The Civil War (Cont’d)

 Sam Smith – As noted here before, one can argue that other then ending slavery and secession, the South actually won the Civil War. One need only to consider that it took almost a century for the civil rights movement’s efforts against segregation to begin to be successful.

 As a new reporter covering the Capitol six decades ago, I recall one of my strongest thoughts was how much more southern it all was than I had imagined. Part of this was due to southern pols holding their seats, and thus their power, longer but there was also a deep  southern aura about the place that still sticks with me.

On a more factual basis consider this: if Donald Trump had run for president without the aid of formerly Confederate states, Hillary Clinton would have won by 60 electoral votes. And our regular update of state rankings and actions finds none of the formerly Confederate states in the top ten, but eight in the list of the bottom ten.

This is another example of how the conventional media tends to ignore culture and history in its coverage, ignoring the truth that these factors can influence things as much or more as what some politician said yesterday.

Ironically, one of the reasons that the former Confederacy hasn’t changed more is that as late as World War I some 90% of blacks lived in the south. Thanks to their efforts to get the hell out of there, the figure was only about 54% in the 2000 census. Thus the potential political power of blacks to change things in southern America has actually declined.

As I wrote eight years ago:

[][][][] It has been as bad for the south as for the general population as recent recounted by Jonathan Cohn in the New Republic:

“By nearly every measure, people who live in the blue states are healthier, wealthier, and generally better off than people in the red states… The four states with the highest poverty rates are all red: Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, and Texas. … And the five states with the lowest poverty rates are all blue: New Hampshire, New Jersey, Vermont, Minnesota, and Hawaii. The numbers on infant mortality, life expectancy, teen pregnancy, and obesity break down in similar ways.

“Advocates for the red-state approach to government invoke lofty principles: By resisting federal programs and defying federal laws, they say, they are standing up for liberty. These were the same arguments that the original red-staters made in the 1800s, before the Civil War, and in the 1900s, before the civil rights movement. Now, as then, the liberty the red states seek is the liberty to let a whole class of citizens suffer.

“ Because we tend to view t’he north-south issue primarily in terms of ethnicity we fail to observe a cultural difference of huge import: the south is still trapped in a power system that pits the less successful against each other based on false interpretations of race, religion, and economics. All these interpretations favor power by the few.

“This is one reason why the deadly alliance between the old south and the contemporary predatory capitalism of people like Romney is proving so effective. Both believe in power without limit, integrity, or cooperation. Now, the corporation is treated as a person, the citizen increasingly as just property. If Romney only had the right accent, he would be right at home as governor of Missisippi or as an actor in Gone With the Wind. He evokes power both handsome and horrible.”

The southern view of freedom is what David Hackett Fisher refers to as hegemonic liberty. The website Orcinus notes:

 “Fischer quotes Dr. Samuel Johnson, pondering the cavalier view of freedom. ‘How is it,’ Dr. Johnson asked, ‘that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?’ …

Fischer has an answer. He argues that the cavalier cry against tyranny expressed by Jefferson, Washington, and other Virginians wasn’t the least bit out of character. In fact, it came straight out of their essential conviction that free white men of property are the morally proper holders of all the rights and liberties that matter.

Writes Fisher:

 “Virginian ideas of hegemonic liberty conceived of freedom mainly as the power to rule, and not to be overruled by others. Its opposite was “slavery.”….It never occurred to most Virginia gentlemen that liberty belonged to everyone. It was thought to be the special birthright of free-born Englishmen — a property which set this ‘happy breed’ apart from other mortals, and gave them a right to rule less fortunate people in the world….

“One’s status in Virginia was defined by the liberties one possessed. Men of high estate were thought to have more liberties than others of lesser rank. Servants possessed few liberties; and slaves [and women] had none at all. This libertarian idea had nothing to do with equality. Many years later, John Randolph of Roanoke summarized his ancestral creed in a sentence: ‘I am an aristocrat,’ he declared. ‘I love liberty; I hate equality.’”

To be sure, with time more have been allowed to join the elite, but the principle still lurks deep in much southern politics. Even a poor southern boy like Bill Clinton understood the rules. You play the game to get to the top and then you get to do whatever you want. Power is its own justification.

This view, writes Fisher, differs from the New England one that liberty is defined by the community, or the Quaker perspective that liberty should be reciprocal, or even the libertarianism of the west, which the individual’s power was limited to one’s own choices, not one’s choices over other.

The success of the southern political elite (along with today’s business school elite) has required a consistent development of mistrust amongst the very masses who should be rising up against it.

The Economic History Association reports that “In 1805 there were just over one million slaves worth about $300 million; fifty-five years later there were four million slaves worth close to $3 billion. . . . The value of capital invested in slaves roughly equaled the total value of all farmland and farm buildings in the South.”

History Central adds: “Most Southern white families did not own slaves: only about 384,000 out of 1.6 million did. Of those who did own slaves, most (88%) owned fewer than 20 slaves, and were considered farmers rather than planters. Slaves were concentrated on the large plantations of about 10,000 big planters, on which 50-100 or more slaves worked. About 3,000 of these planters owned more than 100 slaves, and 14 of them owned over 1,000 slaves.

In other words, if you just consider economics, less than one percent of Southern families were truly enjoying the benefits of slavery just as today less than one percent are truly enjoying the benefits of contemporary corrupt capitalism.

As we might ask of today’s middle class supporters of the GOP uncivil war, why did the rest of the whites go along? One of the rarest phenomena in the South – practiced by populists such as Earl Long – was a serious political effort to help poorer whites see what they had in common with blacks and how they were being ripped off by the white elite – while today even liberals prefer to see the GOP base as devils equal to its leadership rather than as misguided victims waiting to be saved.

Key to each period was the myth that the elite was helping everyone preserve their “way of life.” The Southern mythology – celebrated in everything from books to musicals to movies – essentially described a culture that only a few could enjoy just as today the Republicans have not come up with a single program to significantly help their middle class or lower income constituents. The benefits of “free markets” accrue only to campaign contributors…

A century later, with the civil rights movement redefining the Democratic Party from its segregationist southern past, the GOP essentially took over planter politics and has been practicing it ever since.

Today, the GOP has raised planter politics to new levels. There are no ideological gifts to the many, only money and power to the few. And one can draw a direct line from the Civil War of the 1860s to the uncivil wars of today.

As with the southern Democrats of long ago, the GOP is waging class war against the very constituency it pretends to represent and there is hardly anyone around to tell this constituency how they are being ripped off.

Until that happens, until a true populist movement takes form, the Republicans will continue their uncivil war against American democracy, taking apart the very laws and policies that allowed their present constituency to get where they were before the current disaster began. [][][][]

Today, Donald Trump is our leading planter politician, creating his own liberty as the expense of those around him and lying to them in such a manner has to deceive them into thinking he is on their side. The Democrats, on the other hand, have done a lousy job of defending and helping the working class that is Trump’s target compared say to the New Deal and the Great Society. Until they do a better job of helping ordinary citizens our civil war shall continue.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.