Historians find it endlessly fascinating that the mythical, Confederate apologist version of the Civil War is so tenacious in the population of the United States. The Civil War was about “states’ rights” (hint: states don’t have rights, individuals do) but it was mostly about slavery. The two are not mutually exclusive. The biggest “states’ rights” issue from the Missouri Compromise in 1823 through “bleeding Kansas,” the dress rehearsal for the Civil War, was whether new states that enter the Union would allow slavery or not.
This was the issue in the Lincoln Douglas debates, still much beloved of high school debate teams across the Republic.
But to offer “states’ rights” — that nullity — in an effort to prove that the Civil War was not about slavery is nonsense of the first order. Slavery is nothing to be proud of, although at least some modern Republicans don’t seem to mind extolling its supposed virtues, as Roy Moore lately reminded us.
Far more puzzling is how the Confederate apologists and their allies — what we might call the Stupidity Rump — continue to have such outsized influence in our politics and policy at the national level.
Why do we have to endure the likes of Donald Trump, Brett Kavanaugh, and his buddies at The Federalist, having any impact at all on our society? Why do we have to have shining representatives of the Stupidity Rump governing? We should stop doing that.
It is not all that surprising, although it is very sad, that the Stupidity Rump continues to govern in the states that actually joined the Confederacy, as we see with the extreme gerrymandering in favor of Republicans in North Carolina or the heroic efforts in Alabama to get the Supreme Court — entirely too much a tool of the Stupidity Rump even before the addition of Kavanaugh — to strike down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act in order to enable renewed discrimination against African American voters.
A related, equally idiotic, historical claim that, like the “states’ rights” reason for the Civil War, has a tiny grain of truth in it but misses the larger point by a mile, is that it was the Democrats who advocated slavery and ran the Confederacy and Republicans who ended slavery. What those wacky “conservatives,” who provide what little intellectual armature the Stupidity Rump can muster, can never remember is that the only constant in human life is change, and that one major change in the politics of the United States since 1865 is the complete policy reversal of the two major political parties. At its founding, the Republican Party inherited all the former Whigs, who had opposed the Democrats during their brief existence, advocating vigorous use of federal power to advance economic growth and other beneficial developments. So it was that the Republicans took advantage of the Democrats’ absence from Congress on the secession of the Confederate states to enact various laws that Democrats of the day opposed, such as the statute granting to states plots of federal land to sell for the purpose of creating public universities — hence, “land grant universities,” some of which are leading public institutions in the United States and in the world today. But the Stupidity Rump was never much on education.
Republicans rested on the laurels of having written and ratified the Reconstruction Amendments to the Constitution, prohibiting slavery and trying to secure some measure of equality for the newly freed slaves, which Democrats, the Party of the Stupidity Rump then, undoubtedly thwarted through 1960, when Republican Richard Nixon and Democrat John F. Kennedy competed for the few African Americans who could vote. Another favorite claim of the Stupidity Rump is that Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Republican. He may well have been because being a Republican made sense for an African American who sought equality in the United States — until 1964, just a few years before King died.
Ironically, the Democrats’ status as the Party of segregation and discrimination served Kennedy well in the 1960 election as his brother, Robert, could call a local Democrat and persuade him to release Martin Luther King, Jr. from jail in order to help the national ticket. Kennedy won in 1960, of course, then died in 1963, making Lyndon Johnson, himself a good southerner, president. Knowing full well that the Democrats would lose control of the South as a result, Johnson still did the right thing on civil rights, putting his impressive political skills to the task of getting Congress, with a good bit of help from Republican members, to pass the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which the Republican presidential candidate that year, Barry Goldwater, denounced fulsomely as an egregious abuse of federal power — exactly the opposite of 1865, for anyone who is keeping score. Johnson then got them to pass the Voting Rights Act and the Immigration Reform Act in 1965.
Johnson bowed to the peak stupidity of the Cold War by invading Vietnam, his biggest mistake and the biggest mistake in U.S. foreign policy before the invasion of Iraq — the first triumph of the Stupidity Rump in the early 21st century. He thus chose not to run for a second full term in 1968, allowing Richard Nixon to score an early win for the Stupidity Rump by claiming to speak for the “silent majority,” which was a clever device that appealed to the latent white supremacist tendencies of too many Americans without being overtly racist. This was a device Republicans were happy to use repeatedly after Nixon in service to ensuring as much control for the Stupidity Rump as possible — until the Republicans attracted the candidate who exemplified the Stupidity Rump to a T — Donald Trump, the Stupidity Rump president par excellence.
Trump has given us stupidity after stupidity, beginning with his campaign announcement, when he said most Mexicans in the United States are rapists and murderers, and calling for a ban on Muslims entering the country, thus promising to rely on Stupidity Rump policies in their extreme versions, ignoring the best policy ideas in our history and our present. Trump is U.S. “conservatism” on meth, rabidly backward looking and thoughtless.
So of course he would rely heavily on the fools at The Federalist Society in looking for Supreme Court nominees, which he has regrettably now had two of. We can only hope he will have no more. His second, the recently resolved, for the moment, nomination of Brett Kavanaugh, was the most controversial Supreme Court nominee since Robert Bork. After news emerged of a woman who claimed Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her when they were both in high school, two more women also alleged sexual misconduct by Kavanaugh, none of which much bothered the Stupidity Rump, since they’re the sorts who think sexual assault is not an important problem.
As if to put the stupidity cherry on the stupidity cupcake, now The Federalist has published one of the stupidest opinion pieces in a very long time, arguing that Kavanaugh should sue Christine Blasey Ford, Kavanaugh’s first accuser, and the Washington Post, for defamation. This is a titanically stupid suggestion that even Kavanaugh himself will likely ignore. Whatever his many failings as a human and as a judge, he very likely knows that existing Supreme Court precedent, mostly in the form of New York Times v. Sullivan, makes it nearly impossible legally for any such case to succeed. Our Stupidity Rump author at The Federalist trots out condemnatory commentary about Sullivan from the favorite justice of the Stupidity Rump, Antonin Scalia, and squeals in delight at the prospect of Kavanaugh playing a role in reversing Sullivan to his own benefit. Never mind that in Hustler Magazine v. Falwell that notorious leftist, William Rehnquist, relied heavily on Sullivan in reversing a jury award in favor of a public figure, endorsing the wacky, liberal, very American idea that the First Amendment’s protections for political speech mean that the legal bar for libel or slander suits by public figures needs to be very high, almost impossibly high. It’s a simple rule — if you choose to enter the lists as an office holder, you also choose to accept that people are going to make scurrilous claims about you, such as saying that you were really born in Kenya rather than Hawaii.
The suggestion that Kavanaugh should sue Ford and the Post is Stupidity Rump at its peak. Such a suit faces a likely insurmountable legal hurdle at the outset. It would allow the defendants to pursue discovery against Kavanaugh, which would likely be pretty ugly, as well as deposing him. The Rump author who thought this stupid idea up just assumes that Ford was lying about the incident in which Kavanaugh assaulted her, but there is no good reason to believe that.
It would be an interesting test of the total lack of integrity that is one of the most salient characteristics of members of the Stupidity Rump to see if Kavanaugh would recuse himself, which he manifestly ought to do, were his case against Ford to come before the Supreme Court in a posture of seeking to reverse Sullivan. Such an event is nearly inconceivable, or it would be had not a favorite organ of the Stupidity Rump chosen to bruit it to their stupid masses.
It really is a shame we have to put up with this.