*Now that I have your attention, let me start by saying I don’t believe there will be another civil war in the United States. But let me also tell you why it is on my radar.
The United States Civil War was a military conflict that arose after several southern states attempted to secede from the country. Some will say they took this course of action because they didn’t feel the sovereignty of their states would continue to be respected going forward. Others believe they seceded to be able to continue operating with slavery as a component to their economy. In truth the question of why the southern states seceded (probably a combination of both) is less important than the question of when.
The 1860 presidential election saw the emergence to national prominence a relatively new political group: the Republican Party. The party was an amalgamation of multiple smaller political groupings including the remainder of the Whig Party, abolitionists, Greenbackers (people who wanted paper currency), and western farmers to name a few. The strength of this coalition proved too much for the Democrats whose base was in the South.
What’s more, the 1860 presidential election was won by the Republican Party despite not carrying any states in the south. This brought to life the worst fears of southerners: that they would become irrelevant. Republicans in Congress could elect to admit new states to the Union that would be anti-slavery which would only further the marginalization of the slave owning South. Rather than exist as a permanent minority in the United States they decided to take their chances starting a new country.
In the wake of last week’s presidential election it is worth noting that a similar political trend has occurred. Leading up to the election much of the commentary was about which candidate would capture the important swing states of Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, and Iowa. As it turns out President Obama won the election while losing in North Carolina and though he did gain the electoral votes in Ohio, Florida, and Iowa he could have won even without them. In 2012 this isn’t so much a problem for southerners but it does pose a problem for the Republican Party.
As I have written before (http://www.eurweb.com/2012/08/the-socialists-journal-the-implosion-of-the-republican-party/) conservatives have painted themselves into a corner; the 2012 presidential election exacerbated the situation. The Southern states of the mid-nineteenth century cast their lot with slavery and were unwilling to abandon that form of labor instead choosing to go to war. Conservatives of today have made three critical decisions about their core constituency that have proven unfruitful.
First: conservatives (who for the most part make up the Republican base) tied themselves to evangelical Christianity. This makes sense on some level. Those who live in what we normally refer to as the “Bible Belt” are largely conservative and are also avowed Christians. But what the Republican leadership failed to recognize, or what they recognized and simply ignored, is that people are conservative for reasons that can be unrelated to the reasons they are Christian. Instead of co-opting the cultural causes of evangelical Christianity, the Republican Party could have refrained from choosing a subsection of Christianity and stuck to promoting and advocating for political, economic, and social issues.
This would have saved the party the trouble of being perceived as anti-homosexual at a time when the number of supporters of gay civil rights continues to increase.
Second: conservatives alienated women. It seems to be an unofficial part of the current Republican platform that birth control is A) in a moral grey area regarding whether it should be used, B) of questionable necessity, and C) not something worthy of the public’s tax dollars.
I can’t imagine why the Republican Party insists on antagonizing half of the electorate with their stance on birth control. The moral question could be easily side stepped, and there are plenty of studies in scientific community that detail the how and why different forms of birth control work along with ancillary benefits of horomonal birth control. Economic conservatives might still argue about paying for birth control as part of mandatory health care coverage. At least that is a slightly more legitimate argument with pros and cons; taking the position that birth control doesn’t seem necessary is insane.
Third: the Republican Party has also irritated ethnic minorities. By showing no support for issues like racial profiling and floating an idea about a border fence between the United States and Mexico, Republicans found it hard to come by votes from African-Americans and Latinos this past election. Again I don’t begrudge conservatives for proposing a solution to our country’s illegal immigration problem. But their solutions are terrible and in these two instances have created at least as many new problems as were present before.
The 2012 presidential election should serve as wake up call to the Republican Party that they need to be more inclusive so they can widen their base. But will this happen? Bill O’Reilly while commenting on Obama’s victory on election night referenced the fact that Romney didn’t get a large enough chunk of female, black, or Latino voters. His analysis of this fact was that there weren’t enough white males in the electorate.
If the Republican Party continue to see themselves as the party for white men only then this is the beginning of the end. By concluding that only white men are going to be given a seat at the conservative table means that table will be less and less important as demographic trends suggest the country is getting less and less white.
That’s how civil wars happen. Already on the internet there has been a renewal of blaming race for the election results (black people only voted for Obama because he is a black candidate). The natural extension of that logic means that white people need not bother voting anymore because they will soon be outnumbered and therefore no white men will be able to get elected. Why would anyone want to stay in a country where your voice is not heard?
Of course that logic is faulty. For one black people were not enthusiastic about Herman Cain while he was a candidate for the Republican nomination; African-Americans favored Obama because they believe he can and will be an advocate for causes that are important to them. Secondly it is nonsense to believe that only someone from one’s ethnic background can represent their interests. White politicians have been tasked with representing people of color in this country since its inception; Obama has demonstrated that a black politician can represent the white citizenry.
It is because this logic is faulty that I don’t think there will be another Civil War. But conservatives will have to see that the logic is faulty for themselves and the Republican Party will need to make changes. Other wise our country will be going nowhere.
Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War. His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.