This Evil Force Can Be Seen Moving Through Time– Introduction

Just like with the images in the Magic Eye books: out of the stereoscopic image, a startling figure emerges with depth out of a new dimension.

My purpose is easily stated: it is to help as many Americans as possible to see that what we are up against on the political right is an “evil force” and to respond to that force appropriately.

But the worldview in much of Liberal America, I have suggested, makes no room for any such phenomenon as an “evil force.” And so my presentation here has attempted to challenge that worldview.

That challenge begins with showing the phenomenon right before our eyes, i.e. by painting the portrait of the consistently destructive force, using for brushstrokes the plain facts visible in our news in recent years. Pieces like The Republican Party’s Extraordinary Pattern of Destructiveness and The Unprecedented Nature of Today’s Republican Party show the destructive patterns that consistently characterize the operation of that force, which has taken over the Republican Party, as it damages America.

I would hope that would make an impression. If you can see it, it must be there. Whether or not one’s understanding of the human world provides a basis for understanding how such a coherent, consistently destructive force could exist, there it is displayed before us.

But in this series I’ve also taken the second step of attempting to expand the liberal/intellectual worldview directly. I have attempted to do this by showing how the human world does generate forces that warrant being called “evil,” and explaining how such forces originate and how they perpetuate themselves through the transmission of the patterns of brokenness.

To strengthen the persuasive power of the picture, I want now to add another dimension to it: time. While The Republican Party’s Extraordinary Pattern of Destructiveness (and the others) provide what might be called a cross-sectional view of this force, it is also possible to see this force in longitudinal terms, i.e. as something that can be seen maintaining its structure and properties as it moves through a cultural system over time.

The idea is simple, but perhaps it bears being made explicit: if we can see a pattern that endures through generations, then we can infer that there is an “It” that this pattern embodies. Something has persisted. Something is maintaining considerable coherence as it moves through time. And from a study of the nature of the pattern – its sources, its conduct, its effects, etc. – we can get an idea of what that “something” is.

In this instance, what I will argue in coming installments is that the force that’s presently animating the political right in America today is the same force –newly re-emerged onto center stage of the American power system — that drove the nation to Civil War a century and a half ago.

If something is visible, we are obliged to accommodate our worldview to take its existence into account. It is not intellectually responsible to be like the Churchmen in Galileo’s time who refused to look through his telescope, lest they see the moons of Jupiter that church doctrine maintained could not exist.


Culture might well be described as consisting of the transmission of patterns from generation to generation, within a more or less bounded human community. Some of these patterns are relatively easy to perceive and conceive, like the way the American Constitution, or the English language, gets transmitted across time. Other patterns are more complex and obscure.

One of these is shown by the parallels between the political crisis in our times, and the crisis that drove America into a terrible Civil War a century and a half ago.

I have more in mind here than such obvious parallels as the renewed talk of “secession” that’s been heard since Barack Obama became president, the resurgence of displays of the Stars and Bars, and the recurrence of the old and long-discredited idea of “nullification” (asserting the right of states to disregard federal laws not to their liking). These are but the most obvious manifestations arising out of a deeper pattern — of conduct, thought, feeling, and values – of that old destructive spirit that has returned onto center stage of American power in our times.

Here are a few of the deeper parallels between the growing crisis of 1848-1861 and that of, say, 1994 to the present– include::

• Insistence on pressing conflict over seeking accord

• Systematic overreaching

• A warped view of reality, driven by bogus and invalid ideas

• A drive toward exploitation masked by deception and self-deception

• Use of divisive tactics to manipulate supporters

The point here is not to re-fight the Civil War, but to make visible the nature of what we are up against in America today. You can’t hit what you can’t see, and our ability to protect the health and integrity of America will be enhanced the more widely it is recognized that what we are called upon to defeat now is, in large measure, the same force – the same dark “spirit” – that did such terrible damage to this nation a century and a half ago.

As a people, we remain intensely involved in that time in our history, though we do not have a clear understanding of it. As a nation, our relationship with that war is unhealthy.

We Americans tend to celebrate the Civil War, to romanticize it, to look at that part of our history through a gauzy sentimentality signaled by beautiful music like the hauntingly beautiful “Ashokan Farewell,” accompanying Ken Burns series, like the uplifting music accompanying the slaughter of Pickett’s Charge in the film, “Gettysburg.” But it is high time that we confront the reality that this conflict was a national nightmare — perhaps the ugliest event in the civilized world in that period — killing more than half a million American men out of a nation of 27 million.

High time because that same spirit is now back, and it is just as bent on damaging America as it was the first time around.

A final note on the relationship between the American South and this “evil force.” First, this evil force was never identical with the South. It was something that held a place in the South, and its power increased in the decades leading up to the Civil War. But the South is more than that. Second, that evil force, returning to great power with its takeover of today’s Republican Party, retains a solid base in the South – just as the South is now the stronghold of the Republican Party – but it is not confined to that region.

One more qualification: the evil force now operating on the political right in America does not consist solely of the force that drove us into Civil War. It has made alliance with other dark components of American civilization.

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  1. Richard H. Randall

    Two points: first, where you use the bullets, i’d get the term ‘vicious ideology” worked in there. There is enough common understanding about the shortfalls of the ‘ideological perniciousness’ that it might be valuable in your article.
    Secondly, your comments about the wide-spread nature of the evil of this view, is very well taken. Many Northern Democrats were pretty awful in their treatment of Abraham Lincoln, and there was anti-black feeling in the North, before and after the war. Nevertheless, it did not stop the North and West of the time, from stopping slavery, and defeating the Confederates on the field, and that quite decisively. Thanks be, to God.

  2. Robin M. Pettit

    There is a truth to your view that this force has moved through the American Politic over the years and can be identified as evil. The misreading of the Bible to support prejudice and sanction terrible crimes is just one. One of the allied threads intertwining with the primary evil is that thread associated with the Nazi’s of Germany, i.e., the militia movement, skinheads (white purity Nazis) and right wing anarchists, who are often, but not always, one and the same. There are others of course, like the John Birchers. The Tea Partiers too, and some new things like the Birthers. The birthers came out of the Conspiracy movement, those who see Conspiracies behind every event. These people seem to constitute something like 20-30% of the populace. Hopefully they will not grow to be a larger portion.

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