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Saying this gives me no pleasure, but it needs to be said. The 13 former confederate states now account for 144 seats in the Congress and 26 seats in the Senate. That’s a lot of government power for a group of constituents who, 150 years ago, hated the federal government so much they wanted to secede from it and who, arguably, still hate it today.
It wouldn’t matter so much if, instead of a democratic republic, we were ruled by a king or military junta. If we lived under a non-participatory form of government, people’s ignorance and prejudices, no matter how shriekingly offensive, would do little more than annoy the hell out of us. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Southern voters not only influence important decisions, but given today’s razor-thin pluralities, they more or less control our destiny. It’s all about the votes.
Before anyone raises their hackles, let’s make two things clear: First, no one is saying everyone in the South is backward; obviously, there are exceptions. And, second, ignorant people are found everywhere, even (especially?) in my home state of California, whose voters, on a whim, once recalled a perfectly adequate governor and replaced him with an Austrian-born body-builder who (surprise!) wasn’t up to the job.
But the reason the Deep South so easily trumps the rest of the country in the ignorance and bigotry departments is that these characteristics have not only been crystallized, they’ve been institutionalized. They’re embedded in the region’s cultural fabric.
There’s some history to this. Hoping to heal the nation’s wounds (and not be accused of “cultural usurpation”), the federal government, over a century ago, failed in its obligation to hold the South to a higher standard. It was our fault, not theirs. In order not to appear vindictive or retaliatory, we unwisely cut them too much slack. While the rest of the country inched forward socially and culturally, the South was allowed to hang back.
Again, this is all about the votes. Because the former Confederacy now elects more than one-fourth of the country’s congressmen and senators, our tolerance for “one’s right to one’s opinion” has come back to haunt us. In fact, at the moment, it’s doing more than haunting us; it’s holding us hostage.
Consider: They’re backward. Despite the country’s lowest per capita income, the South hates labor unions. They reject the one institution capable of raising their standard of living by providing higher wages and better benefits, and they do it because they believe labor collectivism is a form of socialism, and socialism is a form of Satanism. In other words, they’d rather walk around with four teeth in their mouths than belong to a union dental plan.
Even the Asians realize the American South is culturally backward. Yes, word of Dixie’s unique individualism has reached all the way to corporate headquarters in Tokyo. It’s not by accident that Nissan, Honda and Toyota are falling over themselves building new plants down there, lured by lucrative subsidies and virulent anti-unionism.
Consider: They’re ignorant. They’re not only openly anti-progressive and anti-intellectual, they’re proud of it. They boast of it. Which is why some of their schools teach Creationism and Intelligent Design. Not in a church school, mind you, not in a World History class or an after-school program, but in their public school science classes.
Consider: They’re hypocrites. The same people who, barely 50 years ago, attacked little black girls on their way to desegregated schools, and made a practice of lynching Negroes, are the same ones who piously profess love for Jesus Christ. No region of the United States waves the flag more, invokes the name of God more, or has more churches per square inch than Dixie.
Consider: They’re squirrelly. Even though the South promotes this image of gentility and rock-ribbed American family values, the Bible Belt pretty much leads the nation in divorces, teen pregnancies, high school dropouts, and venereal disease. If you don’t believe it, look it up on Google. These salt-of-earth folks are, in fact, recklessly anti-family. Shocking.
Ridiculing Southerners used to be fun. In a goofy, Boss Hogg, Lil’ Abner sort of way, “redneck jokes” seemed to make sense. But because the South now calls the shots on so many critical issues—health care, military spending, immigration, foreign policy, climate change, renewable energy—we no longer have the luxury of amused condescension. It’s all about the votes.
Are we being unfair? Is it only the South that’s repulsive? Aren’t “elite” Eastern liberals equally annoying in their smug certitude? Of course they are. In fact, I would go so far as to say that pompous, holier-than-thou liberals are, on a personal level, even more obnoxious than the average down-home Southerner you’re apt to meet. But at least these “elitists” are educated, know how to use a condom, and don’t hate Europe.
In any event, we can no longer afford having our most backward citizens make our most important decisions. The stakes are simply too high. That’s why we should let the South go its own way. If they still wish to secede, so be it. We should let ‘em do it. At the very least, Florida would no longer be a “swing state.”
DAVID MACARAY, an LA playwright and author (“It’s Never Been Easy: Essays on Modern Labor”), was a former union rep. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition. He can be reached at email@example.com
COMING IN SEPTEMBER
A Special Memorial Issue of CounterPunch
Featuring recollections of Alexander Cockburn from Jeffrey St. Clair, Peter Linebaugh, Paul Craig Roberts, Noam Chomsky, Mike Whitney, Doug Peacock, Perry Anderson, Becky Grant, Dennis Kucinich, Michael Neumann, Susannah Hecht, P. Sainath, Ben Tripp, Alison Weir, James Ridgeway, JoAnn Wypijewski, John Strausbaugh, Pierre Sprey, Carolyn Cooke, Conn Hallinan, James Wolcott, Laura Flanders, Ken Silverstein, Tariq Ali and many others …