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Tentative Glimpses at a New National Mythology

Tentative Glimpses at a New National Mythology

Pennsylvania has the breathtaking panorama of Gettysburg, where one can so readily conjure the doomed gray ranks charging into the maw of Hunt’s cannons. Maryland has Antietam, marked by Rohrbach’s scenic bridge where Confederate soldiers held off a bloody Union advance. Tennessee has the drama of Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge. Texas has Sabine Pass.

Many, many years ago, a busload of 3rd graders piled out onto this patch of mowed marshland, harried by mosquitos and ringed with refineries and gas storage facilities. Under a sweltering spring sun, air like stew smelling of rot and benzene, we gathered to hear the story behind our field trip.

Here, a bar owner named Dick Dowling rallied a few dozen of his fellow Irishmen from Houston to defend this patch of mud from an 1863 Union invasion of Texas. Thanks to a couple of lucky shots that disabled two Union gunboats, the Yankees turned back. Now a giant Dick Dowling, improbably buff and inexplicably shirtless, forever surveys a landscape of gas flares, fire ant mounds and the occasional third grader.

As signaled by his bronzeness, Dowling was the star of this saga. Informed by a child’s simple sense of justice, I found this narrative puzzling. Sweat streaked, skinny legs spattered with blood from swatting mosquitos, I sidled up to Mrs. Jones seeking clarification.

“So, this Dowling guy,” pointing at the sculpture, “He’s the hero, right?”

“Yes, dear.”

“So, he was fighting to free the slaves?”

“Well, no, but…”

“Doesn’t that mean the guys in the ships were the heroes?”

“You see, they were invading Texas.”

“But they were going to free the slaves.”

“Sweety, Mrs. Stephenson has snacks.”

Others got the message more clearly. Our class was in its first year of court-imposed desegregation. My new black classmates were not confused about what they were seeing. A certain friend who shall remain nameless, muttered the jarringly profane “fuck that guy” during the presentation just loud enough to be heard. He was banished to the sweltering school bus, where he at least enjoyed protection from the insect swarms.

Why is there a statue of Dick Dowling out in the salt marsh near Sabine Pass, and why should a busload of school kids spend an afternoon there? The symbols, icons, heroes and stories we celebrate help us draw the crucial distinction between “us” and “them.” That bronze idol told a story which these children were absorbing into their System 1 filters even if they couldn’t articulate its meaning. Who is a hero? Who and what is good? Who can we trust and who should we fear? What are the values that define “us?”

Students visiting Sabine Pass Battleground soak up a narrative in which heroes are white people, fighting to protect the rightful order of the world in which innately superior whites reign for the benefit of all. It is admirable, even holy in that mythology, to murder other Americans to protect white supremacy.

As demonstrated by the fact that this monument even exists, the war never ended. Imagery at the site communicates that you too can become a hero like Dick Dowling, even if you began life as a mere Irishman, by joining the fight to preserve white supremacy.

Who is the enemy in this story, the crucial “them?” Black people of course, along with people of other races who fail to assimilate, adopting the habits, values and culture of the master race. And the most loathsome enemy in this narrative? Those boatloads of white men Dowling struggled to murder, the treasonous whites who betray the sacred racial bond that defines “us.”

This message caused me some confusion, as it does many other Americans, for its tension with the wider, more broadly touted “we hold these truths to be self-evident” values of the American experiment. However, for my Black friend back in the hotbox of the school bus, the message was crystal clear, clear enough that he couldn’t be allowed to remain at large, spreading dissonance. People might struggle to articulate these System 1 filters into a coherent, logical System 2 narrative, but they absorb the narrative none the less.

Symbols, icons and stories we elevate have consequences that can resonate across generations. Dick Dowling and his Confederates lost the war, but they never stopped fighting to establish a white nationalist republic. In 1892, the City of Houston renamed a street after Dowling. It was a pointed gesture. That street, formerly called Broadway, was in the Third Ward, where a community of freemen was battling to establish a sanctuary for themselves. The newly renamed Dowling Street ran past land purchased by freedman in 1872 to establish Emancipation Park, the only public park in the area open to them.

In case anyone might miss the intent, the council also renamed the cross-street north of the park to Tuam Street, after Dowling’s Irish birthplace. Houston erected a statue of Dowling at city hall in 1905.

History looks like a straight line. Examining the powerful infrastructure of white supremacy in this country from the perspective of the present, it appears inevitable, ever-present, even unstoppable. In fact, it took decades of relentless struggle for post-Civil War bigots to cement this white supremacist order into place. Dowling had been dead and largely forgotten for a quarter of a center when his myth was reanimated to intimidate freedmen. Most of the country’s Confederate monuments weren’t erected until the 20th century. The site of Dowling’s battlefield victory wasn’t marked until the 1930’s.

In our time, the power of a white supremacist mythology is crumbling, presenting us with an opportunity and a threat. We have a rare opening to promote a new, hopefully more just and powerful mythology to define an “us” for a coming century. At the same time, we face the dangers posed by the death of a unifying mythology. Human beings in close proximity who lack a shared identity will tend to destroy one another. How do we create, or update, a mythology of Us that can meet our needs before the death of an old mythology tears us apart?

A unifying mythology sits on a foundation of values, a set of traits, habits, values and actions which demonstrate the character of the purported Us. Atop that foundation are stories, sitting at a System 2 level, which encapsulate and lionize that package of defining characteristics. Reinforcing those stories is a galaxy of iconography, songs, art and other subconscious artifacts which bombard the System 1 mind with the values and stories of the Us. Then comes the most uncomfortable part.

It is hard to conceive of an “us” without a “them.” Perhaps the “them” can be merely conceptual, but habits of the human mind tend to translate a theoretical them into actual persecuted enemies. Establishing an identity is easier with an enemy, so we tend to create enemies out of whatever materials are available. How we manage our urge to define an other will largely determine the relative merit or malignancy of the new mythology.

Sabine Pass demonstrates almost all of these elements. Dowling, who in life was a whiskey-sotted bar owner is, here, a bronze Adonis. At his feet in marble are the demigods, men who achieved immortality by joining him in the fight to preserve the natural order of slavery. Unconscious imagery spotlights the heroes. Narrative plaques communicate the top-level story. Combinations of the conscious and unconscious narratives drill into the System 1 mind the foundation values defining us and them. And the presence of a loathed enemy seals the package.

Sabine Pass also demonstrates another challenge of mythmaking – it’s not hypnotism. A mythology will be stronger the less it depends on lies. A mythology is of course, by definition, not “true” in an empirical sense. It is an abstraction, a representation of an idealized reality. However, the less it challenges obvious truths the more readily it may take hold and survive.

The mythology of white supremacy was constantly at odds with lived experience, dependent on fear for survival. Maintaining this mythology required relentless policing of the boundaries of acceptable expression. Any half-alert third-grader could spot its inconsistencies, and people were constantly being “sent to the bus” for challenging its sanctity. Mythologies that fly in the face of daily lived experience will be very expensive to maintain.

In a post-racial America, what are the values that should define “us?” What symbols, rituals, memorials, songs and other cultural artifacts would best cement those values into place? Who are the heroes to emulate and the villains to reject?

Answers to these questions will emerge from an evolutionary process of trial and error, a process which is already in motion. The public will embrace or reject different expressions of our common values and aspirations until a new unifying mythology takes shape. Normally, a new unifying ethos only coalesces in the cauldron of a crisis. Perhaps two economic collapses and a lethal pandemic have been crisis enough, but probably not.

What follows is an outline for a new mythology, based in large part on the aspirations present at our founding. Only history will tell us what new unifying ethos will emerge, if one emerges at all, but we will each have a hand in influencing that evolution.

We can begin to see the promising outlines of a replacement mythology by looking at the values Jim Crow era bigots were struggling to obscure. America should become what we aspired to be from our beginning. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

A few years after Jefferson’s stirring words, the French Declaration of the Rights of Man put more context around his formulation. Including the concept that “Liberty consists in the freedom to do everything which injures no one else.” Not only are these laudable concepts in general, they remain embedded in the American subconscious, making them a natural rallying point.

An unavoidable outgrowth of these values is a respect for empirical reality, a definition of reality based on what can be measured and scientifically proven. There is no way for people of different religious and cultural backgrounds to reach compromises on disputes without reference to an external, shared reality. An emphasis on empirical reality brings with it a respect for learning, science and intellectual exploration.

“We” are the people who embrace human rights, popular sovereignty, rule of law, science, questioning, diversity of thought and background, and the right to find one’s own way in life to the extent that it does not infringe the freedom of others. “They” are the people who elevate a master caste as inherently superior, preserving for it special rights to power, leadership wealth and protection. They are suspicious of any expression of doubt or questioning that might undermine the master caste. They maintain a paranoid obsession with the perceived threats posed by the lesser castes, expressed through worshipful attitudes toward the security services, who they see as their last line of protection against change.

A new mythology finds its initial expression through the stories of its heroes. Places of veneration held today by Confederates are attractive targets, potential openings to elevate new figures of admiration and example. Virginia is planning to replace its statue of Robert E Lee in the US Capitol with Virginia Johns. As a teenager in the days before Brown v Board of Education, she led the fight to desegregate Virginia schools. 

The US Treasury is planning to replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill with Harriet Tubman, a move the Trump Administration managed to delay. Atlanta just renamed Forrest Hill Academy, previously named for KKK founder Nathan Bedford Forrest, after Black baseball hero Hank Aaron. Congress last year established a commission to find new names for military bases named after Confederate figures.

Across many fields from science to the arts there are remarkable figures whose achievements have been obscured by their race or gender. Figures often only recalled in the special sub-context of Hispanic History Month or “great women you’ve never heard of.” We have a chance to elevate these people and the meaning of their stories into the center of a national mythology, and also into the lore of local communities all over the country. Houston should have a memorial to the Black soldiers executed in the Camp Logan Mutiny. Pine Bluff, Arkansas should have a memorial to Joseph Carter Corbin. The image of Robert Smalls should be plastered all over South Carolina, and probably much of the rest of America too. Get this right, and a future generation will ask us if Black History Month was a real thing.

One of the great intentional injuries of white supremacist mythology was its effort to strip non-white and non-male people from places of respect. For most of our history, people of color only saw themselves depicted in mass media as criminals, clowns, jesters or other deviant or subservient positions. People need heroes that match their identity. As we search for new heroes to replace those foisted on us by the promoters of white supremacy, consider an unpopular warning. As this process plays out and we begin to see the faces of great people once ignored being elevated to their rightful place, it would be strategic to find ways to include white men.

Perhaps your first response to that suggestion is hostility. Afterall, it was white men who created and nurtured white supremacy. If so, consider this question: how would you propose to establish a new “unifying” mythology that demonizes 31% of the US population on the basis on their birth?

If your response is to point out that our public life is already choked with celebrations of the achievements of white men, you’d be right. But you might be missing the point. Though anyone can immediately name a dozen prominent white male Americans, how many white male civil rights heroes can you name, apart from Lincoln? That’s not an accident. These men were written out of history, and often murdered, because of the unique threat they posed to a racist order. Including them as heroes of this new mythology is vital not just for the strategic advantage it offers, but for a much more potent reason that becomes clear from their stories.

Jonathan Daniels was an Episcopal seminary student from New Hampshire who followed Martin Luther King, Jr to Alabama for the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery. He worked to desegregate Episcopal churches there and participated in protests organized by the SNCC. Daniels and two others were confronted while trying to enter a convenience store. He was murdered protecting his colleague, Ruby Sales. His murderer would be acquitted by an all-white Alabama jury. Sales would go on to a long, storied career in the civil rights movement.

Congressman Thaddeus Stevens and activist William Lloyd Garrison were the most vocal early figures in the Abolition movement. Col. Lewis Merrill, mentioned in an earlier piece, fought to dismantle the Klan in Reconstruction Era South Carolina.

Adelbert Ames was a heroic Union general who had a remarkable Reconstruction Era career. He was the Governor of Mississippi after the war, and later one of its Senators. As a Republican he struggled to ensure basic civil rights for freedmen. That struggle became a low-grade war in the 1870’s which Ames would eventually lose.

All across the South in the Civil War guerilla resistance to the Confederacy emerged. Most of the leaders have been forgotten, but John Lewis Johnson, a North Carolina druggist, stands out. He organized a resistance force called Heroes of America which supported an anti-war political movement and an underground spy and sabotage network. He was forced to flee in 1864 and his family suffered terribly, but he survived, and his movement continued to battle the KKK during Reconstruction.

Silas Soule was an anti-slavery militant in pre-Civil War Kansas who joined the Union Army. He was in command of a cavalry unit sent to confront a band of Native Americans at Sand Creek in Colorado in 1864. When ordered to attack the defenseless band of mostly women, children and the elderly, Soule refused and ordered his men not to participate. Soule reported the details of the massacre and testified before a military tribunal. A few months later Soule was murdered by one of the members of the militia that participated in the massacre. His murderer escaped and was never punished.

There are of course, many others, but their stories have been largely erased. Including these men’s often tragic contributions highlights an important dimension of a mythology of diversity. People always knew that slavery and white supremacy were wrong. Even among the most privileged caste of this society the truth was always apparent. Highlighting the courage of men like Silas Soule, or others like Anthony Bewley, William Brisbane, and Newton Knight makes the compromises of those who collaborated with slavery or Jim Crow even more stark, countering the old trope that “times were different then” used to justify the moral compromises of collaborators. We should find space to remember the white male heroes who fought slavery and white supremacy.

Where will all this statue and memorial construction come from? State and local governments can do much of it, but their work will be constrained by political resistance. Instead of waiting, take a page from the playbook of white supremacy. Use privately organized groups to raise money, buy land, and get these memorials erected. Private societies were responsible for the overwhelming majority of Confederate monuments erected during the first wave of their construction. Money raised all over the country could fund the establishment of new monuments in otherwise hostile local communities. As we’ve seen, once these monuments are erected, they become cultural beacons.

Beyond monuments, what art and other cultural artifacts might cement these heroes and their values into the System 1 imagination?  

For starters, it makes sense to start experimenting with the replacement of the Star-Spangled Banner, at least at major gatherings that are not specifically political or “official.” Perhaps the best way to avoid the spectacle of athletes taking a knee during the anthem is to play “America the Beautiful” or “This Land Is Your Land.” If angry racists complain about our failure to ‘support the troops,’ switch to a song that addresses that complaint directly while doubling down, like “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” There are plenty of already available artistic artifacts which already appeal to something deep in the American soul which can be summoned toward a new purpose.

We’re already beginning to see a very helpful development in popular culture – the emergence of shows and films featuring diverse casts, in which the diversity of the cast not only isn’t the point of the story, it’s not even noted. Depictions of mixed-race couples, ethnic minorities, or successful Black people in stories that are not specifically about that help us imagine a post-racial norm.

We need books and films about the heroes we plan to elevate to replace the gods of white supremacy. New images, like the BLM fist, the rainbow flag, even the appropriation of the Star Wars ‘Rebel Alliance Starbird’ as a symbol of the anti-Republican resistance should be the beginning of a wave of new iconography. Much of what a new unifying mythology will become is already apparent, but much remains to be done.

In 2017, just a week before Donald Trump took office, Houston removed Dick Dowling’s name from the street running along Emancipation Park. Three years later the city took down its statue of Dick Dowling, along with a giant “Spirit of the Confederacy” monument. Dowling still scowls over the refinery-dotted landscape at Sabine Pass. He lost his war more than a century ago. Now his Lost Cause is on its last legs. Like statues of Stalin or Saddam Hussein, his image will come down and his modest achievements will be forgotten. If nothing else, the rising seas that have already swallowed the southern road to his monument will eventually take him.

As the battle to destroy this mythology reaches a tipping point, it’s time for more thought and energy given to what comes next. These kinds of transformations seldom have a long tail. They usually appear pyrrhic until they suddenly prevail. We may have far less time than we think to imagine what will replace white supremacy as our unifying mythology. And People sharing a space without a shared definition of “us” rarely share that space politely.


    1. An unserious proposal meant for the yipping chihuahuas in the media. Republicans would’ve been smart to let it marinate under the guise that they were looking it over (even as they had no intention to agree to anything close), but instead they rejected it outright and gave the Biden Administration exactly the political retort that they were hoping for, and it cost them precisely nothing.

      Kind of amazing how much Republicans can suck at politics when Dems aren’t busy shooting themselves in the foot.

  1. So the frothing mouths from the so-called ‘pro-life’ movement finally got their political mulligan today after SCOTUS decided to hear a case on Mississippi’s abortion ban (after 15 wks, tbc). At the heart of this case is the only question the Justices decided to take up, and it’s a doozy: “Whether all pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortions are unconstitutional.”

    To be clear, Mississippi isn’t explicitly challenging Roe v Wade in this case, but then again it didn’t really have to. If the conservatives side with them, wouldn’t it have to be an extraordinarily narrow ruling to avoid taking a knife to the heart of Roe? Given the broad scope of the question at hand, just how likely does that seem?

      1. Doubtful that even this Court would go so far as to overturn Roe outright (plus that’s not the question they’ve taken up), but they could weaken it significantly. Most abortions are done within the first 13 weeks of a pregnancy, so if they affirm that at least *some* prohibitions on a pre-viable fetus are unconstitutional, Republican-controlled states will be chomping at the bit.

    1. This case was inevitable. Given the latest religion fanatic to be put on the bench, the result is equally inevitable. To suggest the majority want to maintain the status quo does not matter, nor really has ever mattered. The insane states of muricastan is no longer a democracy, if it ever was.

      The ruling by SCOTUS will be just another setback to rational thought, as some states will try to maintain sanity, while many others rush headlong back to the 20th, 19th, or 18th century.

    1. Not going to happen. One thing the fascists within that group, even the “moderate ones” crave more than anything is power. Splitting off into some kind of protest party won’t happen, because that dooms them all. Every single one would be primaried. And they can do the electoral math as well as anyone.

      Cheney is the outlier. Did you see how many in the death cult party actually stayed in the House to hear her speech?

  2. FWIW, WA is replacing a statue of Marcus Whitman in the National Statuary Hall with a statue of Billy Frank, Jr. Marcus Whitman was a physician and missionary to the Tribal Peoples of the Oregon Territory. He established a mission near Walla Walla, WA in 1836 among the Cayuse Tribe. The Tribe was willing to work with him regarding agricultural methods, but rejected his strict Calvinist approach and he was culturally arrogant. His mission effort was failing badly and he badly mishandled a measles epidemic. He was killed by warriors from the tribe during an attack on the mission because they blamed him for the epidemic. He has been considered to be an important figure in PNW history, since the mission work reinforced the US claim to the Oregon Territory. Billy Frank. Jr. was a member of the Nisqually Tribe and was arrested multiple times for fishing for in the usual and accustomed places as guaranteed by the treaty with the US Government. He was the moving force behind a major federal court decision that guaranteed the tribal peoples the right to fish in their usual places and led to a complete revamp off fishing rights in WA. The Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge was named after him after it was rehabilitated following a major flood a number of years ago. It was rehabilitated using stimulus funds following the 2008 Economic Collapse.

    I visited the mission during a birding trip to the area several years ago and prior to Covid visited Nisqually several times per year. That was all BC (Before Covid). Since then I have severely restricted external activities. Both my wife and I are in the high risk category and her health is marginal, so I have had to be extraordinarily cautious. Now that we are both fully vaccinated, I am slowly resuming activities outside the home but continue to be cautious.

    This is a small step towards rectifying the dastardly treatment of the tribal peoples by the white Western settlers and the US Military. Such steps do help towards establishing an equalitarian humanistic society, and developing an alternative to White Supremacy.

    1. That’s really informative! I’m glad that this type of change is slowly occurring. Chris is right that when your worldview is inherently contradictory to reality (white people are innately superior; the South’s cause was morally righteous even if they lost; etc), you have to spend a lot of time and effort maintaining those myths. The further from reality it is, the more work you have to do. Which means the amount of statues we need to put up in defense of our ideals will be much less than what the white supremacists need.

      When you look at the world through the lens Chris has described, it truly is extraordinary. Look, for example, at how Robert E. Lee is venerated and worshipped, even in the North, while U.S. Grant is dismissed as incompetent and William Sherman is regarded as a monster.

      I understand it’s possible to appreciate one’s enemy while not agreeing with their goals. Rommel is widely respected for his military skills even though he was a Nazi. But firstly, Rommel had no choice but to be a Nazi. He couldn’t fight for the Allies. Lots of the German general staff regarded Hitler as a meth’ed out dangerous hick who was going to ruin the country (to the point of trying to organize an assassination attempt), but they carried out his orders regardless. General Lee *chose* his side. He was offered control of the U.S. Army, and he declined, choosing to ally with the south. Plenty of southern generals (including one William T. Sherman) chose to side with the north, so it’s not like it was difficult to do. IOW, there was no coercion, nor unfortunate circumstance of birth that made him fight for the south. He *chose* to be a traitor to his country in support of slavery. To me, that’s a much larger moral flaw than Nazi generals who tried the weak defense of “I was only following orders”.

      But even as a military commander, the lionization of Lee and other Southern generals and the demonization of Northern generals is astonishing. Lee was a great tactician but poor strategist. He won many individual battles against larger armies, but he never had a plan for success. He did not have a plan for how to actually win the war. And that’s what a leader of the army is supposed to do. Midlevel generals and battlefront officers should be tacticians. The General of the Army needs to be a strategist and in that, he was mediocre at best.

      In comparison, U.S. Grant was a great general. People dismiss him saying he won only because the North had more manpower and firepower. Yes, those are advantages, but plenty of armies lost with those advantages. And Sherman was nothing short of brilliant in both his strategy and tactics in devising his march to Atlanta. And far from being a bloodthirsty monster, he was actually incredibly morally enlightened and saw clearly the realities and horrors of war:

      It’s amazing how these people’s histories have been rewritten in service of romanticizing the Southern’s POV in the civil war, and how far we’ve let it go even in the North.

      FWIW, there is only one part of Lee’s life that I do respect: his decision to end the war and reconcile with the North. He could have gone underground, converting the war into a low-level guerrilla war that they would never win but which would deny the Northa clear victory as well. And plenty of southerners decided to go that route (including another venerated Southern General Nathan Bedford Forrest who helped found the KKK, which, as Chris has noted, at that time was basically a low-level guerilla insurgency). Instead, Lee accepted defeat and focused on reconciliation and re-integration. That was also a moral (along with strategic) choice, and the only one of his that I admire.

      So we have a lot of work to do. If I were to start, I’d do it by placing a statue of Sherman in the middle of Atlanta. And then taking 3rd graders to field trips there 🙂

      1. Thanks for the complement. I largely concur with your comments regarding Lee and that is from one who’s father was named after him. As a general he was not great in that he did not seem to have a strategic plan. But he was probably the best general in the US Army in 1861. So the offer to lead the entire Army was probably the a smartest move.

        Once it was obvious that the South could not win, Lee did surrender and did not pursue a guerilla strategy, which for the most part the South did. I do admire Lee for accepting defeat and reconciling and attempting to reintegrate, in so far as possible. He did move on with his life.

  3. Chris, you are missing the reality for a wanted utopia.

    The recent reallocation seats due to the census plus gerrymandering pretty much guarantees the lower House falls to the fascists in 2022. When you factor in the pushback to all the woke madness (and yes, that is indeed a thing), it is a lock. And no matter what Biden has done by 2024, he will lose, well, because most voters are stupid with a memory that can be measured in weeks, not years.

    It is fantasy to suggest that what you want to see happen will happen, at least in the southern states, when the federal gov’t and SCOTUS in the pocket of the insane and evil.

      1. And you seriously think that the landscape in 2022 and 2024 will be better for the dem’s? The fascists have been making moves at the state level since Nov to ensure that this never happens again. How many states in the past 6 months have restricted voting with new laws?

        Cheney is about to be booted for a loyalist to the tyrant. Another loyalist to the tyrant is ascendant in Florida. He just signed vote restriction laws into place, while at the same time shutting out all media except the fascist propaganda organ.

        Your utopia may work in a democracy. It does not work in the United States.

      2. Curious thing about all these new voting restrictions; they might actually end up hurting Republicans more than Democrats:

        For all the huffing and puffing about mail-in voting, it’s traditionally been Republicans who cash in on it. Hell, Florida Republicans spent decades basing their whole election strategy around it, and now they’ve suddenly decided to do a whole 180 after one election (that they won in the state, iirc) to upend all their efforts? Okay???

        And on Chris’ point about Georgia, there’s an important point there. How, exactly, did Democrats clean up in the Peach State?

        Well, we all owe an immense debt of gratitude to black voters who showed up in record numbers, no doubt, but it’s those well-educated, wealthy suburbanites (formerly solidly Republican voters) that demand a closer look. These voters, unlike sporadic rural ones that turned out so decisively for Trump, always turn out. It’s what gave Republicans such a great advantage in midterm elections for so long – and that they’ve trended so clearly towards the Democrats didn’t *just* help us win the Senate majority. To borrow a phrase from our president, it’s a Big F*****g Deal.

        This realignment is a problem Republicans can’t magically wave away, especially with voting restrictions that might well have an outsized kick in the political teeth on the very rural voters they need to turn out if they hope to win the midterms.

  4. The Chinese removed “Term Limits” – well whoop de do!!

    The USA put Term Limit in place when a popular President served too long for the 0.1% !

    Those “Term Limits” have done far far more harm than good

    Guess who else does not have “Term Limits”

    Just about everywhere!! – The UK, NZ, Germany

    “Term Limits” are an antidemocratic aberration

  5. China represents the IMAGE of repression

    The actual reality is completely different!

    China is a democracy – everybody votes

    The limitation is on who stands for election – to stand you must be a party member – nothing to do with communism
    To join the party you must put yourself forwards – the people filling sandbags at the floods are party members
    And you must not only keep your nose clean you must be seen to be clean
    Children of party members must jump through higher hoops to join
    So far that has worked very well – the sign that it has failed will be when we get political dynasties
    The UK and the USA fail that test!

    People chunter on about the Uighurs – the main thing that the Chinese government is doing about THAT problem is making the Uighurs wealthy
    Its a poor genocide when the party being genocided is growing faster in population and wealth than the Han Chinese themselves

      1. True
        but just because it was false before is not a very good reason to assume it is false NOW

        The people who are chuntering on about the poor Muslim Uighurs are the same ones that don’t give a damn about the Uighur’s peers on our side of the border who are massively worse off than the ones on the Chinese side

        Stalin was basically “Czar Stalin” – and a thug

        The Chinese leadership is a LOT smarter than that

    1. Holy cow. Did someone steal your account? Or is this a side of you we’ve just never seen before? Blink twice if you need help escaping Duncan! 🙂

      “China is a democracy”. Haha, good one. Not even the Chinese claim to be democratic. They claim their system of governance is superior to democracy. If you told Xi that he’s presiding over a democracy, he’d probably send you to a re-education camp to re-learn appreciation for Mao and communism.

      Here’s the think about China and every other autocratic government (such as Russia’s now; it was briefly a democracy but no longer is). As Chris astutely pointed out: autocratic governments are superior to democracy *as long as you pick the right leader*. But pick the wrong leader, and removing him usually requires civil war or some other bloody, violent insurrection. Just like a good autocrat can improve a country far faster than a good democrat (think Singapore), a bad autocrat can do far more damage far faster, than a bad democrat (think, well, most autocrats vs GWB and Trump, both horrendously bad democrats).

      China, I will grant you, has had a string of very good autocrats. From Deng Xiaoping through the next several leaders. Xi is different. He combines the worst parts of Donald Trump (dumb, thin-skinned, using bluster and bullying to achieve his goals) with the worst parts of Putin (ruthless, a focus on territorial expansion to cover up mismanagement of the economy). He will damage China tremendously before his tenure is over (when will it be over? For a “democratic” state like China, he sure doesn’t seem worried about any sort of reelection process).

  6. Below is a link to a Daily KOS diary by Ian Reifowitz that very much relates to Chris’
    thoughts regarding white supremacy and the various impacts on the current global situation. It is based on the recently published Global Trends 2040 by the National Intelligence Council.

    The KOS Diary is located at:

    The Global Trends 2040 report is located at:

  7. This all sounds really interesting. but honest question here. doesn’t the creation of an Us necessitate the creation of a Them? you cant have an in group if you don’t simultaneously create an outgroup to exclude. so the real question here is who becomes the new Them in this new national mythology? who do we exclude and give the short end of the stick?

    That’s always the question for me, can we create a world without the need for Us at all? At least not in the terms of in groups and out groups. Can’t we all just get along? As it were.

    1. Yes, and that can go terribly wrong. Jesus proposed an Us without a Them and we saw what that got him.

      It is possible to create a “them” which is largely theoretical, distant, or located in the past. The them that functioned most successfully in holding our culture together was Communism. It had virtually no local presence. After a relatively limited and gentle purge in the 40’s and 50’s (gentle, in that no Communists were strung up in town squares or herded into concentration camps), we enjoyed decades of relative political calm until that valuable them suddenly evaporated. One could argue (as I did in The Politics of Crazy) that the disappearance of this helpful enemy gave rise to our current political collapse.

      Sooner or later, our new Them is going to be China, partly because Chinese leaders seem in intent on making us their unifying Them and stirring up theatrical conflicts with us wherever possible. It might not be such a bad thing. The Chinese have no interest in a real conflict with us. They do, increasingly, represent exactly the kind of repressive and even Fascist values we’re struggling to fight. Such a stage-managed rivalry might help prop up both countries.

      1. “Yes, and that can go terribly wrong. Jesus proposed an Us without a Them and we saw what that got him.”

        The world’s most followed religion? there are more practicing Christians in the world today than any other faith at any other time on the face of this planet. so I think he did ok in the end.

      2. I agree that China will become the new Them. We tried Muslims as a “Them” since 9/11 but it’s too nebulous. Non-state actors are enough justification for never-ending military campaigns, but are useless as an organizing principle for anything beyond that.

        But I disagree that such a rivalry will be stage-managed and theatrical. The US and USSR did not have any economic ties. Thanks to Nixon and decades of free-trade dogma, many critical parts of our manufacturing infrastructure are in China’s hands. Many of our corporations derive significant profits from their Chinese operations. Their loyalty, when push comes to shove, will not be to us. Even if our politicians make corporations choose between us vs them, many will choose them.

        Witness how Elon Musk publicly gives a middle finger to US authorities including the SEC that fined him for false statements, local governments that forbade him from re-opening his factory during Covid, and so on. Yet, when Chinese authorities express any displeasure, he’s on the first plane to Beijing groveling to make amends. He is basically as controlled by China as Trump was by Russia. Could you imagine an industrialist in the 50s being allowed to be so in bed with Russian officials and not being jailed for UnAmerican activities?

        It would take decades to untangle our economic ties. And that’s if our corporations are willing to give up a significant part of their profits to go along (which they won’t be). Creating a “Them” that we’re so dependent on economically means any theatrics can quickly escalate to real damage.

    1. It’s coming, at some length. What I might not have time to include is a further dive into a problem I anticipate – a new generation of people whose work involves living in System almost constantly may be very difficult to inculcate into a new mythology. In other words, System 2 workers may be resistant to both the good and back impacts of a unifying mythology. We’ll see, I guess.

      1. As a system 2 person (as much as you can be with that damned system 1 getting first dibs at every thought), I feel that. I’m generally against mythologizing and heroizing.

        But on the other hand I observe it works, and your best sell here is that the legends that build the myth need to be based on facts. It’s a much simpler argument to avoid talking about the larger myth mission and just say,

        “There’s remarkable examples of American heroism that has been lost to historical marginalia. Now that we’re taking down Confederate monuments, let’s engage the argument of removing history by replacing it with better history. Here’s a list of unsung heroes whose time has come.”

        I feel that engages both systems.

  8. Beautifully written, Chris! Wherever do you find the time!

    That young third grader is still making “good trouble “….but now he is sharing his wisdom and life’s experiences and answering innocent questions with honesty and introspection. Thank you for “doing the work” in such fine prose, always told in real stories.

    Happy you are back in your home state and hope you will share details of your new job.

  9. Quote from Augustine referenced by Biden in his inauguration speech, from City of God:

    “a people is an assemblage of reasonable beings bound together by a common agreement as to the objects of their love, then, in order to discover the character of any people, we have only to observe what they love.”

    1. It’s incredibly poignant to reference St. Augustine when talking about the destruction of a seemingly permanent world and the confusion that comes before the new world takes its place.

      St. Augustine was witness to the disintegration of the Western Roman Empire, the “natural” world order of his day and for a thousand years before him. And just like whites blame Blacks for the destruction of America today, plenty of people blamed Christianity for the destruction of Rome (Bring back Jupiter and feed those Christians to the lions! Make Rome Great Again!)

      Dazed by the destruction he was witnessing, and the anarchy (aka the Vandals and the Goths) that was coming, he wrote City of God as his attempt to define a new order, based on a spiritual City to replace the political City that was crumbling all around him.

      If there is a patron saint to lead us from an old world to a new one, St. Augustine would probably be it.

      Also, pay no attention to all those European paintings that were done later: St. Augustine was black (born in Algeria to African parents). Just like Jesus was an Arab 😉

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