Trumpism without Trump: Why modern Conservative ideology continues to reflect the Confederacy
Donald Trump promoted a modern Civil War in America this week on his social media platform. Civil War? Further confounding things, Republican candidates like Pennsylvania’s Kathy Barnette are openly running as ultra-MAGA candidates, having hijacked Trumpism without Trump himself. It is causing the media and political elites to have a “Huh? What?” moment. Trumpism without Trump? Could it even be a thing?
Apparently so: candidates Trump has openly disavowed are claiming Trumpism as their standard, the flag they’ll carry into the election and into office if they win. Trumpism, they proclaim, is a coherent political philosophy of its own that has replaced Conservativism as the dominant system of political theory in the “new” Republican Party. But is Trumpism really new? Consider its main principles:
- Assert White Supremacy
- Fetishize rule by a wealthy elite
- Brand the movement with its own flag and slogans separate from the country’s
- Put the “rights” of business above those of workers
- Marginalize and destroy trust in the media
- Maintain a strict racial and gender hierarchy
- Arm the movement’s foot soldiers
- Regulate school curriculum to promote a racist worldview
- Embrace authoritarian preachers to claim the appearance of Christianity
- Make alliances with foreign authoritarians
- Rig elections and prevent minorities from voting
- Embrace a police state for all but the richest
- Accuse political opponents of demonic or perverse behavior
- Criminalize abortion
- Heavily criminalize minor behaviors like drug use
- Normalize violence as a political tool
- Oppose worker organizing efforts
- Claim the mantle of “the average man” fighting against the tyranny of the “deep state”
- Make it hard for all but the wealthy to get a college education
- Minimize government regulation of working conditions and products
- Establish a mythology of victimhood and fear of “replacement”
This is not Barry Goldwater’s, Ronald Reagan’s, or even George W. Bush’s Republican Party. Sure, those guys were happy to suck up to the wealthy and pass legislation favored by big business, but they didn’t go so far as to separate themselves from the mainstream of American governance.
They did not accuse Democrats of drinking the blood of tortured children, openly proclaim their racism, or encourage violence. Before Trumpism, Republicans had for generations opposed nations that suppressed democracy and called out murderous dictators like Hitler, Putin, and Kim.
This is something new. Or is it? Is it possible Trumpism is simply a very old American invention making its return to the US political stage? In the early 1800s the invention of the Cotton Gin, which could with one very expensive machine do the work of 50 enslaved people, transformed the American South. It was a technological revolution that made possible the traitorous Confederacy.
For the previous thirty or so years, the slave-holding South had been a democracy, albeit one where only white men had a say in things. But even poor white men could vote, and the region identified as “America” with the American flag and American songs and textbooks.
Wealth disparities weren’t as severe as some northern regions, particularly New York City whose bankers and traders had been made rich by the cotton export trade. (When the South seceded in 1861 the Mayor of New York City argued that the city should secede along with them, but back in 1820 there wasn’t even a whisper of what would tear the nation apart in a mere forty years.)
The Cotton Gin, invented in 1794 by Eli Whitney and widely sold in the South in the 1810s and 1820s, changed all that. Only the wealthiest plantation owners could afford to buy a Gin, and it enabled them to out-compete the hundreds of thousands of small cotton farms that dotted the South.
Large plantations, after driving smaller local farmers out of business, bought up their land and hired their former owners to work the land as sharecroppers.
Wealth inequality exploded across the South as a new, powerful aristocracy rose up and seized control of Jefferson’s Democratic Party. By the end of the 1830s, most of the land and nearly all the wealth and political power in the South was in the hands of a few thousand families.
But that wasn’t enough for the Lords of the New Plantations in the New South of the 1840s and 1850s. They wanted total control of the entire country and were chafing under the restrictions of the American brand and its two-party system of government.
As I wrote in detail in The Hidden History of American Oligarchy, by the late 1830s, with the rise of John C. Calhoun and the Nullification Crisis, the South was firmly in the economic, political, and social hands of a small number of morbidly rich plantation-based oligarchs.
It was no longer a democracy or a republic: the South had turned into a neofeudal state, what today we’d call a fascist state. History Professor Forrest A. Nabors notes in his book From Oligarchy to Republicanism: The Great Task of Reconstruction, by the 1860s:
“A new generation of rulers reshaped the south around their new ruling principle…
“The development of Southern oligarchy portended the rupture of the union, regardless of the ties that bound them together, because no ties, physical, legal, or otherwise, can overcome the difference between fundamentally opposed types of political regimes.”
Nabors cites a speech to Congress by Senator Timothy Howe of Wisconsin, who argued that the oligarchy in the South had become so strong that they weren’t just trying to be left alone; they wanted to seize control of the North and end democracy in America altogether:
“Such, then, I find to be the cause and the purpose of the rebellion. It was not to secure the independence of slaveholders, but to subject you to abject dependence upon slaveholders. It was not to build a new capitol for a new government, but to place a new government in possession of your Capitol.
“It was not to frame a new constitution for a new republic, but it was to impose a new constitution upon the Republic of the United States. It was not to secure toleration for slavery within the seceding Slates, but to compel the adoption of slavery by the nation.”
Congressman John Farnsworth, representing the Chicago area of Illinois, laid it out clearly on Wednesday, June 15th, 1864 in a speech on the floor of the House of Representatives:
“The slave-owner is cutting at the heart of the nation; yes, sir, he is cutting at the throats of your sons and brothers, of your neighbors and friends; he is with mad desperation seeking to destroy the beautiful fabric of this nation, and to quench in our blood the fires of republican liberty which have burned so long, a beacon of light to other nations, and the hope of the world. All this [he] is trying to do that he may erect a slave empire instead…”
By the time of the Civil War, the oligarchs of the South had rejected all pretense of belief in democracy, a republican form of government, or even the core idea of the peaceful transition of power in the United States of America. Instead, they:
- Asserted white supremacy
- Seized total control of the political systems of the South
- Branded their movement with its own flag and slogans separate from the country’s
- Passed laws putting the “rights” of plantation owners above those of workers, including poor whites
- First marginalized and, by 1861, completely destroyed any opposition media (often lynching or imprisoning publishers and editors)
- Established a strict racial and gender hierarchy, both in society and in law
- Armed the Confederacy’s foot soldiers
- Carefully regulated school curriculum to promote a racist worldview
- Incorporated authoritarian preachers into the political Confederacy to claim Christianity
- Tried unsuccessfully to make alliance with French emperor Napoleon
- Rigged elections to prevent all minorities from voting
- Embraced a police state for all but the richest plantation owners who could never be prosecuted
- Accused their political opponents in both the North and South of demonic or perverse behavior, particularly interracial or gay sex
- Enforced anti-abortion laws when white women became pregnant
- Heavily criminalized minor behaviors like loitering
- Normalized violence as a political tool
- Crushed a generation of Southern worker organizing efforts
- Claimed the mantle of “the average man” fighting against the “tyranny” of the North
- Made it impossible for all but the wealthy to get a college education
- Ended what few government regulations existed for working conditions and products
- Established a mythology of victimhood and fear of “replacement” later known as “The Lost Cause”
In other words, Trumpism is simply the politics of the American Confederacy reinvented for the 21st century. And even now Trumpists — whether affiliated with Donald or not — are openly talking about starting a second civil war.
They are lionizing killers for the cause like Kyle Rittenhouse. They are embracing foreign authoritarians like Putin and Orbán. They are building and funding their own media empires while destroying American’s faith in mainstream media. And they are successfully using the filibuster to block the passage of any legislation that may strengthen democratic principles in our republic.
Today’s Republican Party, under the control of Trumpism, is every bit as real a threat to the survival of our republic as was the Confederacy in the 1860s. It is emerged from similar conditions and reflects a nearly identical worldview grounded in the fear of losing white supremacy. It is based in the American South, as was the Confederacy.
The media needs to wake the hell up. The American government, the American people, and the Democratic Party must see the Trumpist Republican Party for the threat it is. The FBI and intelligence agencies need to bring the seditionists within it to ground. Democrats must loudly call out its naked embrace of racism and fascism and make clear where this will lead if unchecked.
Every day that goes by without action brings us closer to the new Republican Party’s goal: tearing apart democracy in America and transforming this country into this generation’s version of the Confederacy, complete with its own Lost Cause mythology.
© Thom Hartmann, used with permission. Originally published on The Hartmann Report as Is Trumpism This Generation’s Version of the Confederacy?
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