Say what you want about Fox News but you cannot deny that both of the Republicans debates they have broadcasted had the most memorable moments, both of which involved Ron Paul. The Fox News debate moderators have allowed the debates to actually be debates rather than a 90 minute game of “What’s My Line?” Because many of the GOP candidates seem to want to take a shot at Congressman Paul and his views to set themselves apart in a crowded field, debate is what we get.
The exchange between Paul and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee in the Sept. 5 debate in New Hampshire included this line from Huckabee:
“Congressman, we are one nation. We can’t be divided. . . . If we make a mistake, we make it as a single country, the United States of America, not the divided states of America.”
It’s interesting that Huckabee would take this line juxtaposed against perhaps the most ardent decentralist in the field of presidential candidates. On its face it is a silly line. It basically means a homeless junkie living on a heating grate in Washington D.C. is as much responsible for U.S policy in Iraq as Paul Wolfowitz is.
After all we’re one country right? And if we all break it, then we all own it whether we’re porn stars, vagabonds, rednecks, convicts or garage band members.
All one big happy family.
But as silly as such a statement is, we cannot underestimate it. Huckabee knew well what he was saying and knew well who he was saying it to. The call for “unity” is a very loud and powerful call that has echoed throughout U.S. history. It has been a part of political speech whether it was Jackson’s “The Union – It Shall Be Preserved” line to Calhoun or the Webster-Haynes Debate in the U.S. Senate or Lincoln’s “Divided House Cannot Stand” line in his debates with Stephen Douglas. The Constitutional Union Party ran on a unity ticket for president in 1860, Richard Nixon won in 1968 repeating a sign that said “Let’s Bring Us Together.” Even for the upcoming a presidential election, there’s a group advertising itself as “Unity 08” planning on running a candidate.
The call to unity may very well bring a candidate to power, but like Sauron’s Ring of Power it can also be very destructive. It burned the cities of Atlanta and Columbia to the ground. It destroyed the Georgian countryside. It threw people in jail during World War I. It created internment camps in World War II. It spied on people during Vietnam. It has created a massive national security state designed to make sure people adhere to the cult. It has killed the Indian and Mormon alike, it also killed those at Waco. If you wish to see a good example of the madness that can happen when we supposedly all gather forcibly together against common foe, go rent or buy the movie “Sweet Land” about how German immigrants in southern Minnesota were persecuted during the Great War and how southern Minnesota descended into a state near internal conflict because of it.
It must have surprised Jefferson Davis and his advisers that Abraham Lincoln and the North would stand and fight for Ft. Sumter. After all, they must have reasoned, if the abolitionists in the North hated the South and if their leaders like William Lloyd Garrison wanted rid the nation of any slaveholders and damned the Constitution as a “document created in hell,” then surely Northerners wouldn’t fight to keep the South a part of the Union. There would be no reason to do so, just say your good byes and go your own separate ways. But it wasn’t the abolitionists that controlled the Republican Party. If they did control it, they would have nominated a much more outspoken foe of slavery like William Seward instead of the more moderate Lincoln. But it was Lincoln who won the nomination and the Presidency. And he was a strong believer of Henry Clay’s American System of connecting country together through national roads, railroads and canals. He was very much a lover of the passionate oratory of fellow Whig Daniel Webster upholding the Union. And bequeathed that Union, there was no way Lincoln was going let it simply fall apart on his watch. His predecessor James Buchanan said there was nothing Constitutional he could do as president to keep the country together and he was right (This was a separation, not an insurrection. The South never wanted to overthrow the U.S. government.) Lincoln basically said damn the Constitution (which he did by suspending habeus corpus), the country was staying together no matter what. The Union was no longer voluntary, as Southerners originally thought, it was now a prison in which Lincoln was the warden, the states were the cells and no escape was allowed.
The United States may have started as a loose confederation of North American British colonies, but every year of its existence, bit by bit, centrifugal forces have pulled it tighter and tighter together. These forces include commercial and monetary interests, which prefer the large and efficient over the small and decentralized. They include moral interests, the desire to see the whole country conform to a certain standard of behavior, and they include nationalistic and jingoistic interests which at first did not want to see any part of the Union break up for fear of domination by European colonial powers. When those powers departed the American continents, that fear was replaced by the desire to make sure the people went along with the U.S. new imperial stature around the world. Events that have marked this historical journey include the Constitutional Convention of 1787, the War Between the States, the establishment of the Federal Income Tax and the direct vote of U.S. Senators, Prohibition, the First World War, The Depression, World War II, the civil rights movement and the lastest event, 9-11.
Of course, unity is a natural human reaction. People just don’t like division and the strife between. They like cooperation and harmony and such values are taught from day you get into sandbox. And it’s continuously taught to you whether in the choir, on the football team or in the boardroom as well. For all the talk of individualism within U.S. society, for the most part, it’s only practiced by the few. Everyone else is part of the team. That’s the hold the cult of unity has on people. It takes advantage of this natural environment.
But as Americans are want to do, they overdo it. It’s not that flag flying or patriotic songs or parades or speeches are by themselves alone bad. They’re not. It’s belief that everyone has to be on the same page or something is terribly wrong and someone who doesn’t conform has to be punished severly, as Natalie Maines found out. You can ignore U.S. patriotism if you like but it doesn’t ignore you and if you are not taking part as enthusiastically as you are believed to be, then you are suspect. It’s not quite fascism but it’s not far from it either. And in so being, Huckabee wasn’t distant from Hitler’s “Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Furher!” declaration.
It didn’t take long after the twin towers fell that President Bush II declared “Either you are for us or against us.” Soon came the T-shirts and the bumper stickers saying “United We Stand.” Soon after that came the airport screeners, the Department of Homeland Security and the Patriot Act. Security is what supposed unify us, keeps us protected like a mother Lion protects her cubs. This is not something you can just opt out of either. You may not be a terrorist. You may not look like or even have a criminal record. Doesn’t matter. Take off your shoes, throw away that bottle of liquid sir, give me your scissors and let us strip search you. You can’t have the unified state unless we’re all considered potential security threats so deal with. You either for us or against us!
Fear is what keeps the locals in line, or at least keeps them worshipping the cult of unity. The possibility of another internal war or rebellion, some sort of national emergency, riots, insurrection in the cities, bitter political divisions, all of these things send a shutter down the collective spine of U.S citizens. It doesn’t matter the year or the age, many Americans to this day still wonder how such a diverse country manages to keep it all together when others have been blown apart by such diversity. Nobody wants to see such conflict. Americans shrink from it. They are horrified by the prospect of it. And yet it nearly happened long ago. The Union was nearly broken in two. The monuments and gravestones are all around us to remind of this fact. This is what keeps the fear in the back of many American’s minds. James Baldwin played on that fear with his “fire next time” in his novels. Tim McVeigh played on it during the Oklahoma City bombings as did the New Year’s Gang back in 1970 and the bombing of Sterling Hall on the University of Wisconsin campus. The Ku Klux Klan played on it in its showdown with the FBI in Mississippi during Freedom Summer 1964. Such a fear exploded again during 9-11 when an All-American boy named Johnny Walker Lind from California wound up in a Taliban camp. If U.S. citizens passively accept the national security state, maybe it’s because they feel it’s only way to keep the country together. If a few malcontents and traitors get thrown in jail, even on the flimsiest of reasons, so be it. Better denied justice than internal warfare, or so the reasoning goes.
Huckabee didn’t approach the unity question from a fear standpoint. He’s much too smooth for that. Like the skilled preacher he is in the cult of unity, he appealed to our better nature, our collective sense of responsibility. Our collective sense of “honor.” If U.S. voters feel that they can just wash their hands of the war in Iraq, if they feel they can separate themselves from policy makers who blundered their way into the conflict with their stupid policies, then the quicker the war ends for the U.S citizens will simply demand the troops come home regardless of the consequences. But no, says the right Rev. Huckabee, we’re all in this together. You can’t just walk away from this even you didn’t vote for President Bush II or any candidate who supported his policies. Your taxpayer money too has been used to blow up bridges in your name in Iraq. How dare you say “Not in our name!” You’re just as responsible and just as guilty. Stay the course and shut up, otherwise you risk offending the cult. You risk division in a time of war when we all have to pull together. Doesn’t matter if the burden of service falls only on the few. Doesn’t matter if you’ve barely sacrificed anything for the war effort. Doesn’t matter if you agree with the policy or not. There’s a war on, and you’re not allowed to take a flier on it. If everyone did that, then everyone else would do it and would have (peace) anarchy. You don’t want to go there do you? You don’t want to open that Pandora’s Box?
Yes, I’m afraid Rev. Huckabee’s Church of Unity is in session, and walking out the back is not allowed.
Sean Scallon is a freelance writer and newspaper reporter who lives in Arkansaw, Wisconsin. His work has appeared in Chronicles: A magazine of American Culture. His first-ever book: Beating the Powers that Be: Independent Political Movements and Parties of the Upper Midwest and their Relevance in Third-party Politics of Today.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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