The War Between the Americans

I recently read an article that traced the roots of Tea Party zealotry all the way back to 1938 and the first signs of the eventual split between Northern and Southern Democrats. The trajectory of intensely racialized politics continued through Nixon’s Southern Strategy and the Reagan realignment, giving us today’s “rigidly homogenous and disproportionately Southern Republican Party.”

That’s a nice way of saying that today’s GOP is a party of Southern white guys, and a lot of them really resent the fact that we have a black President.

My husband and I have friends from the South who still refer to the Civil War as “the war between the States.” I used to think that phrase–and the hostility it conveyed–were remnants of a time past.

Granted, when I went to school in Chapel Hill, NC, in the sixties, there were still separate restrooms and drinking fountains. Just a couple of years ago, a docent at the Rice Museum in Georgetown, SC, told us how unfair it was that slaveowners weren’t compensated for the loss of their “property” via the Emancipation Proclamation. (And before you hit that comment button, anyone who has listened to lame “jokes” at Northern cocktail parties  knows racism isn’t limited to the South.) But America was making progress! These retrograde attitudes were on the wane. Or so I (naively) thought.

And then Barack Obama was elected, and–rather than confirming progress– the boil was lanced, the rocks lifted…pick your metaphor.

Now let me say up front that it is perfectly possible to disagree with this–or any–President about policies and priorities. It is perfectly acceptable to criticize a chief executive, and to do so loudly and vehemently. And there are plenty of Republicans whose disagreements with this President are simply that: disagreements.

But only the willfully blind can deny that there are also frightening numbers of people who are clearly and obviously motivated by racial animus.

These are the people whose “policy disagreements” with Obama emerged before he had policies, and whose “principled” disputes included birther conspiracy theories, allegations that he was/is a Muslim, a Kenyan, a socialist, a Nazi–“policy disputes” that took the form of cartoons portraying him as a monkey, pictures of the White House with watermelons on the lawn,  vile comments posted to news stories, and the behavior of Tea Party crowds like the recent rally at the White House featuring Sarah Palin, a confederate flag, and demands that the President “put down the Q’uaran.”

Joe the Plumber (remember him?), never the brightest bulb in the room, wasn’t exactly subtle last weekend when he posted an article on his blog titled: “America Needs a White Republican President.”

These aren’t policy disputes.

The vitriol has been hard to miss–unless, of course, you prefer not to see it. And there are a lot of otherwise nice people–people who would never burn a cross on someone’s lawn, or make overtly racist remarks–who clearly prefer not to see what is glaringly obvious. (A lawyer of my acquaintance recently professed surprise when someone commented on the outpouring of racism in the wake of Obama’s election, saying he hadn’t noticed anything of the sort. Evidently he doesn’t get the offensive forwarded emails, or read the comments sections of the daily paper, or listen to Rush Limbaugh or his clones.)

I don’t know what we can do about the seething hatred triggered, ironically, by the election of a black President. Historians confirm that racism, Anti-Semitism, homophobia and the like tend to spike during periods of economic uncertainty, and we can hope that as the economy improves, it will subside.

I do know one thing: Edmund Burke was right when he said “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

At the very least, the good people need to speak up. Pretending not to see the ugliness and vitriol just feeds the hatred.

Who’d have thought the Civil War would last so long…..


  1. Don’t forget some Southerner refer to the Civil War as the War of Northern Aggression.

    In some ways I think the “Northern Racism” is as bad as in the South, but a bit more dangerous in that it isn’t as obvious.

  2. You make some implication that the tea party is somehow connected to racism, yet you don’t make any such connection. Of course there is no connection. The tea party is an economic populist movement that originated as a result of the corporate bailouts during the last year or so of the Bush II administration and the resulting increase in our deficit that resulted from it. It has nothing to do with racial politics. The first target of the Tea Party was Bush II, not Obama. The notion that the tea party’s angst about the current direction of the country is because of the race of the president is nonsense.

    In every movement, whether it is on the left or the right, you will have extremists with other agendas who latch on to the more popular movement. Then you have people on the other side who point to the extremists and insist that that means the entire movement is racist. It’s actually an old hate group tactic…try to define an entire group by highlighting the few extreme characters with extreme views who have joined that group.

  3. Sheila – were you referring to the ThinkProgress article written by Zack Beauchamp? If not, could you please give us the citation for the article that you read. I first heard about the Beauchamp essay on the Melissa Harris-Perry show – an edition of which had a panel discussing Dixiecrats, GOP, and racism. This show edition can be viewed at:

    For those who have not heard of Harris-Perry, she is a Professor at Tulane Univ. and the author of several books that focus on different aspects of the impact of racism. She is also a past Keynote Speaker at the Taylor Symposium at IUPUI.

  4. Paul, the Tea Party is hardly populist and grassroots when it was founded and funded by the Koch Brothers.

  5. If it’s not racism, then it must be this:

    “Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.”
    ― Barry M. Goldwater

  6. for all the racism-deniers like Paul Ogden: where are all the African-Americans? I’ve been to a couple of large TeaParty events here in Indianapolis — out of a crowd of a thousand or two there were only 3 or 4 Blacks. The TeaParty is visually a lily-white activity. And Latinos? Forget about them (except for all the anti-“illegals” crap).

  7. Paul; this country was founded on racism, it began when it was “discovered” although populated with thousands of Indians – now PC to refer to them as Native Americans. How can you “discover” an entire country which is already populated? They were run off their homelands, enslaved, killed, and otherwise torn apart and destroyed. When there weren’t enough remaining to enslave, the slaverunners found blacks in all parts of Africa and hauled them here against their will like cattle in the holds of ships where many died enroute. The Emancipation Proclimation is words on paper which could not at that time, nor can it now, removed the inbred racism by whites who somehow believe they are superior in all ways. Their “mental superiority”, otherwise called being politically correct, is evidenced by not calling President Obama and other highly qualified black elected officials “n” publicly. Their language is couched in covert comments, references and passing laws to prevent them from registering to vote – now these same people have added Hispanics and Asians to their list of lesser human life forms. Calling President Obama a Muslim, not an American citizen but a Kenyan, is nothing but blatant racism. The fact that neo-Nazis and white supremist groups have doubled since his election in 2008 is further evidence of rampant racism in this country – Indiana is and always has been Klan country. They no longer run around wearing white sheets and hoods but work subversively but steadily to keep them “in their place”. I have three biracial and one Mexican-American great-grandchildren and I fear greatly for what is ahead in this country for them. I lived in Fredricksburg, VA in 1955 and wasn’t reading for the racism; it was little better when I lived in Florida a few years ago. You are racist by denying racism – you refuse to recognize and admit it is there, covertly and cleavery disguised by passing laws which restrict rights and the Supreme Court backs it up with their racist Citizens United and removal of the Voting Rights Act. These acts are not strengthening American or supporting American citizens of all races, creeds, colors, religions, sexual orientation, country of origin or their neighborhoods, income levels or social status. They are continuing RACISM backed by laws bought and paid for by the wealthy faction who, just last week, drove this country to it’s knees and the brink of destruction.

  8. I’m sorry; that sentence shoudl read, “…and wasn’t ready for the racism..” Obviously not “reading”, but you have pissed me off to the max.

  9. Agree 100% with your observations and analysis. A memory of a comment made by one of my southern acquaintances extends one of your statements. He told me that among those in his community, and even in his schools in the 1950s, the Civil War was referred to as “the war of Northern aggression.” And this extended at least into the 1970s…

  10. “how unfair it was that slaveowners weren’t compensated for the loss of their “property””

    The slave owners got to keep their treasonous lives. That strikes me as fairly generous.

  11. JFK attributed “for triumph to evil” to Burke, but that’s not quite accurate. In 1770, Burke said, “No man, who is not inflamed by vain-glory into enthusiasm, can flatter himself that his single, unsupported, desultory, unsystematic endeavours are of power to defeat the subtle designs and united Cabals of ambitious citizens. When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.” In 1867, John Stuart Mill said, “Let not any one pacify his conscience by the delusion that he can do no harm if he takes no part, and forms no opinion. Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.”

  12. I’ve done some research on this topic and there are definite ties to racism from the tea party. The democrat party in the south was too soft on blacks, so a great number of the racist left the party and now have themselves backing the tea party. I wouldn’t say the tea party grew from racist intentions, but once these hardline politicians started talking about the black president and all the black people on welfare as being part of the problem, the racists without a true party found one. During the 2012 republican presidential debates, this became very apparent. Rick Santorum kept tripping over his prejudice every time he met up with a group of whites in the south. Newt pandered to the crowd with his “give the kids jobs as janitors” program. Mitt Romney was a moderate and every time he was with a group of tea partiers, he tried to pander to them, but came across as horribly unauthentic.

    I wrote an article about Indiana becoming a southern red state as the tea party has brought the racism out of the state. As Shelia points out, they can’t debate on facts or policies, but they have an underlying hatred for the POTUS. Seeing that Obama is very moderate, which has agitated those of us who are more progressive, the tea party and Fox, Hannity Rush, Sarah and Ann’s cries about him being socialist supported by a liberal media is laughable. Obama is a Wall Street funded democrat who has been very soft on the financial industry which is why he took such as disliking to Occupy Wall Street when they refused to endorse him – he’s far from a socialist and the corporate media supports their corporation sponsors – period. As long as Obama doesn’t hurt the oligarchs, their media will be nice to him.

    Here’s the article Sheila:

  13. Todd; thank you for forwarding this informative article. I have been frustrated and disgusted since the 2008 Presidential campaign at the hours and days Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were forced to spend constantly repeating their actual statements; hoping to override the misrepresentation, out of context, obfuscation and outright lies McCain and Palin – and later Romney – continued to accuse the Democrats of saying. I watched both parties in an attempt to be fair. This action continues today, every day, plus the added nonsense and pseudo religious reasoning the GOP, backed and run by the Tea Party and it’s money, is still ranting and blathering via the media. Can they be stopped before ruining this country; only time will tell. Boehner does not have the balls to stand against all that money and appears blind to the facts of what he is NOT accomplishing by his stand. Indiana was supposedly a “border state” on the slavery issue; I am proud to say my great-grandfather, his father and uncles all enlisted in the Union Army. Indiana was, is and always will be a Klan state. The fact that GOP doctrine appears to be parroting Hitler’s philosophy is enlightening as well as frightening. Thanks again

  14. Can we agree that racial discrimination is a theoretical impossibility before 11:50AM, April 9, 1865? Ensuing events are obvious.

  15. And for the record; racial discrimination began in 1866, one year after the end of war, in Pulaski TN. Look well into the history of the south and you will see why Tennessee would have been ripe for such activity. Then you can easily equate what happened in Indiana in the ’20s. See how the dots connect?

  16. The inception of the Klan in Pulaski, TN, in the late 1860’s was the beginning of the rise and fall of it’s popularity in this country. The power of the Klan rose to it’s greatest heights in the 1920’s right here in Irvington, led by the national Grand Dragon, D.C. Stephenson. Reading the history of the Klan will prove how easily led people can be by feeding their hatred, mistrust and fears with lies and empty promises. Stephenson even believed he could rape and murder a young woman with no repercussions due to being the power behind the highest ranking politicians in Indiana – and many other states. The Klan disguises it’s true meaning by clothing it in religious garb and feeding it to politicians who then feed it to gullible voters. Americans have again adoped the basis of “When Politics Becomes Religion” but “The War Between Americans” has never ended and has never been more dangerous till present day and the refusal of the GOP, Tea Party, NRA and hate groups in their many forms and by many names, to accept the election of President Obama, a biracial American – TWICE. We seem doomed to a 2nd Civil War; this one being fought nationally at the polls.

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