Obama and the GOP Should Learn the Lessons of the 1860s

November 23, 2014

On Thursday evening, President Barack Obama delivered a speech that has been widely characterized  as presenting a red cape to a charging bull.  His decision to extend executive action to offer a solution, although perhaps partial or temporary, to America’s complex illegal alien problem has been variously portrayed, as an attempt to subvert Congress; to over ride the Constitution; to restore the imperial presidency and/or to cynically grant amnesty to a new potential base of Democratic voters.

It may be all of those things.  But both the President and  the GOP would be well advised to carefully navigate the rapids of this fast moving river of American political rancor  – now approaching full flood  – and remember  the lessons learned by their forbears in the  mid-1860s.

In 1865, President Andrew Johnson,  Lincoln’s successor, was faced with the vexing problem of how to deal with the reconstruction of the South and the rebuilding of the Union.  A Southerner himself  (in fact the only southern senator to remain in Washington D.C. when the South seceded), he was intent on resisting pressure to punish the Southern governments following what he knew would have been Lincoln’s policy of clemency.  But the majority Republican party contained many voices calling for a vendetta against the Southern traitors.  Leading Congressional figures such as Charles Sumner and Thaddeus Stevens claimed that the southern states, by their acts of secession, no longer had any independent Constitutional legality and that Congress could determine how and if they should be reconstituted.  Johnson found himself in the position of either  having to execute a policy which he felt certain was a continuation of the dead President’s legacy and in the best interests of the country  – or of earning the unending wrath of Congress which might lead to a Constitutional crisis.

The 1864 national election had resulted in a sweeping Republican victory  but at the time, the American political system did not allow Congressmen elected in a national election to take up office until a full 13 months later unless summoned by the President to do so.  In very much the same position Barack Obama finds himself today, Andrew Johnson stood in between Congresses with the somewhat questionable authority to act on his own through executive order. And on May 29, 1865, he extended clemency to the Southern states, allowing them to reconstitute, ratify the 13th Amendment and repudiate the Confederate debts.  The new states, including eventually Mississippi and Texas, fell in line with the Union and by April of 1866, Johnson could officially declare the southern rebellion over.

Except in one very important regard.   The newly reconstructed  states would not allow its black population to be accepted as full citizens.  In most states blacks were to be prevented by law from intermarriage with whites; anti vagrancy laws were designed to force blacks into work as servants and a new set of Black Codes came in effect, preventing  full suffrage.

Abolitionists in Congress were enraged and vowed to bring a new level of punishment to the South.  Led by Sumner and Stevens, these Radical Republicans, forced through a  Civil Rights Bill – the nation’s first – which sought to outlaw the Black Codes. Johnson vetoed it but Congress over rode his veto (also for the first time on a matter of true substance), in effect elevating  Congress above the presidency as the true ruler of the land.   After the mid-term elections in November 1866, and the strengthening of the hand of the Republican Radicals who now controlled two thirds majorities in both houses, the executive and legislative arms of government were at war, resulting  in intense political back biting , manipulation and a deep cynicism  –  all  too common features of the political system in our own time.  The impeachment of the President, the first time it had occurred in American history, eventually took place, not as a matter of punishing a sitting executive for ” High Crimes and Misdemeanours” but for purely  personal and partisan political issues which had much more to do with revenge  than saving the country from an incipient tyranny.

In the end neither the President nor Congress came out well from this conflict.  Johnson, stubborn and unwilling to compromise, emerged with his political career in ruins and was not  nominated by his party to run for President in 1868.  His historical reputation  has never truly recovered.  Congress, however, soon earned a reputation as a den of hatred where vicious political vendettas were carried out on those who did not toe the Radical Republican line.  The Radicals were viewed, quite justifiably, not only as having used their mandate to enfranchise southern blacks but to ensure a one party stranglehold on both the north and the south.

But the real victims of the struggle between Congress and the Presidency were the blacks themselves.  When Congress imposed a series of laws which practically  disenfranchised many whites and elevated blacks to high positions of office, in preference to whites, rampant corruption spread and the traditional white Southern fear of blacks transformed into a vehement hatred. It  resulted in the emergence of the Ku Klux Klan and an intensely racist  culture which prevailed in the southern states for another 100 years.

Barack Obama and his would-be adversaries – John Boehner and Mitch McConnell – should think deeply about the lessons this political deadlock has to teach us.  The President, leading what is essentially a minority government, has much to gain by compromise and finding common ground with his adversaries. He may win this battle but go down to crushing defeat later as the Republicans muster the full power of their indignation and block him at every turn.    But the Republicans, flush with power after their electoral mid-term successes and now setting their sites on installing one of their own in the White House in 2016, cannot gain by becoming the ‘Party of Retribution.’  They need to present their own ideas – and legislation – for immigration reform, offering an alternative that speaks to the wishes of the American majority.  To deepen the divide will not serve either them or us well.  For as the British historian Paul Johnston has commented ruefully on this earlier era in American politics: ” The Republican extremists followed in exactly the same footsteps of the secessionists themselves, making a harmonious and balanced government impossible.”

Ultimately, in this struggle for ascendancy between the Presidency and Congress, it should be remembered that the government serves at the behest of the citizens and while immigration reform is a hot button issue which can roil sensibilities on both sides of the divide, the U.S. government can no longer afford to be viewed as a laughing stock, devoid of common sense and integrity.  Harmony, civility and a balanced government, to the greatest extent possible, should be the objective of every American president and every Congress. It is the mark of true leadership and a sign of maturity in a system that is becoming increasingly petty and spiteful.


Avi Davis is the President of the American Freedom Alliance and blogs at The Intermediate Zone




Scotland Takes the Morning After Pill

September 22, 2014
On Friday morning the Scottish people must felt like the failed suicide who awakes in hospital the next day and wonders to himself: ” Now why in the hell did I do a stupid thing like that? ”

The convincing drubbing that the independence movement took on Thursday should have made most Scots aware of how facile and threadbare were their ideas of separation.

Without a solid financial structure, with the threat of the U.K. withdrawing the usage of the English pound and with the EU ‘s own President declaring how difficult it would be for Scotland to gain entry into the European Union, there was, in the end, really no doubt about the result. Secession would have brought  economic and political pain beyond endurance.

Suicide averted and now life can move on.

But the foolish Scottish secession movement may be a harbinger of more drastic things to come.  Put simply, the drive to break up great nations has not ended; it has only just begun.

Catalonians and the Basque in Spain, Quebecois in Canada, the Flemish in Belgium, the Faroe Islanders in Denmark, Venetians in Italy and Bavarians in Germany have all contracted something of the same secessionist bug.
Which is not to mention  Wales, Cornwall, Northern Ireland in The United Kingdom, Silesia in Poland, Frisia in Netherlands/ Germany, Corsica in France, Aaland in Finland and Kashmir in India .  These countries all sport incipient movements that call for breaking away from the motherland.  And over time, the movements will only gain in strength as the nation state as we know it comes under relentless pressure to fragment.

One of the causes of this process of dismemberment is the resistance to the intense globalization which has affected the economies, social structures and political climates of all Western oriented nations.  As these countries see more of their jobs outsourced to Asia; as they feel their own wealth drained by supra-national entities or else by heavy taxation from a central government which sends back very little in return or as their distinctive cultural identity is eroded by an invasive English language- based  culture , there is a tendency to wish for the days in which one could claim to actually belong to something other than a nominal state, whose political  and economic frontiers are fast disappearing to the point of invisibility.

There is also no doubt that the emergence of the European Union has significantly sliced away at the distinctive cultural identities of Europe’s nation-states.  In the effort to meld 28 European states into a cohesive economic unit, the Brussels based bureaucracy has gingerly skipped over the significant cultural, political and historical differences that divide its constituent members, imposing a rather bland and impersonal ” “European” identity to which few can truly connect. There is, after all, no distinctively European language  ( the experiments in Esperanto having miserably failed) ; nor is there a universal cultural affiliation which is

uniquely European – and no significant effort to create one either. There is, in short, no such thing as a ‘ European’ – and nor is there likely to be in the near future.

The decline of nationalist spirit, evident throughout the West, is really an issue of collapsing identity.  I discovered this first hand in a walk through southern England in the summer of 2008.  There I met villagers who complained to me that they were mystified about who they were supposed to be – were they British, European or world citizens?  Their pubs were now served by Polish barmaids who barely spoke English;  their cars serviced by Czech mechanics who knew very little about their British made cars and even their parks and wild lands managed by immigrants from Bangladesh.  England, I discovered, was a place where multiculturalism and an attempted integration into Europe was eating into the very fiber of British identity, stripping away centuries the view of Great Britain as one of the great civilizing forces in world history. .

I write these words, of course, at the time of the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War, a conflict spurred, in large part, by escalating, unfettered nationalism.  The Europeans’ answer to the ‘nationalist’ problems of the 20th Century was to de-emphasize the nation-state in favor of the collective. The irony, of course,  is that in doing so, they have tampered with the basic human need  for paternalistic symbols – whereby one shapes his or her identity – and perhaps even existence – by reference to a defined sovereign entity, which reigns over our individual lives beyond family and beyond our immediate communities.

The problem of failed identity in a world without frontiers will bedevil the citizens of the 21st Century.  The governments of western countries must therefore recognize that the utopian drive towards integration and collective identity – and the inherent emptiness of that enterprise-  will necessarily stir to life the dormant, but very real attachments citizens have to their language, culture and history.  There can be no surprise then when a country such as Scotland, for 300 years a peaceful, if not exactly placid, constituent member of the United Kingdom, suddenly rebels against British dominion and demands independence.  Strengthening the spirit of nationalism, drawing on a nation’s rich history and collective memory, emphasizing national uniqueness and pride as well as the nation’s special mission, is a task worthy of any Western leader.  The question remains whether we have any leaders left worthy of the task.

Avi Davis is the President of the American Freedom Alliance in Los Angeles , the coordinator of the AFA  Identity Crisis Conference in Rome in 2008 and the moderator of the Outbreak of the First World War and its Consequences conference held on September 21, 2014.

It is Not Just Liberals Who Oppose Immigration Reform

March 7, 2011

When in November, 2010 the citizens of Arizona passed SB 1070 by an overwhelming majority in a state wide referendum, there were many who proclaimed it a turning point in the nation’s consciousness about illegal immigration.   After all, a measure which sought to crack down on rampant border crossings by forcing suspected illegal aliens to confirm their  status, would seem a natural reaction for any polity seeking to reinforce key concepts of citizenship.

And indeed the expectation that States would finally take action in the spirit of  SB 1070 was quickly reinforced with over 20 states vowing, in one way or another, to follow Arizona’s lead.  Most particularly, initiatives sprung forth in Utah, Indiana, Kentucky and Georgia.  The anti-illegal immigrant sentiment had gained momentum from a sense among ordinary citizens that their own taxes are being used to support those whose loyalties do not attach to this country and who saw the federal government as helpless in preventing the crime and dependency that has come with the flood of Central Americans streaming across our borders.

Yet the measures introduced by many of the conservatives who swept to power in state wide elections in 2010 are failing.  They have come up against not so much Federal opposition ( SB 1070 is headed for review  in the U.S. Supreme Court in the next few months) but against businesses, police and community activists who have banded together in an odd coalition to stymie reform of a broken system.

Why, one might ask, has Georgia’s House Bill 87, which seeks to crack down on illegal immigration and has squeaked through the state House of Representatives, failed to win the endorsement of the same Republican governor who promised his support for exactly such a measure during the 2010 election?  Why has Utah watered down its own anti-illegal immigration law which now only requires immigration checks of people arrested for felonies and serious misdemeanors and has passed a ” guest worker” ID program which looks suspiciously to many like amnesty?

The answer is that Americans, wherever, they live, have grown too comfortable and complacent with the cheap labor that comes from the ready supply from an illegal immigrant work force.  After decades of delegating the menial urban tasks of our society  – including house cleaning, gardening and handiwork- to outsiders and our rural jobs such as harvesting, many Americans, including our small business owners, have forgotten that if the bedrock of our labor force is not American but foreign, we run the risk of future civil unrest which might one day rival the slave revolts of Rome or the current welfare dilemmas of Europe where huge populations of  Muslim illegal immigrants demand the same rights of housing, health and education as their legal compatriots.

The problem is not simply America’s but one growing without control in almost every Western country.  White guilt at the the range of luxury we enjoy combines with greed and complacency to set up a terrifying problem for future generations.  It is a mark of potential societal collapse when a country’s citizens fail to attach any value to their own concept and view of that citizenship.

The failure of our political leadership at all levels of government in this country to stand behind a distinctive form of American identity poses as one of our most disquieting internal problems.  Let’s pray for candidates in the 2012 elections who offer a clear sighted view  of the immigration problems we have created for ourselves and a firm grasp of the draconian measures, such as the people of Arizona were forced to adopt,  that now need to be taken to address them.

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The Mexican War of Survival

September 6, 2010

Will Mexico cease to exist as a self governing nation state?

That is a question that we might all be asking ourselves considering recent developments in that country and a growing likelihood of the outbreak of some kind of civil war.

Not a day goes by without a news item revealing yet another outrage perpetrated against a judge, a prosecutor, a political leader or a major business figure.  Kidnappings and killings have reached into such formerly safe enclaves as Acapulco, Cancun and Monterrey.

Today’s Los Angeles Times reveals how even the country’s most important national enterprise, PEMEX – a natural gas exploration and refining giant, has been cowed and intimidated by the drug lords.   Tracy Wilkinson reports that 30 employees of the corporation have gone missing for a month, with no word from them or their supposed kidnappers.  No one wants to talk about the abductions – not the familys’ relatives, not the government investigators and not even the government itself.  Why?   For fear of reprisals from the drug cartels who seem to have penetrated and intimidated every echelon in Mexican society.

Wilkinson reports this frightening reality:

“The capacity of the traffickers to exert influence over a company as mighty as Pemex only solidifies the widely held perception that the cartels are growing in size and strength despite the government’s crackdown.” “How is it,” asked a relative of a kidnapped worker, “that Pemex, supposedly the backbone of the nation, can be made to bow down like this?”

Despite the capture of the drug kingpin  ‘Le Barbie’ last week,  the view that the country is slowly falling apart due to increasing fear and an ensuing collaboration by ordinary citizens with criminal elements is gaining increasing currency.

That is because the public  trust that should exist in police and government forces are actually working to protect Mexican society rather than collaborating with the  Cartels, has substantially eroded.  Last month it was discovered the murdererers of the popular mayor of Monterrey were actually city policemen and included his own bodyguards.  It sent a sobering message of what has happened to Mexican society – you can’t trust anyone, any time.  Its everyone for themselves in a Mexican War  of Survial.

The increasing opinion of Mexican editorialists is that President Calderon’s  four year  struggle with the Cartels is not succeeding and as Wilkinson reports, may be leading to a growing assumption that the country is headed towards break up.  Feuding cartels will  battle it out over huge swathes of territory, making local elected government an anachronism.

The consequences of a potential Mexican collapse for the United States are underplayed and simply underreported in this country.   Such an eventuality would produce a refugee crisis that would make the South Asian crisis of the late 70s look like a family picnic.  It would cause untold hardship and violence in our own border towns and it would create a humanitarian crisis of unparalleled duration.

For years I have called for United States intervention in the mess that is Mexico – a devotion of our resources to destroying the cartels.  We MUST pay more attention if we are going to prevent this war from spilling into our southern cities and border towns and becoming not only Mexico’s War for Survival, but something of our own.

Cinco de Mayo As Symbol of Hispanic Separatism

May 9, 2010

My organization, the American  Freedom Alliance, shares an executive suite with several other organizations, law firms and accountants. The residents of the suite all hail from different nationalities and observe different religious practices.    We all get along pretty well, and there is general acceptance of a range of  holidays and respect for individual traditions.  Therefore each late December both Christmas and Channukah will be respected, with  a Christmas tree sharing a wall along side the Channukiah, the traditional candelabrum that Jews light on each of the eight nights of their festival.   Other national events, such as Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Thanksgiving are almost always marked by their own tokens of remembrance.

I was therefore not at all offended  when, on May 5, the office receptionists brought a dozen sombreros to the office and  went around the suite offering to take a photograph of anyone who chose to don one.  They generously supplied a large bowl of guacamole, salsa and tortilla chips in the luncheon room, displaying great pride in celebrating their Hispanic origins and culture.

That’s all fitting and well within the bounds of respectable multicultural sentiment.

But what happens when white Americans begin regarding Cinco de Mayo as a cultural icon that they insist all Americans must be forced to respect as a symbol of Mexican national pride?

That is exactly what happened this week at Live Oak High School in Morgan Hills, California when administrators at the high school sent five students home on Wednesday after they refused to remove their American flag T-shirts and bandannas — garments the school officials deemed “incendiary” on Cinco de Mayo.

The five teens were sitting at a table outside the school on Wednesday morning when Assistant Principal Miguel Rodriguez asked two of them to remove their American flag bandannas.  The boys complied, but were asked to accompany Rodriguez to the principal’s office.  There it was explained to the students that wearing such clothes might be considered offensive to students of Mexican extraction.  When the boys protested that to be forced  to turn their own t-shirts inside out would itself be offensive, they were given the option of going home. They chose to go home.

While the school’s dress code policy allows the school ” to request that any student dressing inappropriately for school will change into other clothes, be sent home to change, and/or be subject to disciplinary action,” one has to wonder how the expression of such patriotism attracts the ire of the school dress watchdogs, on a day when more than 100 students were spotted wearing the colors of the Mexican flag — red, white and green — as they left school, including some who had the flag painted on their faces or arms.

Not many today  realize how peculiarly an American event the celebration  Cinco De Mayo has become.  It has its origins  in a Mexican army  victory over the French on May 5, 1862, at the city of Puebla, Mexico.   The French, Spanish and English had invaded to enforce debt payments that the Mexican government had repudiated.   At that point in history, the French army had not been defeated anywhere for over 50 years.  No country in the Americas has been invaded since that date  by a European military force.

The victory, however, was only a minor setback for the French.  Within a few months its expeditionary force had recovered from its defeat and occupied Mexico City, where they installed Maximillien II as king.

Cinco de Mayo began to be celebrated in California in 1863 and, to a more limited extent, in Puebla itself.  But for the most part, it is ignored in Mexico – and in even in most of the United States.

The problem with the celebration today is that it often hoists Mexican nationalism above American patriotism and in recent years has seen immigrant riots, the veneration of  Mexican nationality and even flying the American flag upside down.   For instance, in response to proposed federal legislation regulating illegal immigration, students at Montebello High School on March 27, 2006  in California staged a protest at which the Mexican flag was raised , the American flag raised upside down beneath it and the California flag stolen. Other incidents, most particularly in California, once owned and ruled by Mexico, have indicated that there is a restive minority in the country’s largest state who do not subscribe to assimilationist ideals but cling tenaciously to their Mexican national identity.

The school system is particularly prone to this kind of inverted thinking.  Four years ago, a parent at a school in the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles told me that she was shocked to arrive at a parent-teacher meeting which she found being conducted wholly in Spanish, with translations  made available to English speaking parents only through headphones.   Another parent told me of a high school in Florida where a giant mural celebrates true “American” heroes – Fidel Castro, Che Gueverra and Simon Bolivar.

As Victor Davis Hanson has argued in his powerful book Mexifornia:  A State of Becoming, ” if America once invaded Mexico and hurt its pride, Mexico has now quietly  invaded America – not with thousands, but with millions, and as an occupying force that plans to stay.”   The Republic of Mexico, according to Hanson, is secretly supportive of illegal immigration seeing that the yanquis and gringos once invaded their land, rigged the border to permanently harm the Mexican people and oppress their southern neighbors.  They therefore surrepetitiously  support their illegal brethren to the north in a covert attempt to “reclaim” California.

It is time we start recognizing that California is a society under siege  from those who insist on such ethnic chauvinism, bilingualism and Hispanic separatism.  This cultural assault  is being abetted by multiculturalists who use Cinco de Mayo, Mexican Independence Day ( September 16) and November’s Day of the Dead to reinforce the notion that the State of California is eternally Mexican, and will one day, inevitably, return to the fold.

Celebrating Cinco de Mayo may therefore be pleasant enough, but not if it gives a leg up to rampant disrespect for American nationalism and fealty to another nation.

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