The loudest sound on the American far right today is the angry whining emitted by sore losers who claim their candidate was defrauded but know for a fact that he was simply defeated. Their tune is grating, but their seditious words are troubling, with supporters of President Donald Trump repeatedly warning of "civil war" and even "secession." Fans of Fox News and Rush Limbaugh hear those ominous words every day now.
Presumably, such divisive sentiment is why many "conservatives" are so enamored of Confederate flags and other such symbols of treason. If the democratic process doesn't give them what they want, they threaten bloodshed and the destruction of the nation to which they once pretended to pledge allegiance.
For the most part, those menacing broadsides are just impotent bluster. America has a perennial surplus of bullies who brandish weapons to bolster their fragile masculinity and intimidate their adversaries. A small cohort of those goons are dangerous and even potentially deadly; the most consistent perpetrators of domestic terrorism in recent years have been white nationalists, neo-Nazis and other right-wing extremists, not radical Islamic terrorists. Rolling up the violent political gangsters should be a top priority for President-elect Joe Biden's Justice Department, which will follow four dark years when the Trump administration tolerated and even encouraged them.
But while civil war and secession remain unlikely, the extremist rhetoric pouring forth from the Republican Party is still terribly destructive. It dismays our friends, delights our adversaries and forecloses any chance of progress on the enormous problems that beset the nation. And someday, if the persistent partisan campaign against national unity continues, we may find ourselves so deeply split that America falls from greatness to become a failed state. That would fulfill the most cherished objective of Vladimir Putin's Russia, which the Trumpists too often seem to share.
What would happen if America were to fall apart? One way to imagine that dystopian future is to examine who benefits most from our union today.
At the moment, Republican politicians complain about "blue-state bailouts" as a talking point against state and local pandemic aid. That misleading trope not only conceals the desperate distress of their own cities, towns and rural counties but also ignores the true history of America's political economy — in which the states of the old Confederacy are highly dependent on the productivity and goodwill of the liberal coasts.
Yes, the blue states have spent the past several decades bailing out the red states. There are exceptions, of course, but that is the unmistakable and consistent pattern, as the late New York Democratic Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan first told us more than 40 years ago. The righteous conservatives of the heartland, bursting with biblical morality and fiscal rectitude, are entirely dependent on the revenues sent their way by the despised coastal elites. They're on federal welfare, and they show no signs of weaning themselves from that habit.
Consider a state like Arkansas, whose Republican Sen. Tom Cotton recently told us how wrong it would be to spend federal money on profligate New York or New Jersey. Every year, Arkansas gets billions more than its taxpayers send to Washington, as if it were an underdeveloped Third World country sucking up foreign aid. Except those of us who pay taxes in the blue states don't patronize Arkansas as a recipient of foreign aid, of course, because we still think of the people of Arkansas as our fellow Americans.
The arrogance and stupidity of Cotton's attitude is all too common on the Republican right these days. It is echoed by politicians such as Sen. Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican whose constituents get seven or eight bucks from the Treasury for every dollar in taxes paid. It crops up whenever Republicans such as Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas attempt to deny disaster aid to northeastern states after grabbing every cent for their own stricken localities. It erupted two years ago when the Republicans together ended federal deductibility of state and local taxes, in a blatant attack on the high-tax states that subsidize them.
The blue states pay that subsidy with little complaint year after year, knowing that much of the money goes to assist families below the poverty line (who would otherwise fare badly under the right-wing version of "Christian charity"). But let's be clear: If the modern secessionists someday achieve their un-American fantasy, it will be red states that suffer most without those fat welfare payments from the coasts.
For their sake, let's hope it never comes to that.
To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.