Many people wiser than I have looked at the current political climate in the US and brought up similarities to Nazi Germany. Fascism based in racial and ethnic hatred has a lot in common with fascism based in racial and ethnic hatred, after all. But there is another racially charged moment in history these days also resemble: the US Civil War.
We are a divided country with a white majority. More than half of white voters chose the most openly racist candidate in decades. More than a third voted for the much less racist alternative. White Americans today are divided on the Nazi question. In the mid 1800s, white Americans were divided on the “peculiar institution” of lifelong race based chattel slavery.
Plantation owners were at the top of Southern hierarchy – white, male, land owning, and rich. Fewer than 10% of white male Southerners enslaved two or more people, yet slavery was overwhelmingly supported by poor local whites. Plantation mistresses, wives and daughters of the master, were subject to sexist dictates, yet rarely supported abolition or feminism.
We see the same dynamic today. Poor whites support policies that keep them poor, so long as they keep black Amerticans poorer. Conservative white women who would benefit from feminism’s gains side with the sexism of white supremacy over anything that might help them be independent of overbearing men. They will vote against their own interests as payment for getting to vote against the intetrests of others.
Nearly every Confederate soldier was too poor to ever become a plantation owner himself. Southern white women were barred from inheritance, denied divorce, and treated as prized possessions but possessions nonetheless. Yet those groups still to this day glorify the antebellum period and the white male rule that defined it.