Well in two months we will hold our Presidential election to see who will lead this country for the next 4 years and whether or not we can rid ourselves of El Caudillo. I firmly believe this election will decide the fate of the American democracy or whether, like Rome, we will move to the era of the Princeps Civitatis, the “first citizen” as Augustus called himself. Sure there was still a Senate and a Roman Republic but these terms no longer meant anything.
How did we get to where we are? I often wonder and contemplate the question. I have been politically aware since Ike’s second term, a time we hid under school room desks to “protect” us from a Soviet nuclear bomb. The Cold War era marked by the shooting down of Gary Powers in his U-2 aircraft which resulted in the cancellation of a summit meeting between Ike and Nikita Khrushchev.
Weather or not America with its anti-communist obsession was at least partially responsible for the Cold War, it was generally agreed by rational people that, if the US had an “enemy” in the world, it was the Soviet Union.
I thought everyone thought that way. I was to find out I was wrong.
When I was 17 and working in the mailroom of a New York bank I became acquainted with members of the John Birch Society. They made no secret of their affiliation. Indeed they were proud of it, proselytizing around the bank to younger employees. They were always good for a nice lunch, treating listeners interested in what they had to say.
And what did they have to say?
The treat to America was not the USSR but communists here at home. That George C. Marshall and President Eisenhower were secretly communist sympathizers for having “lost China,” and Korea. Real American patriots would have gone to nuclear war if necessary to save China for the West rather than see the Nationalists driven to Taiwan and the triumph of Mao.
Soon the soft on communism leftie was JFK who gave away Cuba.
Now even as a kid none if this sounded right to me. It echoed Joe McCarthy who saw a communist behind every bush. The second category was the communist sympathizer – the liberal / socialist. You know the kind – those who believed in social security and FDR.
When racial protests began in the 60s these folks were firmly on the side of Bull Connor and his dogs. The only reason his German Shepherds were biting peaceful protestors was because the demonstrators incited the dogs for the TV cameras.
Came the Vietnam War protesters and the right called them traitors and harped on Law and Order. I was standing outside the old American Express headquarters across from Irving Trust the day construction workers in hard hats beat up college kids and marched down Broadway waving flags in support of our troops. Some saw patriots, I saw incipient fascism.
When the National Guard shot down 4 students at Kent State there were plenty who thought they deserved it. After my discharge from the Army in ’67 and my return t0 Wall Street I would mount the steps of the old Federal Hall and beneath the statue of George Washington address a massive antiwar crowd; I had served so I had credibility
I didn’t know my sister-in-law was in the crowd. She blabbed to the entire family.
Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew would run on a law and order ticket – and win. Richard Nixon was a statesman compared to what we have now.
Back then the leader of the intellectual conservative movement was William F. Buckley. scion of a well to do Connecticut family, author of God and Man at Yale, founder of the influential National Review and a one time candidate for Mayor of New York
He was a great debater and would in many instances skewer his moderate and liberal guests. One time a guest complained how services in minority communities, specifically garbage collection lagged behind white neighborhoods. Buckley drolly replied that the wealthy in Connecticut sneaked into Harlem each night and secretly dumped garbage in their streets. Of course he got a laugh from his “base.”
Behind all of the humorous jabbing at libs however his magazine was consistently on the wrong side of history. And no where more wrong than in South Africa. British colonial administrations in the 19th century, and subsequent South African governments, had established “reserves” in 1913 and 1936, with the intention of segregating black South Africans from whites. When the National Party came to power in 1948, Minister for Native Affairs (and later Prime Minister of South Africa) Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd built on this, introducing a series of measures that reshaped South African society such that whites would be the demographic majority. The creation of the homelands or Bantustans was a central element of this strategy, as the long-term goal was to make the Bantustans independent. As a result, blacks would lose their South African citizenship and voting rights, allowing whites to remain in control of South Africa.
The concept was clearly “separate but equal. Each ethnic group would have its own state with its own political system and economy, and each would rely on its own labor force. “These independent states would then coexist alongside white South Africa in a spirit of friendship and collaboration. In their own areas, black citizens would enjoy full rights.”
Clearly this was segregation called “separate development.”
Well the National Review (Buckley was editor) was all in favor of separate development via Bantustans. Behind all of the intellectual facade stood segregation both in the US and South Africa.
The antiwar protestors were traitors and un-American. The racial clashes were unjustified and brought on by thugs and anarchists. Nixon ran on law and order and his secret plan to get us out of Vietnam.
In college the right wing group was Young Americans for Freedom. They too believed the country was in danger from liberals, socialists and commie sympathizers.
My reason for going through this ancient history is to illustrate that nothing much has changed. Right wing extremism and calls for law and order in the face of change is as American as apple pie.