Most Americans consider the Civil War to have ended in 1865, its conclusion bringing freedom for slaves and eventual rights for African Americans — the war’s end brought true meaning to the phrase “We the People.”
But author and columnist Rebecca Solnit believes the Civil War never ended; rather, it merely continues by different means.
She writes in The Guardian:
> If you are white, you could consider that the civil war ended in 1865. But the blowback against Reconstruction, the rise of Jim Crow, the myriad forms of segregation and deprivation of rights and freedoms and violence against black people, kept the population subjugated and punished into the present in ways that might as well be called war. It’s worth remembering that the Ku Klux Klan also hated Jews and, back then, Catholics; that the ideal of whiteness was anti-immigrant, anti-diversity, anti-inclusion; that Confederate flags went up not in the immediate post-war period of the 1860s but in the 1960s as a riposte to the civil rights movement.
> Another way to talk about the United States as a country at war is to note that the number of weapons in circulation is incompatible with peace. We have 5% of the world’s population and 35%-50% of the guns in civilian hands, more guns per capita than anywhere else – and more gun deaths, too. Is it any surprise that mass shootings – an almost entirely male and largely white phenomenon – are practically daily events? Many synagogues, Jewish community centers, black churches and public schools now engage in drills that are preparations for the gunman who might arrive, the gunman we’ve met in so many aftermath news stories, who is miserable, resentful, feels entitled to take lives and is well equipped to do so. The psychological impact of drills and fear, and the financial costs of security, are a tax on other people’s access to guns. So are the deaths.
And today, she writes, Americans live under the rule of a Confederate president — “one who has defended Confederate statues and Confederate values and Confederate goals, because Make America Great Again harks back to some antebellum fantasy of white male dominance.”
The notion that “we” in “we the people” is all-inclusive does not resonate with those Americans who yearn — consciously or not — for the white supremacy of bygone eras.
> “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union,” says the preamble to the constitution. It was murky about who “we” were, and who “the people” were. That document gives only some white men the vote and apportions each state’s representation according to “whole Number of free Persons, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons”. “All other persons” is a polite way of saying enslaved black people, who found the union pretty imperfect. “Who’s your ‘us’?” could be what we ask each other and our elected officials.
> “You will not replace us,” shouted the mobs of white men marching through Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017 in a rally organized in response to the planned removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E Lee. When Dylann Roof murdered nine black people on 17 June 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina, he declared: “Y’all are raping our white women. Y’all are taking over the world.” His “us” was white people, perhaps white men, since “our women” seems to regard white women as white men’s possessions.
Trump has played on such fears of white extinction, casting blame in the direction of liberalism and turning non-white, non-conservative people into “others”.
And those “others” are dangerous not only to individual Americans but the the future of our country in general.
Trump’s words are encouraging real-world action:
> The current president has harped on for almost three years with the idea that immigrants and refugees are criminals who pose a danger to the rest of us. He has preached the gospel of a monumentally restrictive “we”. A Florida Trump enthusiast sent bombs to leading figures of the Democratic party and to prominent liberals, some of them Jewish, the other week. In Kentucky, two elderly black people were shot by a white supremacist who had earlier tried to enter a black church. After the attacks, the president ranted about “globalists”, an antisemitic code word for Jews, and when part of his cultic crowd shouted George Soros’s name – after Soros had been among the bombers’ targets – and then “lock him up”, the president repeated the phrase appreciatively. Then came last Saturday’s synagogue massacre.
> The man who allegedly killed 11 people in the Tree of Life synagogue last Saturday morning was focused on what the far right – president, Fox News and the like – pushed him to focus on – the Central American refugees in southern Mexico: the “caravan”. He bought into it as a threat and blamed that threat on Jews in general and the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society in particular. “All Jews must die,” he reportedly shouted as he allegedly shot elderly worshippers with the high-velocity bullets of his AR-15. He had posted just before: “I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered” – “my people” meaning that restrictive “us” the white nationalists urge people such as him to identify with. (The alleged killer also posted photographs of “my Glock family” on social media.)
All of this is why Solnit believes the Civil War continues to rage, only having ended in its overt form in a manner that has allowed Americans — especially those who are white — to believe “we” now means everyone.
> We never cleaned up after the civil war, never made it anathema, as the Germans have since the second world war, to support the losing side. We never had a truth and reconciliation process like South Africa did. We’ve allowed statues to go up across the country glorifying the traitors and losers, treated the pro-slavery flag as sentimental, fun, Dukes of Hazzard, white identity politics.
And it is important to remember that Trump is neither the beginning nor the end of this:
> Long after Trump is gone, we will have these delusional soldiers of the Confederacy and their weapons, and ending the war means ending their allegiance to the narrow “us” and the entitlement to attack. As Michelle Alexander reminded us recently: “The whole of American history can be described as a struggle between those who truly embraced the revolutionary idea of freedom, equality and justice for all, and those who resisted.” She argues that we are not the resistance; we are the river that they are trying to dam; they are the resistance, the minority, the people trying to stop the flow of history.