The Charleston Massacre means many things. Most importantly it means that the Doctrine of White Supremacy that drove the Institution of Slavery, and drove what became the Confederate States of America to secession from the Union, is still alive and quite well, in the citizenry at large. (The seemingly increasing succession of white cop/black victim murders of course has been raising the poisonous topic in the public consciousness in the past year or two; see my column “Ferguson Worked as Intended.”) But now here it is, writ large, in the person of a violent, young, openly and proudly defiant, white supremacist. Interestingly enough, Roof not only reflects the sentiments of the native US white supremacy movement, but of its international relatives as well. (The Southern Poverty Law Center is a very important source of information of right-wing hate/potential terror organizations in the United States.)
I have written previously on the topic of “how the South won the Civil War” and the coming Second Civil War. This particular horror has been perpetrated, not by a “lone gunman,” not by a “whack job,” as Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina would have us think, but by a self-conscious representative of the hate groups to be found all over the United States. (Interestingly enough, when the Department of Homeland Security, at the beginning of the Obama Administration, attempted to start an investigation of potential, domestic, right-wing terrorism, it was shut down fairly quickly by the Republicans in Congress.) The principal element in the victory of the South in the Civil War has been the spreading throughout the land of the Doctrine of White Supremacy (invented in the 17th century to justify white-on-black slavery) from the South.
This outrage was immediately responded to, as is by now well-know, by the Right’s Propaganda Central as an “assault on Christians,” which would be funny if it itself were not so outrageous. Much more importantly, it has brought the conflict over the Doctrine openly back onto the national agenda. In the current debate, it is symbolized by the Confederate battle flag that flies on the grounds of the State Capitol of the Home of the Confederacy, South Carolina. The most laudable, apparent removal of the flag from the grounds of the South Carolina state capitol, as well as other governmental removals of various types throughout the South, will not remove the Doctrine from the minds of oh-too-many U.S.
That flag it turns out, is indeed a most apt representation for the Doctrine that drove slavery and the Confederate States of America, and has now, as I said, spread across our land. In my previous columns on the South, the Civil War, and what it really was about, I regularly quoted the well-known “Cornerstone Speech” by the CSA Vice-President Alexander Stephens, justifying slavery, on the basis of the Doctrine. What has very recently come to wide public attention is the statement by the designer of the aforementioned CAS battle flag, which was created only in 1863. That designer, one William T. Thompson, said:
"As a people, we are fighting to maintain the heaven ordained supremacy of the white man over the inferior or colored race; .... we still think that a battle flag on a pure white field would be more appropriate and handsome [than its predecessor]. Such a flag would be a suitable emblem of our young confederacy, and sustained by the brave hearts and strong arms of the south, it would soon take rank among the proudest ensigns of the nations, and be hailed by the civilized world as THE WHITE MAN'S FLAG."
Thompson also noted that the flag’s white border, unusual as flags go, was not placed there by accident. Many Southerners, in justifying its continued use and display, refer to it as some kind of “historical reference,” representing the “heritage of the South.” Well, in the words of the flag’s designer himself, to the extent that that “heritage” is the institution of slavery, secession, and White Supremacy, it does.
And the flag and what it stands for are central to the heritage of the modern Republican Party. That heritage stems, not from its beginnings, of course, but from the Compromise of 1877 that ended Reconstruction and brought on the White Racist Southern “Reclamation” that eventually led to Jim Crow and 100 years of the denial of civil rights of any kind in the South. As it happens, that process was led by the Southern Democrats until the mid-1960s, when the national party seriously took up the cause of Civil Rights. And then the Doctrine found its modern home, through Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” and what has followed it. Which brings us once again to the topic of the “Second Civil War,” which we shall continue to return to over time.
The First Civil War, at its beginning was a clash between the two dominant branches of the U.S. ruling class, Northern and Southern, over A) the expansion of the institution of slavery into the Western territories and B) over the role of government. The growing Northern manufacturing sector did not want slavery in the territories. For one major reason, it is difficult to grow industry without some modicum of education for the workers, while it is difficult to maintain slavery if the slaves are educated.
Also, they had already figured out that the doctrine of “free labor” which was well under development at the time, meant that they needed to take little or no responsibility for the living conditions of their wage-slaves, whereas if one owned real slaves one had to at least clothe, house, and feed them. Also, the nascent manufacturing class loved “big government,” especially in the arena of massive public works, like the construction of the trans-continental railway and the establishment of public “land-grant” colleges, both favorites, as it happened, of Abraham Lincoln. The slaveholders did not. The Southern ruling class wanted to maintain and advance slavery, both to expand agriculture and to sell more slaves, and also wanted as little “government interference” in anything except such matters as catching and returning runaway slaves (sound familiar?)
And so came the War, and then the originally unanticipated Abolition. But once the war was over, the Northern ruling class realized that with the disappearance of formal slavery but with the return of the South to a system similar to it in many ways, through “Reclamation,” it did not need to be concerned at all about maintaining true freedom for the Freedmen. They could just “get on with it,” with the two branches of the ruling class for the most part eventually becoming one. In our time, the ruling class appears on the surface to be represented by the Republican Party alone, but in fact its overall interests are fully protected by the reigning political Duopoly.
As noted, in our time the Republican branch of the Duopoly does make special use of the Doctrine of White Supremacy. As a rising, white, border state politician once said about the Republicans on the subject of race and racism:
“For 12 years, Republicans have tried to divide us - race against race - so we get mad at each other and not at them. They want us to look at each other across a racial divide so we don't turn and look to the White House and ask, why are all of our incomes going down, why are all of us losing jobs? Why are we losing our future? Where I come from we know about race-baiting. They've used it to divide us for years. I know this tactic well and I'm not going to let them get away with it.”
Yes, Bill Clinton actually said that when he announced for the Democratic nomination for the Presidency in 1991 (and, knowing nothing at the time about the Democratic Leadership Council of which he had been the head, and what it really stood for, it was on the basis of that statement that I decided to support him in his campaign). Of course, we never heard that sort of statement from Clinton again, but that’s another story.
The Doctrine of White Supremacy remains a major factor in U.S. politics, courtesy of the self-same Republican Party. Its existence will once again be a major issue at the center of a Civil War in our nation. But this time around, the ruling class is generally united. And so while the Second Civil War will be over, on the one hand, the Doctrine and its uses, very much on the other it will also be about the authoritarian state which the ruling class is having to develop as so many workers see their incomes dropping and so many U.S. are slipping into poverty or near-poverty. But more on the particulars of this subject anon.
About the Author
TPJ Editorial Director and Contributing Author Steven Jonas, MD, MPH is a Professor Emeritus of Preventive Medicine at Stony Brook University (NY) and author/co-author/editor/co-editor of over 30 books. In addition, he is Senior Editor, Politics for The Greanville Post, a columnist, under “American Politics,” for The Planetary Movement, a columnist for BuzzFlash/Truthout, and a “Trusted Author” for OpEdNews. His latest book is The 15% Solution: How the Republican Religious Right Took Control of the U.S., 1981-2022: A Futuristic Novel,