Reality Trumps Dystopia
By Nat Krieger
Reality is morphing so fast that even dystopic entertainments are struggling to catch up.
Confederacy, a drama series green lighted in July by HBO, posits an alternate future where the Confederate States of America has triumphed in their bid for secession, and the Mason-Dixon Line continues to divide slave from free. In the actual Civil War Jubal Early’s II Corps got within six miles of Washington, but 21st century Confederates ruling from the White House? Not even the creators of Game of Thrones came up with that one.
Reality: Charlottesville, Virginia, 100 miles south of the nation’s capital. Five days before the summer of hate tour is due to open its climactic August show in Charlottesville, the Southern Poverty Law Center warns that the coming weekend is “shaping up to be the largest hate-gathering of its kind in decades in the United States.”
The opening night speeches are capped by 500 torch bearing storm troopers marching across the lightly defended fields and gardens of he University of Virginia chanting “blood and soil.” Less than 24 hours later the first murder. Pro forma expressions of shock and sadness from government officials sound tired and even strained, like actors growing bored with their roles.
Costumes and Props: Disdaining the uniform brown shirts of history’s most famous storm troopers, the marchers wear various outfits, and in a quintessentially Confederate celebration of diversity Rebel battle flags mingle with a variety of Nazi style Runic banners.
And the Union flag, our national flag, was on display as well, often side by side with the Stars & Bars.
And that’s how you get Confederates in the White House. The vision of “real America” north of the Mason-Dixon Line becomes a mirror of the Confederacy.
The President himself is not a Confederate. He is a wealthy New York sympathizer, a Copperhead. Going back to the nation’s founding major commercial interests in the city, including Wall Street, admired the Southern slave economy’s salutary effects on workers’ salaries, and admired the Southern cotton that fed Northern mills even more. Shortly before the Civil War a group of concerned New York merchants formed the Union Safety Committee “to resist every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest.”
The Union Safety Committee meant a Union made safe for slavery and its expansion. From the Copperhead committee’s “any portion”…to Trump’s “many sides”, borrowing the language of peace and unity to promote the opposite is nothing new.
If we need any more proof that time does not move in only one direction, the mayhem in Charlottesville looks like a drastically shrunken dress rehearsal for the terror unleashed by New York’s pro-Confederate forces in the summer of hate, 1863. During a pogrom that lasted five days Copperheads lynched, burned, or hacked to pieces 100, or maybe 1,000 blacks, abolitionists, and whites viewed as too friendly with blacks.
“Amalgamationists”—mixed race couples—also ranked high on the Copperheads’ hit list. And when black coach driver Abraham Franklin was dragged out of his bed and hung from a lamppost the crowd sent up three cheers for Jeff Davis, President of the Confederacy. One quarter of New York City’s black population lost their homes to the torches, including all 233 children living at the Colored Orphan Asylum on Fifth Avenue, burned to the ground in 20 minutes.
The two constant organizing principals of Confederates and Copperheads in 1863 and 2017 is racism and an unending hostility towards the Federal Government. In fact any kind of strong central government is the enemy: then, now, and forevermore. This was a big reason the South lost the Civil War. Bedrock Confederate principals prevented a unified command among the Rebel armies until too late. Where Abraham Lincoln could order, Jefferson Davis had to ask.
The vision of “real America” north of the Mason-Dixon Line becomes a mirror of the Confederacy.
Over the last 150 years this political program has become just one facet of the Confederate Glance, forever gazing back at a golden past where people could still own other people, a place where traditional Christianity, however that’s defined, was the dominant voice, not one among many. To win the South national politicians have adapted this glance in all but demanding the restoration of slavery. The golden age, the way things used to be, turns out to be a movable feast.
For Ronald Reagan it seemed to be maybe 1905, 1910. If that wasn’t the default stance of the Republican Party before Reagan it was after him. Both in his social positions and in his war on Washington, Reagan was a Confederate, famously quipping that “the nine most terrifying words in the English language are ‘I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.’”
For Reagan and for nearly all Republicans who have followed, the place to decide the fate of Confederate statues and Rebel crosses emblazoned on state flags was in the states themselves; a suitably Confederate position since up until a very few years ago local and state politics meant the flags and statues weren’t going anywhere.
Aside from the Great Communicator eulogizing dead SS soldiers as victims too, foreshadowing Trump’s “hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides”, most Reagan Republicans drew the line at Nazi symbols. The reaction of Utah Senator Orrin Hatch to Charlottesville shows this older tendency, for an obvious reason:
“My brother didn’t give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged here at home.”
The rise of fascism in 20th century Europe, culminating with the electoral win of Germany’s National Socialists in 1933 infused parts of the American Right with a Nordic feel. It might seem that such pagan posturing would be a line Confederate Christians couldn’t cross, but the last hundred years in Europe and in South America give ample evidence of the accommodations that can be reached.
Like Nationalists across the Atlantic, Confederate adherence to traditional values of blood and soil leaves them suspicious of innovation in art, music or human relations. Like the Muslim fundamentalists they claim to despise, Confederates reject modernity while using the latest in sidearms as well as the most up to date communications technologies, derived in part from the theories of ‘Jew scientists’, to spread their self-consciously archaic ideas around the globe.
So who are the modern day Confederates in the White House? Steve Bannon and Stephan Miller for sure, although Miller’s use of the word cosmopolitan as an epithet thrown at reporter Jim Acosta burnishes both his Confederate and European bona fides. With Trump’s counterterrorism advisor Sebastian Gorka we move across the ocean to the landlocked vistas of Hungarian Nationalism and another Christian/Fascist alliance. Founded in 1920 as a Christian and Nationalist “Order of Merit”, the Vitezi Rend helped the Nazis murder over 600,000 Hungarian Jews. Despite denials to the contrary, Gorka was a member back in Hungary, as was his father. That Gorka proudly wore the group’s pin to Trump’s inauguration was a sign of things to come.
It’s hard to imagine European fascist discipline ever coming to this Confederate White House. The capture of the Executive Mansion may well end like so many chapters of Confederate history, a daring stroke the plotters are unable to capitalize on. Unable to stop squabbling among themselves, unable to accept discipline, unable to see further than their own personal power base. The Confederate model is working no better today than it did throughout the C.S.A.’s four years of existence, or during the idea’s earliest disastrous triumph—the Articles of Confederation.
Nationally, Confederates have always been in a minority and have generally projected their power outside of the South in horrific spasms. Before taking power Fascists in Italy and Germany were not in the majority either yet they were able to use the democratic system, especially in Germany, to gain and keep absolute power nationwide.
If the discipline and national vision of Nazism replaces Confederate regionalism as the dominant vision of the American Right, and there were frightening signs of that discipline in Charlotte, then we may be looking at a far bleaker future.
Like the Biblical prophets of old, showrunners and journalists will continue to produce impoverished visions of tomorrow that shortchange reality’s unimaginable strangeness. Among the thousands of mourners who lined the railroad tracks to glimpse the train carrying their murdered President home, who dreamed that the pro-slavery Democratic Party would become the Party of the nation’s first black President, or that a New York Copperhead would someday lead the Party of Lincoln?
So why no reports from Springfield, Illinois of spinning sounds echoing through the Presidential mausoleum? Because the only way they were able to jam Lincoln’s 6’6” frame into the 6’3” coffin was by bending his knees. The Great Emancipator can’t even stretch out, let alone roll over.
Nat Krieger works for San Diego Unified where, on good days, he fixes computers. Nights spent wandering though 10th Century Andalusia resulted in a recently completed work of historical fiction.