The New Confederacy

Sam Smith – Elsewhere is published something I wrote back in 2006 about the difference between fascism and Nazism. Although I still see strong connections between both and our own state of affairs, my thinking – in part due to the example of Latin American dictators’ different cultures of impunity  – has added a new metaphor – the American Confederacy –  that reflects both the character of our own country as well as broader theories.

The Confederacy was America’s own version of governmental and cultural evil and it perhaps a better metaphor for our current collapse.  Here are some of the hints the South has provided both decades ago and today:

  • The plantations were a forerunner of today’s corporations and their owners, in both cases, were given power well beyond anything the Constitution provided. Nearly 150 years after the Civil War, the Supreme Court, in Citizens United, not only gave corporations human rights in what was perhaps its most fascist decision ever, but these rights reflected those of confederate plantation owners. As historian David Hackett Fischer  said of the old South, liberty there was hegemonic, which is to say the more power you had the more liberty you had to do what you wanted with it.
  • The Review keeps a tally of rankings of states by a variety of standards. Six of the currently ten worst ranked states are in the South with Arkansas making the count in 28 studies, while Mississippi and Louisiana make it in 18. No southern state makes it in the top ten.
  • Ethnic prejudice was a prime definition of the character of the South and is being cruelly revived today.
  • The government could not be relied upon for decency.
  • For much of my life I have wondered whether – the end of slavery and secession aside – whether the South really lost the Civil War. In so many ways it seems to define us, from our love of military solutions to the survival of ethnic discrimination. I first got this sense as a Washington radio reporter in the 1950s  covering the Capitol and finding everything from the dominant chairmanships of committees to the prevalent accents to be far more Southern than I had expected.
  • The South has long been more military than the rest of the country. According to the news site, Ozy, in 2016  almost 44 percent of all military recruits came from the South. Notes Ozy:

    That’s despite the region having only about 36 percent of the nation’s relevant population.….Are the young Americans inhabiting the 16 states and the District of Columbia that make up the U.S. Census’ South Region somehow more patriotic than their counterparts in the other 34 states? Why — now that we are more than 150 years removed from the Civil War — is the Union’s army so disproportionately Southern?

    …In a 1997 interview, former Senator and Secretary of the Navy Jim Webb observed of his own Southern, Scotch-Irish heritage, that “we have been soldiers for 2,000 years. The military virtues have been passed down at the dinner table.” Research suggests, as Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker chronicles in The Better Angels of Our Nature, that the South has a distinct history of violence and a culture of honor that can be traced back to the Scotch-Irish herders who settled there.

    To be sure, the South has millions of fine citizens while Donald Trump comes from New York. Doesn’t this put the metaphor in doubt?

    Not really, because the South has had a long history of causing far more troubles than its numbers or geography might suggest. If the South had been truly defeated in the Civil War why, for example, did legally approved segregation last for another century?

    Trump is thriving off a culture created in no small part by the confederate south. It is a culture rejected not only by most northerners but by many southerners as well, yet remains a tool of misguided souls.Among its lessons to the sick and cruel:

    • As the southern powerful did, teach poor whites to blame other ethnic groups for their problems.
    • Find excuses to blame the poor and non-white for what’s going on
    • Use your unjustified power as an illusion of manliness and wisdom
    • Claim power defines freedom
    • Claim force defines wisdom

And there you have both George Wallace and Donald Trump. The only difference is that we kept George Wallace out of the White House. We are no longer than fortunate.

There is one more aspect of the confederate metaphor worth noting: You not only have a second Confederacy; you have a second Union. The evolution of history has made the geographical difference much harder to discern, but we must not lose sight that just as 19th century northerners  knew what they were defending, we must see ourselves not as victims of the new confederacy but as preservers of the true union that made a good America.

For example, if the Supreme Court were to allow states to abolish abortion, we must find ways to make it easier for women to come to the good states while created boycotts of the evil ones. We have lost territory and souls to the New Confederacy led by Donald Trump, and we must go to new lengths to make it clear that our states or communities are still part of the democratic republic for which we still stand.

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