The last time the U.S. was this divided it had a civil war

World | Gwynne Dyer | July 28, 2022

“President Trump, on behalf of all the MAGA patriots in America, I want to thank you for the historic victory for white life in the Supreme Court yesterday,” said Congresswoman Mary Miller at a Trump rally in Illinois on Saturday June 25, the day after the court struck down Roe v. Wade — the judgement that has protected abortion rights for the past 49 years.

After her speech, her spokesperson quickly told the media that the Republican politician didn’t really mean it — it was just a “mix up of words.” You know, the way everybody randomly puts the word ‘white’ into sentences by accident: ‘white ex-President Trump’, ‘white Illinois’, ‘white MAGA patriots’.

What Miller really meant to say, of course, was ‘white victory for historic life.’ It is cruel and wicked for people to twist her words like that.

Yet at that rally, coming out of Miller’s mouth, the remark really seemed to echo the hopes and beliefs of the crowd.

It’s a safe bet that at least half the people who rejoiced at the abortion ban are also believers in the Great Replacement. That’s the paranoid theory that immigration is a liberal plot to create a non-white majority that will overwhelm the votes and the interests of the real, true Americans (who are white, right-wing Christians and loyal Republican voters).

This is a constant theme on the pro-Trump media in the United States, and especially Fox News, but it doesn’t stop at America’s borders. Both the far right and the even farther right candidates for president in this past spring’s French election, Marine Le Pen and Eric Zemmour, pushed the Great Replacement nonsense as hard as they could.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán wallows in Great Replacement rhetoric, claiming that Europe is committing suicide by letting non-white and non-Christian immigrants and refugees in. He pushes ‘pro-family’ policies in Hungary, but also rails against gay families as “illegitimate, non-procreative entities”.

Poland bans abortion for almost all cases, even for fetuses with severe congenital abnormalities, and makes accessing contraception as difficult as possible. It is also considering making divorce harder, in order to increase the birth rate.

Russia aims to halve abortions by 2025, and China has a similar plan in the works, but in neither of these cases are they worried about being ‘replaced’ by immigrants. They just want to rejuvenate their aging populations by forcing women to have more babies.

And Turkey’s increasingly erratic President Erdoğan, just to stoke popular paranoia in European countries and give a boost to his right-wing counterparts there, has urged Turkish immigrants in European countries to have five-children families. (Turks are mostly white, but they’re Muslims so they’re apparently still a threat to white Europeans.)

But it’s in the United States that the anti-abortion movement has made the most progress, mainly because it is so closely allied with religion. And its ambitions do not end with banning abortion.

Justice Clarence Thomas, one of the six judges (out of nine) on the Supreme Court who voted to overrule Roe v. Wade, added an ominous comment to his judgement. He said that the court should go further and jettison the entire line of ‘privacy’ precedents that protect access to contraception, gay rights and same-sex marriage.

Thomas is the most conservative member of a very conservative court, and several of his colleagues insisted that the Roe v. Wade ruling does not threaten other precedents under the ‘privacy’ heading. But that’s not correct.

As the three dissenting judges said, “If the majority is right in its legal analysis, all those [privacy] decisions were wrong. And if that is true, it is impossible to understand … how the majority can say that its opinion today does not threaten — does not even ‘undermine’ — any number of other constitutional rights.”

Today abortion, tomorrow contraception, gay rights, equal rights in marriage — you name it. Give the Republicans a majority in both houses of Congress this November, add Trump as comeback president in 2024 and anything is possible. And it would all be imposed by a minority of voters exploiting the huge voting advantages of the ‘Red’ states.

This is a divide on fundamental rights so deep that it resembles the drift into the American Civil War in the 1850s. Despite the attempted coup of January 2021, nothing so extreme is likely this time. But a decade or more of violence in the streets, political paralysis, and even the rise of a strongman ‘state of emergency’ regime is becoming imaginable.

Everybody can recite a litany of criticisms about the United States’ failings, and many of them would be at least partly true. But most of those critics have no idea how frightened they will be if the U.S. goes rogue, or (more likely) how much they will miss it if it just withdraws from the world.

Gwynne Dyer’s new book is The Shortest History of War.