THE PUBLIC EYE: America’s Second Civil War

By Bob Burnett
Friday June 21, 2013 - 07:12:00 AM

On April 12, 1861, Confederates fired on Fort Sumter, launching the first Civil War. Historians say that war actually began the previous November when Abraham Lincoln was elected President. America’s second Civil War will start in late September when conservatives block raising the debt-limit ceiling and the US goes into default. But our new Civil War actually began in November of 2010 when Tea-Party conservatives seized control of the Republican Party and many states. 

Racial slavery precipitated the first Civil War. Southerners viewed the use of black slaves as an essential component of their plantation economy. Northerners, living in more industrialized areas, saw slavery as immoral. Southerners believed “state’s rights” enabled them to live as they pleased, including slave ownership. Northerners felt that humane standards should be used throughout the US. 

Class slavery is causing the second Civil War. Conservative Republicans, including the founders of the Tea-Party movement, believe there are two classes of Americans: the rich and everyone else – the 1 percent and the 99 percent. Conservatives believe government should benefit of the rich. They dispute the notion that America should guarantee human rights for all Americans: for example, that everyone deserves healthcare and workers should receive a living wage. 

In the first Civil War, Confederates were motivated by an elaborate belief system. They believed whites were the superior race, their agrarian-plantation lifestyle was what the founders intended for America, and the Constitution supported secession. 

In the new Civil War, conservatives have an ideology composed of Reaganomics and Ayn Rand’s , Objectivism, “The concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life.” Rand promoted laissez-faire capitalism as the only moral social system, because it fostered individualism. Reaganomics is based on three laissez-faire doctrines: helping the rich get richer will inevitably help everyone else; markets are inherently self correcting so there is no need for government regulation; and the US does not need an economic strategy because that is a natural consequence of the free market. 

Once again, conservatives believe their actions are justified by the Constitution. And some Tea-Party politicians, such as Texas Governor Rick Perry have called for secession. 

Although the first Civil War threatened to erupt as early as 1850, its roots extended back to the 1785 Philadelphia Constitutional Convention, where there was an acrimonious debate about slavery. 

The Tea-Party insurrection didn’t spontaneously emerge in 2010. As Al Gore pointed out, 

The Tea Party Movement was planned over a decade ago by groups with ties to the tobacco and fossil fuel industries. The movement was not a spontaneous populist uprising, but rather a long-term strategy to promote… a common agenda that advocated market fundamentalism over science and opposed any regulation or taxation of fossil fuels and tobacco products.
Since 2010, conservatives have taken control of more than half of state legislatures. Currently, there are 30 Republican governors, most of who identify with the Tea Party. The most notorious are in Florida (Scott), Maine (Le Page), Michigan (Snyder), North Carolina (Mc Crory), Texas (Perry), Virginia (McDonnell), and Wisconsin (Walker). (The most recent conservative outrages have been seen in North Carolina where conservatives have: “threatened to cut taxes for North Carolina’s wealthiest 5 percent while also raising taxes on the other 95 percent.”) 

Rather than open fire on a military installation, the conservative strategy in the current civil war is to first shut down Congress and then the federal government. That’s what happened with gun control background checks: 45 Senators, mostly conservatives, refused to let the legislation come up for a vote. The same intransigence will kill immigration reform in the House of Representatives. In the fall there will be a total shutdown when conservatives block raising the debt-limit ceiling. 

As Robert Reich recently pointed out, shutting down Congress moves the locus of legislative action to the states. 

This means many blue states are moving further left, while red states are heading rightward. In effect, America is splitting apart without going through all the trouble of a civil war.
There’s a huge cultural gap between Red and Blue states. Red states have a racist, misogynist bent; they’re down on women and people of color. If, as expected, the Supreme Court leaves the question of gay marriage to the states, look for Red states to continue to restrict LGBT rights. And, of course, Red states deny global climate change and avoid gun control. 

But the most glaring differences are on economic issues. Red states are pro-business to an extreme. (Texas governor, Rick Perry has been touring blue states trying to lure businesses to Texas with a low regulations, taxes, and wages spiel.) Typically, red states are hospitable to the rich and unfriendly to the poor and disadvantaged. Their ethos is from the gospel of Ayn Rand: “what’s in it for me” and “you’re on your own.” 

Conservatives have dragged America into a second civil war. A conflict that pits human rights versus corporate rights and democracy versus plutocracy. 

Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. He can be reached at