The general context of this post relates to a brief response I gave to John Nichols’ excellent defense of Wisconsin gubernatorial candidate Mandela Barnes’ speech addressing problems in US history that placed a particular burden on Blacks and Native Americans from the very inception of the Republic. The article and the commentary it elicited can be found here.
Calling Mr. Brady’s response to my quip sophomoric would not technically be accurate since elementary aspects of the framing of the United States Constitution are part of the eighth grade curriculum, not the tenth. The larger issue is why it is permissible for Tom Cotton to indicate that the nation was founded on a compromise with evil and why it is not permissible for Mandela Barnes to describe the consequences of that compromise as awful. While normally it would not be advisable to engage a right-wing troll on such a matter, the driving force behind the attacks on Barnes are worth examining.
What propels the Republican attack on Barnes is the perception that linking dimensions of Critical Race Theory to anti-Americanism is a winning political strategy. This McCarthyite tactic attempts to vilify anyone who might suggest racism is structured into our institutions as a result of the compromise with evil. Anyone denying the structural legacy of racism is engaged not just in bad history, as has already been indicated by other responses to Mr. Brady, but bad theology.
It would be a fool’s errand here to elaborate the various ways in which racism has shaped institutions at federal, state, and local levels. Suffice it to say that there is a contradiction in our founding document that results from the compromise with evil. We continue to live with the consequences of that compromise. On the one hand, our Constitution embraces the highest ideals of freedom expressed in the Enlightenment. On the other hand, this same marvelous document encoded the most persistent and inhumane form of servitude in the Enlightened world.
Constitutionally grounded institutions such as the Senate and Electoral College continue to ensure that a racist minority can have a disproportionate effect on the government. The grossly unrepresentative institution of the Senate has allowed fifty of its members representing about a third of the public to contrive a Supreme Court that actively seeks to undermine a host of civil rights.
One of the most insidious effects of the compromise with evil is the Second Amendment. For the most part, reading the Constitution is an experience in the marvel of clarity and concision of its authors’ vision. The Second Amendment, however, is beyond convoluted. What the Second Amendment hides in its intentional obfuscation is the fact that the “well-regulated” state militias in the Southern states were, for the most part, slave patrols. We continue to suffer from this compromise with evil that partly defines our Republic.
It is important to note that despite our glorious Constitution, the United States was among the last countries in the Western world to abolish slavery. It is also worthwhile to note that Brazil was one of the few countries in the Western hemisphere to uphold slavery even after it was abolished in the United States. The Brazil exception is noteworthy because it is the only country on earth with more gun deaths than the United States. Is that a mere coincidence?
Getting back to the original question: for whom was the evil of slavery necessary? It was necessary for white men with last names like Cotton whose plantations enriched and empowered them because of the enslaved populations who worked their fields and tended their warehouses. Eventually, white men with last names like Cotton realized that the ideals of the Constitution and the growing power of the global abolitionist movement would soon remove them from their pedestals of privilege. In the face of this challenge, white men with names like Cotton chose to withdraw from the compact they made with those who had a more encompassing understanding of freedom. This act of sedition resulted in the Civil War and the legal emancipation of slaves.
Unfortunately, those emancipated slaves were not compensated with the 40 acres and the mule advocated by that most visionary element of the Republican Party of that day. Instead, big business interests in the Republican Party prevailed and white men with names like Cotton eventually returned to their plantations, filled now with indentured servants known as sharecroppers. Jim Crow followed soon thereafter as well and white men with names like Cotton returned to their positions of wealth and power. This revived the compromise with evil.
Can we imagine a country in which the seditionists of 1860 had been compelled to render more of their wealth and power to the populations that had sustained it for centuries? Can we imagine a country in which an emancipated slave family received 40 acres and a mule?
The right wing attack on Mandela Barnes is a diversionary tactic intending to draw attention away from the fact that the Republican Parted attempted to undermine the last vestiges of a functional constitutional republic on January 6. Hawley and Cotton are seditionists who, along with virtually all elected Republicans, have violated their oath to uphold the Constitution. They chose evil. They are awful.