Like ‘Bleeding Kansas’ before it, Arizona may foreshadow a coming conflict
[Note: Following a week of further escalating rhetoric on the campaign trail, with Donald Trump making cryptic allusions to the ‘2nd Amendment people’ stopping Hillary Clinton, which followed the Clinton campaign’s long-running, vitriolic-turned-hysterical denunciations of Trump as a “dangerous man” that must be stopped (hint, hint), I thought back to this column that was first published in Santa Barbara six years ago as Arizona became the frontline in the roiling debate over continued mass illegal immigration into the United States and what it may well portend for the nation. With gun-toting militia members patrolling the border and violent protestors clashing on the streets, Arizona in the summer of 2010 offered some historical resemblance to ‘Bleeding Kansas’ of the 1850s—a simmering outlier of the coming civil war. This column, six years down the road, feels like I could have written it yesterday.]
By Mark Cromer
The real question surrounding Arizona’s attempt to crackdown on illegal immigration is not whether its new law will survive legal challenges or some other bureaucratic end-run to circumvent it, but whether the American nation once again faces fundamental differences that simply cannot be reconciled?
And if so, is America now sliding inexorably toward violent confrontation?
The hurricane of vitriolic hyperbole that erupted in the wake of Gov. Jan Brewer signing what is claimed to be the “toughest” law in the nation against illegal immigration highlights an America that is more starkly divided than perhaps at anytime since the social upheaval that rocked the nation during the late 1960s.
Arizonians fed-up over out of control illegal immigration and the toxic histrionics its new law has sparked from business class elites and their odd bedfellows in the Latino pan-nationalist movement again exposes a dangerous balkanization of America.
The risk today lies not along the fringes, but directly in the middle.
The rightwing militia movements that have ostensibly seen dramatic membership growth since President Obama’s election and the radical Left’s umbrella movement of virulent racialists and violent anarchists in the nation’s major cities have long simmered on the sidelines, stewing in their mutual inability to really matter much in the eventual outcomes of American politics.
For all the romanticizing of the campus upheavals that stretched from 1965 into the early 1970s, the ultimate result put Richard Nixon in the White House—twice. The shootings at Kent State 40 years ago this month were followed by Nixon’s 1972 ‘Law & Order’ landslide.
And consider that throughout the 1970s and early ‘80s the fabled Weather Underground and revolutionary farm teams like the Black Liberation Army and the Symbionese Liberation Army collectively detonated bombs, robbed banks and murdered people across the country; only to be rewarded with the far more potent counter-revolution that saw the rise of Ronald Reagan.
But the vast sweep of middle-America that has long stood as a socioeconomic seawall against the violent chaos that has washed across many other nations, is now rapidly eroding in front of our eyes under a tide of economic despair and a growing suspicion that they have been betrayed.
Few issues feed that nagging sense of betrayal like illegal immigration.
The ink of Governor Jan Brewer’s signature hadn’t even dried on Arizona’s SB 1070 before the weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth commenced from open-border advocates; who echoed the outbursts of hysteria that followed the passage of California’s Prop. 187 in 1994.
Then as now, the airwaves and headlines were filled with recrimination from those who reap the benefits of illegal immigration, whether in hard profits or demographically driven identity politics. Wild-eyed shrieks of “Nazis!” and “Racists!” and “Hatemongers!” were commonplace, and it seemed no smear was too fantastically false or ethically out-of-bounds to level against the proposition’s supporters.
And so the vast majority of Californians that voted for Prop. 187 learned that they weren’t just demanding that the rule of law and some common sense be applied to staunch the relentless tidal flow of illegal immigration that was sinking their schools, jamming their hospitals, draining their coffers and filling their jails; but rather that they were the political descendents of Adolf Hitler and the modern torch bearers of his genocidal agenda.
Obscene analogies to the Holocaust were casually kicked around as opponents likened Prop. 187’s elimination of public benefits for illegal immigrants to the social blueprint that led to death camps like Dachau and Auschwitz and the wanton slaughter of tens of millions of people.
Like Arizona’s new law—which is wildly popular among residents of the Grand Canyon State and is supported by 65% of Americans in national polls—California’s own effort to stop the tidal wave of illegal immigration pouring across its southern border was passed by 60% of voters, one of the most sweeping electoral rebukes of government malfeasance in the state’s modern history. Despite such a popular mandate, however, the legislation was eventually killed in 1999 by the subterfuge of then newly elected governor Gray Davis, who cynically let it die in “mediation.”
And now it is Arizona’s turn.
During the past three weeks America has watched as the overwhelming majority of the Arizona’s citizens have been denigrated and smeared in a ferocious onslaught portraying them as cowboy Klansmen looking for Mexican nationals to hang. In San Francisco and Los Angeles—twin cities that have seen American citizens brutally murdered on their streets as a direct result of their so-called “sanctuary” policies—illegal immigrants and their supporters have staged rallies vowing a violent response to Arizona’s law and both city councils have vowed to harm Arizona economically.
These reactions merely feed the suspicions of most American citizens that illegal immigrants are glorified squatters that game the system while remaining rabidly loyal to their home countries (and that’s mostly Mexico), while the professional political class brazenly panders to business interests addicted to cheap labor and lax employment laws.
For all the heat Arizona has raised, at the root of what’s happening is a stone cold question: What happens when a majority of Americans—many of whom are well armed—determine that the government has become a malignant tumor that facilitates a cancer of lawlessness that enriches their corporate benefactors at the expense of the average citizen?
What happens when the majority of Americans decide they have had enough of being called Nazis and racist child-killers and are no longer willing to either ignore it or talk past it or be shouted down?
What happens when they conclude that its not America’s immigration system—the most generous immigration system of all developed nations—that’s ‘broken’; but rather the government is so rotted to the core that it is no longer salvageable?
What happens when it’s not 11 states attempting to secede from the Union in a four-year familial bloodbath, but rather when it’s 150 million or more Americans collectively reaching the conclusion that Washington has betrayed its right to govern by auctioning off the sovereignty of the nation, subverting the rule of law and sabotaging the will of the majority?
What happens on the day the majority or a near-majority demographic bloc decides there is nothing left to talk about and no longer any point in voting?
What happens then?
While America will never see another Gettysburg, another Antietam, another Shiloh, if the present divide continues to expand and harden as the economic prospects of average Americans continue to plummet then the government is closer than it probably cares to admit to an explosion of destabilizing violence that could fatally undermine its legitimacy.
And that’s when the prospect of a widespread, violent unraveling of the social construct becomes a very real possibility. America will not again witness rival armies clashing across its hillsides and prairies, but large swaths of its urban landscape have already been violently reduced to virtual no-go zones and it wouldn’t take much more for rural areas to begin to openly defy federal authority and even state mandates—as self-declared ‘sanctuary cities’ currently do. It doesn’t take a great stretch of the imagination to gauge the possibility of not one Ruby Ridge erupting, but perhaps hundreds of them cascading across the great heartland of the country where self-declared micro ‘Free States’ suddenly appear, populated by little more than loose bands of disenfranchised but armed-to-the-teeth former Americans who feel they are better off calling their own shots.
As apocalyptic as that may sound, not only are there plenty of historical precedents for it already in America, but in ever increasing areas around the globe these scenarios are now a daily reality. Low intensity civil wars are spreading.
The fracturing of the American identity and a national ideal is steadily eroding the bulwarks that have long been this nation’s best defense against disintegration.
And disintegration is indeed the fundamental danger, and it is being highlighted in Arizona today.
If the majority of Americans’ estrangement from the government continues apace while epic numbers of immigrants continue to cross the borders not just illegally, but defiantly, then Washington will inevitably face a violent reckoning all over the country. It’s not a question of if, only when and to what extent and ultimately what outcome.
Cocooned in the cozy gloss of their martini lunch schedule, the bloated Beltway aristocracy still seems inclined to dismiss the growing disenfranchisement from middle America and its vocalizations as “crazy talk.”
But if Washington has any sanity left whatsoever, they will be thankful a majority of Americans are still willing to talk, write letters and vote – for now.
They continue to ignore those voices at the nation’s great peril.