Opinion Top of the Ticket

Neo-Confederates in Congress resist a rapidly changing world

Revolutionary changes are coming at us at supersonic speed, bringing new challenges that are existential and global. Yet our political system seems incapable of adapting to, or even fully acknowledging, those changes. Instead, the system is constricted by ideas and attitudes better suited to the 19th century.

In the current issue of Vanity Fair, Todd Purdum equates the current era with the decades before and after 1500 during which the New World was discovered and explored, trade became a global enterprise, the Reformation broke the religious monopoly of the Roman Catholic Church, the feudal system gave way to nation states and movable type and the printing press created the first form of mass communication.

The introduction to Purdum’s column sums up his thesis: "Not in 500 years has the world seen such revolutionary change as it is now witnessing: the Internet, genetic engineering, mass migration, climate change, worldwide economic dislocation, a new global elite, and more." Then comes this kicker: "Yet our leaders don't seem to take any of it seriously."

Well, a few of our leaders do. But our political system does not, in general, reward politicians who bust up our comfortable myths by acknowledging, as Abraham Lincoln did, that "we must think anew and act anew" in order to save our country. The reactionaries of Lincoln's day did not see him as a visionary who would lead the country on a more enlightened path. They saw him as a dangerous radical and, to preserve the rotten, wicked, entrenched old system, they drove the country into civil war.

Today, there are quite a few very vocal neo-Confederates who think gun rights, states rights, the protection of white American culture and elimination of "excessive" taxation on the rich are the nation's preeminent concerns. Their antebellum mindset makes it impossible for them to accept scientific reality -- climate change, evolution, the true age of the planet -- and political reality -- America is becoming a more diverse, tolerant nation that does not share their fear-driven philosophy.

One of our two great political parties has been captured by the neo-Confederates and, because so many of them have been elected to Congress, the political system is gridlocked. Big problems are either ignored -- climate change, deterioration of infrastructure, the toxic greed in the financial system -- or kicked down the road to be fixed another day.

As bad as things are, though, governmental paralysis created by reactionary resistance to change is not unique in our history. For most of the first century of the republic a final resolution to the slavery issue was kicked down the road over and over. Lincoln and the Union army finally forced the necessary realignment.

In the Gilded Age, the political power of the robber barons sustained a system of exploitation until Theodore Roosevelt and the Progressives upset the political balance.

It took the Great Depression to bring low the titans of finance and their toadies in Congress and raise up Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal.

Racial apartheid in the American South was propped up by politicians who gave way only after years of struggle created a new awareness in the country and allowed Lyndon B. Johnson to make racial justice the law of the land.

Change is constant but our political system always lags behind until the force of change is too great to resist. The fact that those who are now clinging to the past have become so rigid, desperate and shrill is a strong indication that a big leap is drawing close. We have not found our Abe or Teddy or FDR or LBJ, as yet. Barack Obama is more a manifestation of a changing America than he is the agent of a revolutionary shift. But when the shift comes, leaders will rise to the moment and history will call them great.

That is a hopeful thought at a dismal moment in our democracy.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
Related Content
  • AIG and big banks are the 'Takers' taking from the rest of us
    AIG and big banks are the 'Takers' taking from the rest of us

    In “The Fountainhead” and her other tomes of hyper-libertarian fantasy, Ayn Rand posits that society is composed of “Makers and Takers.” In her vision, it is the creative supermen of industry who are the Makers and it is the work-averse, collectivist leeches who feed off...

  • In confirmation battle, big guns are aimed at Chuck Hagel
    In confirmation battle, big guns are aimed at Chuck Hagel

    In the trench warfare that characterizes politics in the nation's capital these days, Chuck Hagel is like a soldier stuck in no-man's land, getting shot at from both sides.

  • With friends like these, who needed enemies in 2014?
    With friends like these, who needed enemies in 2014?

    In soccer it's called an "own goal," when a player inadvertently kicks the ball into his own net.

  • The problem of dual citizenship
    The problem of dual citizenship

    Before becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen, immigrants must take an oath that says, in part, "I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been...

  • America needs to study the enemy within
    America needs to study the enemy within

    When I was living in Chile in 1968, my Chilean friends often explained to me proudly that their country was different from other Latin American countries. Chile had a long democratic tradition. Its armed forces had rarely and only briefly meddled in the government, and not at all since 1932....

  • Why real change in Cuba won't come easy or fast
    Why real change in Cuba won't come easy or fast

    The historic agreement between Presidents Obama and Raul Castro has opened what Obama calls "a new chapter" in relations between the United States and Cuba, but we are still on the first page. The rest of the chapter remains to be written. What comes next?

Comments
Loading