Rep. Steve King (R-IA) wants to believe – and he wants you to believe – that Republican voters are channeling the spirit of the Revolutionary War. Before you gag, King said the Tea Party – yes, the corporate sponsored, astro-turf Tea Party – “goes back to the pipes of the Revolutionary War” – because they stole the Gladsen flag? Who knows? It’s just a shame they don’t like the American flag as much as the Confederate or Nazi flags.
We have watched this within the Tea Party, and they are full-spectrum, conservative Christian, constitutional conservatives for the most part — and they don’t exclude people who are conservatives that happen to be of another faith or religion at all, they’re very welcoming to all people that would join the cause — but that energy and fervor that goes back to that, let’s say goes back to the pipes of the revolutionary war, that’s something that motivates us, we’re rooted in our history, it’s a common historical experience that we have.
Listen courtesy of Right Wing Watch:
A lot of people fought the British during the American Revolution for a lot of different reasons. Why the Founding Fathers fought might not have had a lot to do with why a Presbyterian in the wilds of Pennsylvania, or an Anglican on the frontiers of Georgia fought.
And truth be told, a lot of people did not fight. Some were perfectly content with King George and Parliament. You know, people who don’t like change. Conservatives. For example, most Anglicans in the South were “Patriots” while most in New England were “loyalists” or neutral.
The American Revolution, despite what some historians would like to believe, was not just a war for independence but an actual revolution, a revolution in thought and government. For example, Michael Stephenson (Patriot Battles, 2008) writes, “In general the war was not revolutionary in any military sense or, one could argue, in any social one either.” But this is patently untrue.
If Stephenson is right, why did Rip Van Winkle fall asleep before the Revolutionary War and wake up after it and feel so lost? As another historian writes, the eminent Gordon S. Wood (Empire of Liberty, 2009),
When Rip entered his old village, he immediately felt lost. The buildings, the faces, the names were all strange and incomprehensible. “The very village was altered – it was larger and more populous,” and idleness, except among the aged, was no longer tolerated. “The very character of the people seemed changed. There was a busy, bustling disputatious tone about it, instead of the accustomed phlegm and drowsy tranquility” – a terrifying situation for Rip, who had had “an insuperable aversion to all kinds of profitable labour.” Even the language was strange – “rights of citizens – elections – members of Congress – liberty…and other words which were a perfect babylonish jargon to the bewildered Van Winkle.” When people asked him “on which side he voted” and “whether he was Federal or a Democrat,” Rip could only stare “in vacant stupidity.”
Far from there being no revolution, social or otherwise, Wood notes that many Americans, “like Rip and his creator…wondered what had happened and who they really were.” As Wood writes, these changes were demographic and commercial and affected “every aspect of American life.”
How could this not be a revolution? Americans suddenly found themselves cast out of the aristocratic world of 1774 and into a democratic maelstrom guided by ideas like equality, that every American was suddenly anybody’s equal. Something that, by turns, annoyed, amazed, and amused Europeans no end.
And this is the thing: conservatives don’t launch revolutions. The American revolution was a liberal revolution. Conservatism supports and sustains the status quo. You have seen what results when conservatives are entrenched in power, it is not liberalism’s liberty, but as Bernie Sanders has pointed out loudly and frequently, oligarchy. The rule not of the many, but of the few. The only kind of revolution conservatives can launch is a counter-revolution.
And that is what drives the spirit of Republican politics in 2016 – a counter-revolution to the revolution of 1776, or, as historian Kevin Phillips writes (1775: A Good Year for Revolution, 2012), the real watershed year, 1775 – without the events of which David McCullough’s best-seller 1776 (2005) would never have needed to be written.
And they know that the Declaration and the Constitution were shaped then, and if we fail to adhere to those values, if this is the time to restore and refurbish the pillars of American exceptionalism, that if we fail, our Constitution will be lost. And that’s the 80 percent out there of the Republicans and that’s about the zero percent of the Democrats.
Despite all the high blown talk about the Constitution, Republicans at heart hate the Constitution and would prefer to go back to the days of the Articles of Confederation when America lacked a strong central government and each state could do as it wished, when each could be its own little jihadist state – a Talibangelical Afghanistan.
That has nothing to do with the spirit of the Revolutionary War, obviously. But that means, in a sense, that King is right, except, the spirit he is talking about is the spirit that opposed the Revolution, and not the spirit which drove it. He is talking about the conservatism that drove some Americans to support the status quo of 1774.
For example, as Kevin Phillips relates of 1775, “the new southern backcountry settlements and large influx of poor whites also disturbed the coastal planter elites, who feared losing control of politics in the Carolinas and Georgia.” I don’t want to put words in Phillips’ mouth, but doesn’t that sound a lot like the reaction of Republican elites to the large influx of blacks and Latinos, and the (largely imaginary) influx of Muslims) today?
Revolutions involve the loss of political power by one group and the gaining of political power by another. Parliament and the King lost it, and the colonists gained it. Aristocratic colonists also lost it as everybody else gained it – that equality we talked about earlier.
A counter revolution puts the punctuation to decades of (largely successful) conservative reaction to, and rollback of, the American Revolution, the New Deal, and the successes of Johnson’s Great Society, and the Civil Rights Movement – liberal movements all.
Here is the other thing, and I will leave you with this: The Declaration of Independence is a liberal document. The Constitution more so. America gave the world freedom when it had known none. The status quo was banished. Gone was the heretofore unshakable idea that God sustained kings as his representatives on this earth. The limited freedoms of the English Magna Carta were as nothing to the voice of the American revolutionaries, chanting their cry that political power derives from the hands of the people themselves.
If, as historian Joseph Ellis argues (Revolutionary Summer, 2013), 1776 was the last chance of the British to crush the Revolution militarily, we liberals can hope hope that 2016 is another watershed moment, and the last chance of modern counter-revolutionaries – the GOP – to crush the revolution politically.
Hrafnkell Haraldsson, a social liberal with leanings toward centrist politics has degrees in history and philosophy. His interests include, besides history and philosophy, human rights issues, freedom of choice, religion, and the precarious dichotomy of freedom of speech and intolerance. He brings a slightly different perspective to his writing, being that he is neither a follower of an Abrahamic faith nor an atheist but a polytheist, a modern-day Heathen who follows the customs and traditions of his Norse ancestors. He maintains his own blog, A Heathen’s Day, which deals with Heathen and Pagan matters, and Mos Maiorum Foundation www.mosmaiorum.org, dedicated to ethnic religion. He has also contributed to NewsJunkiePost, GodsOwnParty and Pagan+Politics.