The Civil War hangs on

Sam Smith – Some time ago I raised the issue of who had really won the civil war. True, slavery and the confederacy are over, but other practices and values of the old South – particularly the purported superiority of the white male – remain with us, expanded to not only to subjugate blacks but women and gays as well.

The Jim Crow Museum at Ferris State University in Michigan, offers a good summary of some of the ways that the confederate south has continued in power. For example:

A Virginia law made it illegal for black and white children to attend the same schools.

Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1875, which prohibited discrimination in public accommodations, including inns, theaters, public conveyances on land or water, and “other places of public amusement.”

In 1882, at least 49 blacks were lynched. According to Tuskegee Institute data, 3,438 blacks were lynched between the years 1882 and 1951.

The United States Supreme Court ruled in Civil Rights Cases of 1883 that the Civil Rights Act of 1875 was unconstitutional. The Court ruled that the 14th Amendment prohibited states, but not citizens, from discriminating.

Southern states adopted new constitutions and voting laws designed to disenfranchise black voters.

Woodrow Wilson institutionalized segregation in the federal civil service. By the end of World War I, the District of Columbia was thoroughly segregated as well.

Every southern state and many northern cities had Jim Crow laws that discriminated against black Americans.

1925The Ku Klux Klan had 3 million members during its heyday in the early 1920s. Roughly half its members lived in metropolitan areas, and although it enjoyed considerable support in the South, the Klan was strongest in the Midwest and Southwest. On August 8, 1925, 35,000 members of the Klan marched down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C.

The Maryland legislature passed a law that imprisoned any white woman who birthed a mixed-race child. The white woman would be incarcerated up to five years. The law was renewed in 1957.

An Alabama law barred blacks and whites from playing cards, dominoes, checkers, pool, football, baseball, basketball, or golf together. A North Carolina law required factories and plants to maintain separate bathrooms for black employees. A Louisiana law mandated that movie theaters and all places of public entertainment separate white and black patrons.

The Virginia legislature voted to close any school that enrolled both black and white students.

An Arkansas law required all state buses to designate whites-only seating areas.

Such laws were the result of the concept of hegemonic liberty – the more power you have the more liberty goes with it,

The nature of power kept shifting. With the Reagan administration. Corporate influence blossomed and the media, where in the 1950s over half of reporters only had a high school education, became a part of the elite. Television became not only dominant media, it dramatically changed  the character of political corruption. Corrupt politicians, who once gave their blessings to institutions in their own communities, increasingly were being bought by national interests and their politics reflected this fact.

And, although rarely mentioned, the rise of advertising and public relations helped to make lies and hyperbole a more natural part of our lives.

Thus the principle of hegemonic liberty, which had its birth in the white control of slavery, expanded its power in all sorts of other ways.  

And it was not just politicians who were losing their connections with communities. The urbanization of America greatly weakened communal traditions and common morals as did the decline of churches and other institutions that influenced communal thought and behavior.  An increasing number of Americans saw themselves not as part of a community but as individuals increasingly separated from common interests with others.

You might call what has happened as neo-narcissism, a culture in which common values are deemphasized in favor of the choices of each individual.

The most striking model for all this is a fellow named Donald Trump. But it may help to grasp his role these days by comparing him, say, with citizens refusing to wear masks or the increase in laws allowing them to carry guns.

Donald Trump has declared America his house and he’ll run it the way he wants. Add to this neo-narcissism the reinvigoration of southern values that inspired the Civil War. In fact, a recent poll found that 84% of Trump supporters “worry that discrimination against whites will increase significantly in the next few years.”

Meanwhile, the Democratic alternative has become increasingly removed psychologically from the folks it would like to represent. No small part of this has been due to the increased education of liberals in recent decades that have led them to speak a language and express views that are hard for ordinary Americans to understand. For example, a recent poll found that only 10% understood many of the specifics of Biden’s Build Back Better Plan. And the recent trend in black activism is to cast ordinary whites as privileged racists even if there are more poor whites than poor blacks. The capacity to develop cross ethnic alliances has drastically faded. As the data scientist David Shor put it, ““I think the core problem with the Democratic Party is that the people who run and staff the Democratic Party are much more educated and ideologically liberal and they live in cities.”

There is a wealth of things that could be done to change this situation. For example, whites and blacks could join in increasing labor union membership. Cooperatives could be formed to compete with traditional corporations. Churches could help build and defend communal moral actions and values and not just press faith standards. And we could teach and approach multiculturalism not as an endless problem caused by prejudice but also as a virtue of our society that we should learn about and enjoy.

The good values are still there; they’re just hidden in smaller communities and places given little attention by the media or other national institutions.  The labor, ecology and civil rights movement all grew out of similar places. It is time again for ordinary folk to show our leaders what they’re doing wrong and how to change it.