Why is America facing a Constitutional Crisis? In a previous post, I suggested that the rise of an ideological GOP was like introducing smallpox into a political organism that lacks the proper antibodies. Our New World political immune system had no previous exposure to ideological conflicts, an Old World disease that we thought we left behind.
But there's another answer as obvious as the nose on your face: the great historical common ground of American politics--white supremacy--is no longer an issue where Democrats and Republicans agree.
Doubt that racism is what made American politics work? Just go through the historical compromises important enough to get a name:
- Great Compromise (Congress will contain two chambers. The House of Representative will be controlled by big slave states. The Senate will also be controlled by slave states, but not as completely because every state, no matter how small, gets two senators.)
- Three-fifths Compromise (Slaves count as 3/5ths of a person for representation in the House and Electoral College, another small concession by the South that limits the margin by which slave states will control the country.)
- Missouri Compromise (Admission of free state Maine required simultaneous admission of slave state Missouri. Slavery restricted in some Western Territories.)
- Kansas-Nebraska Act (Territories designated "free" by Missouri Compromise can join Union as Free or Slave based on popular vote of white men.)
- Social Security Act (The Federal Government will provide social insurance for elderly white people but not domestic workers or agricultural laborers [black people].)
If the meaning of a word is its use in the language, then, in light of the above, we can say that in American English, the phrase "bipartisan compromise" refers to: an Act of Congress where the majority party, due to a lack of unity behind the proposal, must attract votes from members of the minority party who are willing to cross party lines and advance the goals of the majority party in exchange for mutually agreeable provisions designed to disadvantage black people.
In the age of Republicans and Democrats, both major party coalitions contained an anti-black racist from Reconstruction forward.
Starting in 1964, however, white racists began the slow process of leaving the party of Civil Rights to join the party of "States" Rights. The balance of political racism has been shifting in the same direction ever since.
A couple of things delayed this migration. Democrats nominated victoious Southerners Carter and Clinton. Also, while many racists are poor, especially in the South, the GOP has never wavered in its devotion to the interests of rich people.
This problem was solved by Ronald Reagan, who built his coalition by promising radical free markets to the rich and a culture war crusade to working class whites. "Wedge issues" like abortion and mythological welfare queens were successfully employed to separate white racists from voting their pocketbook.
Rutgers historian David Greenberg summed it up nicely in a piece for Slate:
Stripping away the crude bigotry that had cost the white South the rest of nation's sympathy in the 1950s and 1960s, [Reagan] and other conservative political leaders fashioned an ideology in which racial politics were implicit, and yet still powerful. Ever since, their followers have been able to indignantly claim that any allegations of racism are smears and slurs—and discredit the entire discussion by making it about personal prejudice rather than public policy.
Then, of course, a black Democrat was elected President. Unleash the crazy.
1. "States rights" is a term first used by Southern politicians that, from 1776 to 1865, was understood to be synonymous with the right to own black people; from 1865 until the late 1960s it referred to the right to draw legal color lines to facilitate discrimination; in recent years, The Federalist Society and other legal pressure groups have work to expand the linguistic definition, leaving the functional meaning unchanged.
2. Who famously gave a "States" Rights speech at "Ground Zero" of a White Supremacist terror strike.