Cultural Civil War in the USA
By Manuel E. Yepe
Exclusive for the daily POR ESTO! of Merida, Mexico.
Translated and edited by Walter Lippmann.
“America is at war with itself. It is actually a function of the nation’s heritage, the past that challenges specific aspects of a modern present. This gives rise to a flow of traditions. Racism, a pseudo-border mentality and religious fundamentalism persist at the present time. These are the traditions that characterized the first half of the nation’s history, and while some of them may have retreated into latency in the last fifty years, they are now back with us. As a result, Americans are in the midst of an ongoing culture war that in many ways is as old as the nation itself.”
The paragraph above is the opening of an article published in the latest issue of the U.S. online weekly CounterPunch by Lawrence Davidson, a leading scholar who, born in a secular Jewish home in Philadelphia, was one of the founders of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) during the war against Vietnam.
In his essay, Davidson states that a racist culture took shape in American life before the founding of the United States. This culture was particularly rooted in the colonies/states of the South, where slavery became not only a fundamental economic institution, but also an institution that projected the image that the South had of itself. In the North, a racist culture was also widespread and society was segregated, but the difference was that the labour system in the North was not based on slavery.
In the South, this deep-rooted culture of racism was briefly interrupted when, after the Civil War, there was a brief period of Reconstruction (1865-1877) during which the northern military occupation suppressed most racist laws. The main reason for this was political and not social. Under the Northern occupation regime, black men were recognized as citizens and could vote. This led to support for Abraham Lincoln’s party and allowed abolitionist Republicans to retain control of Congress. Reconstruction only lasted as long as the abolitionist faction dominated. It ended in 1877.
The US military was withdrawn from the southern states. Almost immediately there was a region-wide reversion to a form of race relations in which the oppression of slavery was replaced by “Jim Crow” laws that legitimized segregation and discrimination against black people.
This situation lasted for nearly another hundred years, until in the 1960s, when a massive civil disobedience movement known as the Civil Rights Movement finally succeeded in outlawing racist practices within the public sphere in both the South and the North.
Davidson stresses that the changes were limited to the public sphere because the private sphere was left to each person’s individual will. Nothing was done to change racist perceptions and behavior within the private sphere. There was not even any effort to force the teaching of acceptance in public schools in order to better erode private racist perceptions.
Racism is an important issue in the nation’s current civil cultural war, but it is not the only one. Another is the fight for firearms laws, which are currently inadequate to ensure public safety.
The myth of the robust and armed individual is in fact a product of the television and film distortion of the history of the “old West”.
Davidson refers to the survival of nineteenth-century Christian fundamentalism, which, while not including all Christians in the country, encompasses millions of believers who still adhere to the “faith of their fathers” in a way that fosters social inequality and undermines the secular nature of the state. It is also a faith riddled with racial and gender intolerance, full of shameful hypocrisy and self-righteous self-centeredness.
The Christian right, along with gun rights enthusiasts and those who privately support a diffuse stream of racist traditionalism, believe that modern movements for equal rights, as well as the demand for security and protection communities through law and regulation, are threats to genuine American culture because they threaten the traditions of “freedom” that make their world ideologically enjoyable.
Against this backdrop, it is clear what the president means when he calls for “making America great again”.
June 7, 2018.