This war is for America’s soul: Donald Trump, Paul Ryan and how wealthy white elites protect themselves

tags: election 2016, Paul Ryan, Trump

Heather Cox Richardson is the author of "To Make Men Free: A History of the Republican Party," amongst several other books, and a professor of history at Boston College.

Today’s political crisis is the latest phase of a conflict that began a century and a half ago. The fight is over two fundamentally different ideas about the nature of America. On one side are those who believe that that every hardworking person should be able to rise. On the other are those who believe that wealthy white men should always rule over a permanent class of workers.

This fight was bred into the nation’s DNA when the Declaration of Independence promised equality of opportunity but the Constitution defended property. It did not break into the open, though, until the 1850s, when wealthy southern leaders felt their control of the government slipping. To protect their authority, they articulated, and then defended, a class-based vision of a nation dominated by a wealthy elite.

They lost the Civil War, but their vision did not disappear. It is now the driving force among Republican leaders.

When Paul Ryan talks about “makers and takers,” National Review denigrates minorities and poor whites, and Republican legislatures suppress the vote, they are echoing the ideas, the language, and the actions of Civil War-era slave owners.

Like today’s Republicans, slaveholders advanced the elitist version of America when they realized that they no longer controlled a majority of the popular vote. They were accustomed to using the government to advance their own interests, and had no intention of permitting their domination of the country to erode. To entrench their authority, they glorified their culture, rewrote American history, manipulated the laws, and tried to override the popular will. Republicans today are in the same predicament, and they are using the same formula. ...

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