An American Uncivil War: a 4-way polarization, right vs. left, top vs. bottom


There’s an incessant media background noise that’s like a bad case of tinnitus that won’t quit, Trump this, Trump that, racism, alt-right vs. alt-left, protests and violence on the streets, not to mention the big guy’s tweets. It’s a veritable vomitorium of mass incivility.

The general question is, how did it get this way? Or was it always this way? Canada and the US share similar origins. From the first European invasion of the Americas, British culture has dominated. Their navy was more powerful than the navies of the Spanish, Dutch, Portuguese and others. It’s not for nothing that English is the primary language here.

British culture was exported, virus-like, into North America. The world’s first multinational corporations, the British East India Company and the Hudson’s Bay Company, firmly established the British ruling culture in the colonies. That culture was, and remains, fundamentally feudal with land barons ruling on top. That structure was exported to the American South. The large, pre-Civil War plantations were feudal agricultural empires running on cotton and cheap labour. Originally, the cheap labour came from Great Britain, where peasant farmers were being forced off the commons to make way for sheep, and into the cities to work in the rapidly expanding industrial factories.

The flow of immigrants was never enough to populate the fields of the South, and their expectations of a better future were too high. The new land meant new opportunities once their indentured servant contracts had been fulfilled. The poor Irish, Scottish and English immigrants became the first European pioneers in the Appalachias and American South. They, and the large landowners, had to drive off the ‘Indians’ to make way for progress, though the poor farmers often had more in common with the indigenous people than they did with the overlords, as can be seen in the considerable racial intermarrying.

With a limited supply of cheap labour, and the unwillingness of indigenous residents to join the workforce, African slaves provided the solution. By 1800 there were 893,603 slaves living in the US, according to a census at the time. Numbers soon grew over a million, slaves making up almost a fifth of the entire population—and much higher in the South; 50 percent of Virginians were slaves.

Large landowners greatly feared an uprising of the blacks, of which there were several of note. What they feared even more was an alliance between slaves, poor whites and Indians. Wealthy landowners collaborated to foment dissent between the three groups in a divide and conquer strategy that has persisted to this day. The Indian wars turned into outright genocides. The idea of racial purity was consciously planted into white minds, especially before and during the American Civil War.

As historian Howard Zinn pointed out in A People’s History of the United States, democracy was a well-controlled veneer laid on top of the old feudalism. The architecture of North American democracy was constructed to ensure the continuing rule of the wealthy classes over the masses. Laws were—and are—written to protect the rich from the poor. Representational democracy remained in force to ensure that the right representatives were always pre-selected and chosen to run for office within tightly controlled party machines.

This is as true in Canada as it is in the US and Australia for that matter. It is clearly exposed today in the reluctance of the Trudeau government to institute electoral reform. It’s equally clear in the politics of New Brunswick, where the two major parties toggle back and forth, each putting up legislation to protect the interests of the province’s wealthiest as the province’s economy stagnates over decades. Provincial deficits and debt continue to bloat as governments refuse to tax great wealth. It’s the same in the American South.

With each recession the financial pressure in the corked up bottle continues to build up. People can’t afford their mortgages. Jobs keep disappearing overseas. Unions and benefits have been legislated out of business. AI threatens more jobs while corporate profits and CEO wages skyrocket, and wages for workers stagnate at 1990 levels. No surprise that the people are pissed.

The corporate-owned US media and mainstream political parties (much like the corporate-owned media and political parties here in New Brunswick) report only on the symptoms—anger, protest, violence, racism, misogyny, drug abuse, family dysfunction, terrorism—and never the root causes. The result is a disenfranchised public looking for someone to blame. The blacks. Or the whites. Or Trump. While corporate CEOs cluck-cluck their moral disapproval at the bad behaviour. “The country has polarized,” they shout.

Yes, it has. Alt vs, alt. Left vs. right. Race vs. race. And so it will go until the people wake up and realize the polarization, going on since the 1960s, has always been top vs. bottom.

One can only hope it doesn’t take another civil war to correct the balance.

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