actually happen?
Happy New Year… same as the old year.
"Will America be torn apart again, now that a new network of fabulously rich white men see their fortunes threatened by social and political change? "
Here is another way to ask this question:
Have the channels of information and access to information improved enough since the start of the Civil War to facilitate a more open understanding among the greater population of the nefarious and destructive forces of the billionaire class?
Has the creation and institution of free public education resulted in a population more capable of critical thinking and more resilient to propaganda by the moneyed elite?
Have any of the labor movements of the late 19th century or the early 20th century or the creation of labor unions resulted in a more developed sense of power among the working class, a understanding that the power lies with the workers and not with the managers?
Have we done enough to illuminate the true history of the Civil War and collectively come to realize that it was an outright manipulation of poor people to fight on behalf of the rich?
It is a fair question to ponder, if America will be torn apart, again. But it is also a salacious headline and fails to address how torn apart we remain since the last war, how further divided we are presently and the lack of a focused campaign anywhere in the media to draw us together or to highlight the ways in which we are not divided. We would do better and see more clearly if we can focus on the "...vast majority of Americans.." whom are "...like the good citizens of Winston County..."