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If you dip into American political history you are confronted with a whole bunch of surprising anomalies. America is so ideologically fraught and vulnerable to domestic propaganda. The riven polarising state of politics in America today is not as unusual as some commentators make out. Perhaps, it is more a reflection on the general ignorance about America’s past that we get this emphasis today. Political leaders have been lying to and manipulating their citizens for the life of the nation. Trump’s lies are legion but they are nothing new in the political framework of the United States.

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American Political Parties & Their Origins

For instance if we begin with the Democratic Party, this was, back in the 19C, the southern slaver’s political party. This half of America saw the economic future of the country as dependent upon enslavement of African Americans or blacks as they called them back then. There were, also, northern democrats and this half of the union did not run on the economic model of slavery. Abraham Lincoln formed the newly established Republican Party in the 1850’s. Lincoln was elected president in 1860. Many of us know about the Civil War (1861-65) and the notion that Lincoln freed the slaves.

“The Civil War started because of uncompromising differences between the free and slave states over the power of the national government to prohibit slavery in the territories that had not yet become states.”

The reality is that white men were and are always more interested in their own present and future. Heather Cox Richardson, the historian, tells us that Lincoln primarily formed the Republican Party to free economic opportunity for poorer ordinary Americans. The Democratic Party favoured the larger oligarchical concerns of wealthy plantation owners in the south and factory owners in the north. It was a case of who and what would drive America. The confederate democrat politicians were willing to dissolve the union and fight for a different future for their states. 625, 000 Americans died as a result of the Civil War.

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American Stories & Slaveries Role In Them

Interesting bon mots are revealed in American history. Davey Crocket and the Alamo is a celebrated western frontier story of great sacrifice for liberty and the American way. In reality, this was another episode involving the right to enslave people. The Spanish and later the Mexican state had outlawed slavery in 1829. The territory known as Texas was seen by southern slavers as a great place to expand into. Thus, you have the great American hero fighting to liberate Texas from Mexican rule in large part because settlers wanted to use  enslaved labour on their properties. Of course, not just African slaves were enslaved by Americans, as the Indigenous Indians were enslaved and traded, especially in the west. America as an entity was being fought over between those who saw slavery as their economic model for success and those who did not. The rapidly expanding west was in the southern camp when it came to exploiting slave labour for profit.

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The South Won The War, Well, It’s Aftermath Anyway

Cox Richardson reckons that the south really defeated the north after the Civil War politically if you examine the facts. Lincoln was assassinated in 1865; and his vice president Andrew Johnson was a democrat. Johnson became the president.

“Once in office, Johnson focused on quickly restoring the Southern states to the Union. He granted amnesty to most former Confederates and allowed the rebel states to elect new governments. These governments, which often included ex-Confederate officials, soon enacted black codes, measures designed to control and repress the recently freed slave population. “

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Free But Not Welcomed Or Embraced

The freed African slaves had no rights in many states and could not give evidence in courts of law, along with Indigenous Indians, Chinese, Mexicans and anyone else white Americans did not consider worthy. The land of the free was only such for white men from the right ethnic backgrounds. This state of affairs was the same in Australia and most other new world colonial nations and territories. This is why killing Aboriginals and these ‘so-called’ lesser races was hardly ever prosecuted and punished. Settlers wanted their lands and they would do whatever it takes to grab and hold onto them.

Federally from 1865 African American men were granted rights but the southern and western states legislated laws to prevent them from gaining equal freedoms to white American men. The black codes were brought in to trap this large labour pool into slavery via peonage. This would ensure around some 800, 000 African Americans were caught up in justice programmes designed to exploit their free labour right up until around 1942. The Ku Klux Klan would emerge during restoration in the south. The white sheets they wore were originally employed to create the effect that they were ghosts of confederate soldiers risen to take revenge on blacks and black lovers. Lynching African Americans would become popular in the southern states.

President Trump Postlaunch Remarks (NHQ202005300037)
President Trump Postlaunch Remarks (NHQ202005300037) by NASA HQ PHOTO is licensed under CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

The GOP’s Journey From Lincoln To Big Business

Politically, the Republican Party would soon become beholden to big business and the Lincoln vision would fade from view. Chattel slavery may have been outlawed across America but African Americans were not universally welcomed by whites. Racism and apartheid remained rife across the land. There were Republican Party leaders campaigning against any economic redistribution of wealth to African Americans. It is striking that when slaves are freed and slavery outlawed across the globe more efforts are made to recompense slave owners than to economically help those recently enslaved. Gee, white people are special, aren’t they? Property ownership and business are still, today, more highly valued than things like human rights and equality.

America’s Fear Of Socialism

The American susceptibility to fear mongering around the dangers of socialism is a core theme that runs through the country over many decades. Even, during the New Deal period instigated by FDR and continued on by republican Dwight Eisenhower there is plenty of pushback about the creation of the welfare state. Robert Taft and Joe McCarthy make life very difficult for many over the journey. The accusations about communists and treasonous behaviour are like a kind of madness. Obviously, Arthur Miller saw the parallels with the witch trials in Salem back in the 17C. Perhaps, it is a puritan thing running deep in the veins of Americans. What makes this kind of thing easy to facilitate, however, are the lax laws around facts and truth in politics. Telling lies and making mischief with mistruths remains a serious problem in America for the media and society as a whole.

America is so ideologically fraught that it has always been like a powder keg waiting to explode. Now, with their 400, 000 000 guns in circulation around the nation and weekly massacres of school children and other innocents it is a sorry state of affairs. One million guns are registered and the rest are unregistered. Heaven help the police forces. Social anxiety must hover around the edges of life everywhere.

Harvesting in the 1950s
Harvesting in the 1950s by Evelyn Simak is licensed under CC-BY-SA 2.0

The New Deal

Crazy ideas and attitudes get handed down intergenerationally. Children grow up listening to their parents bang on about stuff. Lies are told, believed and spread. The Republican Party with Hoover at the helm as president ushered in the Great Depression via their margin lending on stock market trading and lots of dodgy dealing by traders more generally. Despite this Coolidge laid the blame at the feet of the American people. You get this repeatedly in America, the rich and powerful apportioning blame upon ordinary folk. The economy crashed and the policies of the GOP were manifestly inadequate. It was time for a New Deal.

Targeted fiscal spending invested in the American people and paved the way for greater prosperity for the many rather than just the few.


It seems we are back here again after 30 years of Neoliberalism and monetary policy. Inflation is hanging around and it is supply side inflation – so not particularly amenable to raising interest rates. There is a housing crisis everywhere in America, Europe, and Australia. Governments stopped building social housing because neoliberal economists assured them that the market would take care of everything. Well, it didn’t and we do not have enough affordable housing for workers. The neoliberal order has made a small coterie very rich and the vast majority of people worse off than their parent’s generation.  The trickle down effect hasn’t happened and high inflation has sent wages and incomes backward in a big way. Lots of us cannot afford to live in our own countries anymore – this is a huge failing of governments.

Overseeing the massive expansion to the wealth divide between haves and have nots is not what governments want to be remembered for.

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Trump & Fascism

On the political front we are seeing the rise of autocratic political movements and fascism. Donald Trump is sounding more like a fascist every day on the hustings in his bid to be re-elected in 2024. The GOP has become home to right wing extremism in a big way. Big bold lies are told every day. White supremacists are giving themselves elbow room once again. Governor Ron DeSantis (GOP) in Florida is banning books and African American studies in colleges and schools in his state. The conservative anti-wokester does not want white people to be encumbered by any guilty feelings about their past, it seems.

Few Good Guys In Government

So, to sum it all up. You have a timeline where the democrats were the party of the slavers back in the 19C. The GOP were briefly the good guys at the time of Abraham Lincoln, but this did not last long. Very soon, in the late 1870’s they became the party of big business screwing the little folk. The Northern Trust and JP Morgan were running the country behind the scenes. McKinley was their guy in the white house for years. Teddy Roosevelt, the media tart, started breaking up the trusts. Woodrow Wilson the southern democrat continued that on.

Rough-Riders, Col. Theodore Roosevelt, U.S.V
Rough-Riders, Col. Theodore Roosevelt, U.S.V by Library of Congress is licensed under CC-CC0 1.0
Rough Riders In Cuba

You know those rough riders invading Cuba treated their horses so poorly that they all drowned getting off the boat. Therefore, they didn’t have any horses in their battles with the Spanish – it was all a media re-creation when they got back to the States. The lies in American public life are legion.

They Shoot Presidents Don’t They?

Therefore, this fluctuation between the two main political parties in the US representing the odious, the greedy, and the downright terrible continues through the 19C and the 20C. There are minor breakouts of sunshine where the GOP or the democrats will do the right thing by more Americans but these only ever last for short periods. Shooting and killing presidents is an increasingly popular pastime for disgruntled stake holders too. Abraham Lincoln was truly one of the very few great and good presidents. Perhaps, his legacy has been aided by his truncated term in office and assassination. JFK, similarly, is remembered with rose coloured glasses, probably, because of the same reasons. There are a couple more presidents who were assassinated in the later 19C, but they have not been so fondly remembered. Garfield and McKinley.

Pinkerton with Abraham Lincoln. View
The Communism Boogie Man

This boogie man of American politics, communism, is wielded out during campaigns for the presidency repeatedly. The strange definition of it given by radical conservatives is so broad as to be all encompassing of the left and the centre. America is so ideologically fraught that Truman and Eisenhower, both conservative presidents from opposing political parties, were accused of running administrations sympathetic to communism by hard right wing GOP politicians during the 20C. Robert Taft, McCarthy, and William Buckley Jnr were unwavering in their attacks on the government of the day. The intolerance by these demagogues over the liberal consensus was remarkable for its extreme ideological nature. This belief that American business should be free of all government regulation is absurd in its extremity. The sanctity of making money is given an almost religious pre-eminence by these people. Indeed, God was brought into the fight against communism on a regular and frequent basis. A belief in an invisible supernatural entity becomes essential to the definition of being a true American.

Atheism is communism by just another name, according to the rules of the political game.

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Trump & Roy Cohn

Trump has a connection to these folk via Joe McCarthy’s lawyer, Roy Cohn, who was some sort of mentor for a while. Apparently, Trump admired Cohn’s brutalism in the way he went after witnesses on the stand in the anti-communist senate enquiries in the 1950’s.

Lives were destroyed to satisfy political appetites for bloodletting in the game of power.

Robert Sudha Hamilton is the author of Money Matters: Navigating Credit, Debt, and Financial Freedom. 


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