A look at Robert Spencer’s new book of the same name.
Viewing Lincoln’s 1860 election as a threat to their “peculiar institution,” Southern states began seceding even before he took office; in his inaugural address, delivered two weeks to the day after the formation, on February 18, 1861, of the Confederate States of America, Lincoln eloquently articulated the hope that even now, when a standoff between Union and rebel forces was brewing at Fort Sumter, an Army installation in the harbor of Charleston, S.C., further compromise was yet feasible: “Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
But no reunion was forthcoming. No angels materialized. On April 12, Southern forces began firing on Fort Sumter. As Robert Spencer puts it in his engaging, important, and wide-ranging new book, The Sumter Gambit, the war “started when the Confederate side forced it to begin.” Ordered to abandon the fort, the Yankees refused. “Then the South warned that even resupplying the fort with food would be considered an act of war. The choice was clear: surrender the fort and accept the secession of the Southern states or go to war.”
Well, that’s one way to look at it, certainly. But as an unreconstructed Southron, my own preference is suggested in the shouted exchange across the MLR between two infantrymen: “Why are you fighting, Reb?” “Because y’all are down here!”
That concise conversation took place, if memory serves, at Fredricksburg, as recounted in Shelby Foote’s magisterial The Civil War, without a doubt the absolute best book on the War Of Northern Aggression yet written. Anyways. Onwards.
And so it was war. The longstanding divisions had finally split the house in two. Today, argues Spencer, America is in a not dissimilar fix – although, in his estimation, the divisions now are even wider. In 1861, North and South shared “a common culture, a common religion, a common heritage, and a common outlook”; today, left and right barely share “a common language.”
Like the standoff in Charleston harbor, the present crisis follows decades of increasing tension between two Americas. This time it’s not about freedom vs. slavery, however, but about freedom vs. statist tyranny. And there are other divergences. One is that slavery was there from the beginning and was essentially (in the words of the old hymn) from age to age the same; by contrast, the left’s governing ideology has, over the decades, grown steadily more radical and hard to square with individual freedom, common sense, or (for that matter) the hard lessons of 20th-century totalitarianism. As late as 1960, JFK and Nixon were remarkably close to each other on the issues; a few years later, LBJ’s Great Society marked a great leap forward from federalist republic to welfare state; in 1972, George McGovern’s presidential run represented, in Spencer’s words, the “mainstreaming of…anti-Americanism in the Democratic Party.” In the ensuing years, the mainstream media, the D.C. swamp, and – most decisively – the schools and universities fell increasingly under the control of radicals who taught young Americans to hate liberty, capitalism, and their own country and to embrace globalism, multiculturalism, climatism, and, more recently, “anti-racism” and gender madness. And Congress welcomed members like Ilhan Omar, who makes McGovern look almost like Eisenhower.
Then there’s the longtime problem of the Deep State. As early as 1961, in his farewell address, Ike warned about the military-industrial complex. The CIA is now being seriously accused of having a hand in the JFK assassination. A generation grew up believing that Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein saved democracy by bringing down Nixon; now they look like unwitting tools of Deep State operatives eager to oust a strong-minded president who’d just won an overwhelming election victory. Almost half a century later, the same Deep State tried its darndest to bring down Donald Trump – and then, almost certainly, foiled his re-election.
In the Watergate era, to be sure, Democrats viewed Republicans as opponents. Now they’re seen as nothing less than enemies – a chilling attitude that found its ultimate expression in Joe Biden’s speech of September 1, 2022 (delivered, ironically enough, at Independence Hall in Philadelphia), in which he described Trump and his supporters as “extremists that threaten the very foundations of our republic.” Quite rightly, Spencer views that dark moment in Philadelphia as pivotal. “For the first time in American history,” he writes, “a president declared that his primary political opposition was outside the bounds of acceptable political discourse….Biden came closer to calling for war upon American citizens than any president since Jefferson Davis.”
How ironic, then, that the DemonCrats and Repugs now stand exposed as not “enemies,” but co-conspirators—collaborators in the self-same nefarious enterprise: raw, bare-naked tyranny. That stipulated, Real Americans DO have an enemy, right enough.
But Spencer doesn’t leave it at that. He also compares Biden’s speech to one given by Hitler on March 23, 1933, in support of a piece of legislation called the Enabling Act. Of course, we’re never supposed to compare anyone to Hitler. Leo Strauss called it reductio ad hitlerum. But why is this so verboten? There have been tyrants as terrible as Hitler in the past – in the twentieth century alone we had Stalin and Mao – and there will be terrible ones in the future. If an American president stands in front of a blood-red background, with Marines at attention behind him, and demonizes his political opponents in fiery language that’s eerily reminiscent of a specific Hitler speech, is it unreasonable to note the similarity? When Biden and his flunkies routinely smear MAGA Republicans as fascists – even while his own regime, by covertly collaborating with Silicon Valley and other corporate cronies, is acting out the very definition of fascism – wouldn’t one be a fool not to point out the truth?
One thing’s for sure: Spencer, as he’s proven in over a dozen exceptional books, is no fool. In The Sumter Gambit, he perceptively examines the various fronts on which the left is pushing freedom-loving Americans to the brink, frequently focusing in on various obscure episodes that illuminate just what we’re up against. Did you know, for example, about January 6 “insurrectionist” Matthew Perna, a decent patriot who, on February 25, 2022, his heart and soul finally broken after more than a year of emotional torture at the hands of the Justice Department, committed suicide? Spencer contrasts the system’s cruel tormenting of Perna with the case of Quintez Brown, a BLM thug who, after shooting at a Kentucky politician who’s now the mayor of Louisville, was treated sympathetically in the media, welcomed on Joy Reid’s MSNBC show, “anointed as a rising star by the Obama Foundation,” and given a column in Louisville’s major daily.
S’truth, right down the line. If these ain’t enemies, they’ll do till the enemy gets here, to paraphrase one of my all-time favorite lines from one of my all-time favorite movies:
There was a reason for the Civil War, it just ain’t the one most of us were taught in school. The 1861 Morril tariff triggered the northern invasion of the South. The industrial north intended to take the money earned by Southerners, and should they resist, war.
If you cannot get that part correct, the rest of any book is sure to be hogwash of the same sort.