American Taliban

     “Calamity and peril often force men to combine. Prosperity and security often encourage them to separate.”
     That may have been true when Thomas Macaulay wrote it in 1848. But in the United States today, after a long period of prosperity and security, calamity and peril have made us worse.
     We are at each other’s throats like no time since the days of Joe McCarthy.
     Our political class – and it is a class – is greatly to blame for this, but the entire country has joined in, like a pack of howling dogs.
     The only guy who consistently tries to rise above it – the guy in the White House – has both of his legs chewed bloody for it, and is lambasted as weak, even by his friends, for trying to keep the country together.
     U.S. politics today, particularly in the opposition, consists in great part in the denial of reality. Politics has become the continuation of warfare by other means.
     The most obnoxious, and among the most dangerous recent trends in this national insanity is the dragging of religion into politics – in fact, into everything.
     Macaulay wrote his great “History of England” about a religious civil war, England’s Glorious Revolution of 1688. Throughout history, I do not believe there is a single example in which religion – any religion – actually ameliorated suffering during a war, aside from the isolated acts of individuals.
     Religion inspired wars, exacerbated them, justified them. That’s as true in our country’s religious civil war today as it was in the days of the English religious fanatic James II.
     The political tactics James II used were the same as those used by the Taliban today, and by our domestic Taliban, who go by many names, including conservative Republicans, right-to-lifers and the Tea Party.
     “They wanted not only freedom of conscience for themselves, but absolute dominion over the consciences of others,” Macaulay wrote. “Nothing would content them but that every end for which civil society exists should be sacrificed to the ascendancy of a theological system.”
     Nor has the religious zealot changed his method of argument. Macaulay: “His mode of arguing, if it is to be so called, was one not uncommon among dull and stubborn persons, who are accustomed to be surrounded by their inferiors. He asserted a proposition; and, as often as wiser people ventured respectfully to show that it was erroneous, he asserted it again, in exactly the same words, and conceived that, by doing so, he at once disposed of all objections.”
     A central element of the Tea Party’s complaints is that U.S. citizens are overtaxed. The American Taliban argue, even in the halls of Congress, that this taxation constitutes “tyranny.” They claim that billions of dollars are robbed from hard-working middle class people and wasted upon lower-class wastrels.
     This is nonsense, of course. Even medieval yeomen were far more generous to the poor than U.S. citizens are today. Here is Macaulay upon England’s poor tax, or “poor rate,” in the 1680s:
     “The poor rate was undoubtedly the heaviest tax borne by our ancestors in those days. It was computed, in the reign of Charles the Second, at near seven hundred thousand pounds a year, much more than the produce either of the excise or of the customs, and little less than half the entire revenue of the crown. … (T)he proportion of the English people which received parochial relief then must have been larger than the proportion which receives relief now [in 1848].”
     Nearly half the revenue of the crown went to support the poor in the 1680s. And this was when to be poor meant that one died in the streets.
And the Tea Party/Republican Party calls the measly support we offer the poor today “tyranny.”
Macaulay cites English government statistics that estimated “the paupers and beggars in 1696 at the incredible number of 1,330,000 out of a population of 5,500,000.”
Twenty-four percent of the English people were paupers and beggars. Yet their countrymen, in the dying days of the medieval age, did not begrudge the poor this help. They didn’t consider the poor tax a tyranny. What tore England apart in 1688 was not taxation, but religion: the intrusion of religion into every aspect of the legal system and political life.
There is probably nothing anyone can do to stop the United States from continuing to tear itself apart. Our nation was founded, after all, by Puritans escaping the madness of James II, yet when they got here they acted just like the king they had fled. They “seem to have imagined that nobody but themselves had a conscience,” as Macaulay said.
Americans have been persecuting one another, to the nation’s harm, for spurious but always noble ends, since there was an America.
Anyone who imagines that dragging religion into every sphere of public life will solve anything, or ameliorate anything, is not only mistaken, but is lying or insane.
Count on the Tea Party, and the Republican Party, to pretend to noble aspirations, though, “with a certain elevation of language … the sure mark that (they are) going to commit a baseness.”

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