Part 2—Charles Blow defines the two tribes: Is America facing “a new Civil War?”
That’s what Andrew O’Hehir said last weekend at Salon (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/7/13). Given the sweep of our first Civil War, this sounds like a troubling notion.
Strangely, though, O’Hehir says he isn’t even clear what this new Civil War is about. “The new Civil War is not entirely or even principally about race, although there’s no mistaking its pernicious racial component,” he writes. A bit later, he adds this: “While the Civil War of the 1860s really was about slavery first and foremost...the true subject matter of the new Civil War is much less clear.”
As it turns out, this new Civil War mainly seems to involve disagreements about abortion rights and same-sex marriage. Those disagreements do exist, of course, although opinion is rapidly changing about the latter topic.
That said: Unless we just like to whip ourselves up, do these disagreements really define a “new Civil War?”
We liberals tend to get upset when the other tribe compares political disputes to profound historical events. (Does the number of abortions in this country constitute a new Holocaust?) But as we liberals belatedly build our response to the world of Fox, we seem inclined to the sweeping tribal claims that tend to make the blood race.
These tribal claims bring on the heat. But do they blot out the light?
Is Michigan a border state? Is North Dakota now part of the neo-Confederacy? Some commenters praised these peculiar claims when O’Hehir advanced them at Salon. But aside from the need to stir the blood, do these claims really make sense?
Whatever! Increasingly, liberal leaders like to picture a world in which two starkly different tribes clash in the night. In one example of this impulse, Lisa de Moraes, the Post TV writer, quoted a Hollywood producer as he mused about The Other last week:
DE MORAES (1/5/13): John Wilkes Booth "could be the poster child for the tea party," Erik Jendresen, exec producer of National Geographic Channel's "Killing Lincoln," told shocked TV critics at Winter TV Press Tour 2013.Booth is one of our most famous murderers. Could he be the poster child for the Tea Party? As she continued, de Moraes quoted Jendresen as he further unpacked his highly exciting beliefs. She then moved on to another key topic: Courteney Cox’s declaration that 2013 is going to be “The Year of Her Cleavage.”
Booth was not mad, and his views were, in fact, pretty common when he assassinated Lincoln, Jendresen said Friday.
"This is not the act of somebody who can easily be dismissed as a psychopath, so that it's easy to understand—'Oh well, he was crazy.' This is a man who believed what still probably 20 percent of this country still believes."
Cox was discussing a change in her exciting show, Cougar Town. In the new year, “You will not see one scene where I don’t show my boobs,” the thoughtful TV star said.
We live in a very dumb culture. As we liberals move to confront the dumbness of the Limbaugh regime, we seem inclined to heighten tribal distinctions, sometimes in fairly dumb ways.
Now we’re engaged in a new Civil War! Michigan is a border state; North Dakota is neo-Confederate! Granted, the liberal world’s tired blood starts to flow as we define this tribal division. But as we excite ourselves in this way, is all that heat perhaps wiping out a bit of our cultural light?
Are we really caught in a new Civil War between two enemy tribes? To see a major journalist heighten this general notion, consider Charles Blow’s column in Saturday’s New York Times.
Blow began by stating his views about Lincoln and Django Unchained. The two films have “caused me to think deeply about the long shadow of slavery,” the columnist said, none too humbly.
Soon, Blow was nut-picking a dumb remark by a former state legislator in Arkansas. He quoted similar statements by Robert E. Lee and John C. Calhoun, though he could have quoted such statements by sainted Lincoln himself.
Had we attained the deep thought yet? From there, it was an easy move to the troubling yet pleasing world of The Two Dissimilar Tribes. This was Blow’s first iteration of this pleasing problem:
BLOW (1/5/13): Still, the persistence of such a ridiculous argument does not sit well with me. And we should all be unsettled by the tendency of some people to romanticize and empathize with the Confederacy.Blow told us that most Southern whites “think it’s appropriate for modern-day politicians to praise Confederate leaders.” He told us we “should all be unsettled by this tendency.”
A Pew Research Center poll released in April 2011 found that most Southern whites think it’s appropriate for modern-day politicians to praise Confederate leaders, the only demographic to believe that.
According to that Pew poll, Blow’s statement was technically accurate. But here’s what he left out:
Percentages who think it’s appropriate for modern-day politicians to praise Confederate leaders:Oops! In this case, “most” was just 52 percent—and one-third of all black respondents said they felt the same way! Should we be unsettled by their tendency too? Are they like John Wilkes Booth?
Southern whites: 52 percent
African-Americans nationwide: 33 percent
Uh-oh! In responses to that tortured question, there was a lot of overlap between the two warring tribes! Blow kept that overlap out of sight, then played a somewhat similar game with a second survey:
BLOW (continuing directly): A CNN poll also released that month found that nearly 4 in 10 white Southerners sympathize more with the Confederacy than with the Union.In fact, that CNN poll showed that “nearly 4 in 10” southerners (full stop) “sympathized more with the southern states that were part of the Confederacy.” Presumably, the figure for white southerners would have been higher.
But uh-oh! According to that poll, twenty percent of the nation’s non-whites also said they sympathized more with “the southern states that were part of the Confederacy.” (The poll didn’t show separate results for black respondents.)
More bad news: Only 26 percent of Tea Party supporters said they sympathized with the southern states. In that response, they only exceeded non-whites by six points!
For ourselves, we don’t know why non-whites would say they sympathized that way. But when you ask peculiar poll questions, you sometimes get odd results. At any rate, Blow was helping us learn to “be unsettled by the tendency of some people to romanticize and empathize with the Confederacy.” Now, he completed the Rule of Three, offering a passage we regard as utterly foolish:
BLOW (continuing directly): What is perhaps more problematic is that negative attitudes about blacks are increasing. According to an October survey by The Associated Press: “In all, 51 percent of Americans now express explicit anti-black attitudes, compared with 48 percent in a similar 2008 survey. When measured by an implicit racial attitudes test, the number of Americans with anti-black sentiments jumped to 56 percent, up from 49 percent during the last presidential election.”Is it true that “negative attitudes about blacks are increasing?” In our view, Blow was citing an exceptionally unintelligent piece from the AP (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/29/12). It's the type of piece our tribe likes to use to help us see that the bad old days of the first Civil War are pretty much still with us.
We live in a very dumb culture. Within that culture, we may like to hear about Cox’s bosom—and we may like to hear that we belong to one of two warring tribes. We may like to hear that the other tribe is just like John Wilkes Booth!
(On Fox, they tell it different.)
The longing for war is typically based on the perception of stark tribal difference. Where the differences aren’t sufficiently stark, such differences will sometimes be hyped.
Over the Christmas break, we reread a book which urges this perspective on us liberals. Lord god of hosts, that book feels good! But we think it’s quite poorly reasoned.
Tomorrow: Chris Mooney tells us we’re smart