The President’s Civil War

Hank Waddles
6 min readJul 7, 2020
Photo Credit: TOM BRENNER / Reuters

It is not hyperbole to state that we have arrived on the battlefield of a second civil war. While the opposing forces one hundred and sixty years ago were divided as much by geography as ideology, the boundaries of our current conflict, while drawing on unhealed wounds from the actual Civil War, cannot be traced on any map. Certainly, our nation has been split into red states and blue, but even within those enclaves there is division. It is everywhere.

We’ve arrived at this moment through the influence of dozens of factors, including the unresolved consequences of slavery, the blind allegiance to the Lost Cause of the Confederacy, the killing of George Floyd, and the racist posturing of the President of the United States.

We stand at a cultural tipping point, a moment when the destruction of Confederate monuments has led not only to a more critical examination of American heroes like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson but also to reevaluation of beloved works of art like Hamilton and Harry Potter.

This seismic cultural change has happened within the space of six weeks while the nation struggles with a pandemic unlike anything in recent memory, when we as a nation are raw from the mourning of American lives, as much from the 133,000 lost to the coronavirus as from the single death caused by a police officer’s knee in Minneapolis.

Given the opportunity to heal these wounds, the President of the United States has repeatedly chosen to seek personal gain by encouraging racial division. Just as a fly will lay its eggs in the festering wounds of an injured animal, our president has continuously planted seeds of division into the scars of our nation when we have been most in need of leadership.

It wasn’t a surprise, then, when the President used his July 3rd rally at Mt. Rushmore to sow more division, because that’s the only song he knows. But even for him, the speech was troubling.

In the President’s darkest moments, his most hateful words have been spewed during his rallies. On those nights, surrounded by his dedicated fans, the President doesn’t use a teleprompter or a prepared speech. He paces the stage like a showman, throwing one slab of red meat after another into the ravenous crowd, whipping them into a frenzy of adoration and relishing every second of their blind allegiance. He says what he knows they want to hear without concern about broaching topics some might see as racist. Though the analogy may be blasphemous, he feels the unholy spirit and goes where it takes him.

Unlike his adrenaline-fueled pep rallies, on Friday night the President stayed close to his script, a polished address that was clearly written by someone on his staff, most likely Stephen Miller. These were not the incoherent ramblings of an old man clinging to the last days of his presidency, this was a sweeping statement made by an administration, a speech which cast Americans as the enemy, a low mark not just for this administration but for the office of the presidency itself.

After thanking local officials, the President got right to the point, drawing a line in the sand between those who agree with him, and those who do not.

“…there is a growing danger that threatens every blessing our ancestors fought so hard for, struggled, they bled to secure. Our nation is witnessing a merciless campaign to wipe out our history, defame our heroes, erase our values, and indoctrinate our children. Angry mobs are trying to tear down statues of our Founders, deface our most sacred memorials, and unleash a wave of violent crime in our cities. Many of these people have no idea why they are doing this, but some know exactly what they are doing. They think the American people are weak and soft and submissive. But no, the American people are strong and proud, and they will not allow our country, and all of its values, history, and culture, to be taken from them.”

This passage does two important things. First, it embraces those members of the President’s base who value the Confederacy over the Union, and even aligns the President with their Lost Cause. When he speaks of “our history” and “our heroes,” he glorifies slavery and slave owners, treason and traitors. Worse than that, he casts dissenters as the enemy, a theme that runs through the entire speech.

For those wondering who the enemy might be, the President makes it clear:

“In our schools, our newsrooms, even our corporate boardrooms, there is a new far-left fascism that demands absolute allegiance. If you do not speak its language, perform its rituals, recite its mantras, and follow its commandments, then you will be censored, banished, blacklisted, persecuted, and punished. It’s not going to happen to us.”

Possibly for the first time in history, a sitting President of the United States singles out a group of Americans and calls them fascists. Speaking to his base, he warns them of the evils of the far-left, but he goes beyond his usual script. He isn’t talking about the second amendment or pandering to anti-abortionists. The fear he targets here has nothing to do with the Constitution (though it has something to do with the first amendment), but a belief system.

Instead of acknowledging and encouraging the acceptance of differences, he promotes the idea of cultural war. He has an unnatural obsession with the military, perhaps as compensation for guilt over avoiding military service himself, and has often imagined himself to be a wartime president. As such, he has consistently sought out enemies ranging from Muslims to the Chinese, but now he has settled on Americans who don’t share the same values as his base.

“Against every law of society and nature, our children are taught in school to hate their own country, and to believe that the men and women who built it were not heroes, but that they were villains. The radical view of American history is a web of lies — all perspective is removed, every virtue is obscured, every motive is twisted, every fact is distorted, and every flaw is magnified until the history is purged and the record is disfigured beyond all recognition.”

As always, the President is not speaking to all of America but only to his base, particularly to the idea that removing Confederate statues constitutes a purging of history. The presence or absence of a statue of Robert E. Lee will not change the fact that enslaved African-Americans were bought and sold like livestock on these shores for 240 years, or that they were denied basic rights for another century after that.

History, by definition, cannot be purged. We can, however, choose whom we honor. The President would have us believe that we teach hatred in our schools, but he ignores the fact that these statues honor hatred and teach its acceptance.

But while he laments the removal of monuments, he has no trouble with his own ignorance of history. Just as his campaign callously chose to hold a rally two weeks ago in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the site of the worst race riot in American history, they again demonstrated their lack of cultural awareness with this rally. The President stood on stolen land beneath a moment that is sacred to the Lakota Sioux and said, “Americans are the people who pursued our Manifest Destiny across the ocean, into the uncharted wilderness, over the tallest mountains, and then into the skies and even into the stars.”

That line came in a soaring stretch of the address meant to extol the greatness of American progress through the years, but it’s telling that he employs the phrase “manifest destiny,” a concept once used as divine justification for the Native American genocide but that’s now been largely removed from history textbooks.

But it’s clear that this is much more than a culture war; this is a race war. The President insists on glorifying one version of American history, the version that celebrates the progress of white culture without any acknowledgement of the pain and suffering people of color felt — and still feel — as a result.

The President clearly believes that his only path to victory in November is to ignore those American citizens who would push America further towards justice, and instead court those who already love him. In the days following his speech at Mt. Rushmore, he criticized two sports teams who are considering changing their racist nicknames, suggested that NASCAR’s only black driver should apologize for the fact that someone else hung a noose in his garage, and defended the flying of the Confederate flag.

Monuments and flags are being removed, and this is long overdue progress, but if we as a nation are to heal and move forward, none of this is enough. The only way to survive this civil war is to remove the President.

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