Southern Resurgence Tied to the Ever-Present Ghosts of Slavery

The hyper-religious South have never gotten over losing the Civil War. They’re arguably the worst runners-up in the history of warfare. Don’t believe me? The next time you travel to Germany, count the number of monuments dedicated to Nazi storm troopers. The number is zero.

Now compare that to the number of monuments, obelisks, and statues in memoriam of Confederate generals, deceased Klansmen, and other notables out of the closet of white supremacists - a lot more than zero. 

Now, if you need further convincing, a visit to the Southern Poverty Law Center reveals the dramatic growth of hate group membership in those states located below the MasonDixon line. The number of Patriot groups, including armed militias, has grown 813 percent since the nation’s first black president was elected. – from 149 in 2008 to 1,360 in 2012.

Despite being 150 years since the end of hostilities, a new study by the University of Rochester suggests that the legacy of slavery is what leads white people in the South to vote Republican:

Drawing on a sample of more than 39,000 southern whites, we show that whites who currently live in counties that had high concentrations of slaves in 1860 are on average more conservative and express colder feelings towards African Americans than whites who live elsewhere in the South. That is,the larger the number of slaves in his or her county of residence in 1860, the greater the probability that a white Southerner today will identify as a Republican, express opposition to race-coded policies such as affirmative action, and express greater racial resentment towards African Americans.

We show that these differences are robust to a variety of factors, including geography and mid- 19th century economic conditions and political attitudes. We also show that our results strengthen when we instrument for the prevalence of slavery using local measures of the agricultural suitability to grow cotton. In fact, our findings indicate that in the counterfactual world where the South had no slaves in 1860, the political views of white Southerners today would be indistinguishable from those of similarly situated white Northerners.

Even more concerning is the rapid resurgence of Southern style Civil War dynamics within the Republican Party, courtesy of the Supreme Court’s decision to favor Citizens United over the Federal Electoral Commission in January, 2010. The Court’s decision has paved the way for billions of corporate dollars to flow towards candidates who appeal to the most politically agitated wing of the Republican Party: the Southern Baptists and evangelicals (aka The Christian Right).

Prior to 2010, these radicals were the fringes of the party. Today they are the main strain of the GOP, and they’re coming not only to a town near you, but directly to your town with the backing of the Koch brothers, Walmart, and big tobacco.

Poll after poll shows America is a center-left country. A majority of the nation leans left when it comes to same-sex marriage, abortion laws, and social safety nets. The country elected a liberal in the past two presidential election cycles. What’s the problem?

Perhaps the giddiness progressives experienced with Obama’s victories, particularly 2008, have served to be the perfect political distraction. The Christian Right is focused on “taking the country back” one local and state legislature; one governor mansion and one court house at a time, and they’re doing it with alarming ease. All the while, progressives become victims of the intoxicating drug of gradualism.

Worryingly, progressives appear to be oblivious to not only the resurgence of the Christian Right, but also its Southern accent. Michael Lind, Whitehead Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation wrote in a 2009 Daily Beast article:

The battle in Washington is not between liberals and conservatives; it is between the Union and the South. The rest of the country needs to understand…..this [Republican Party] is the party whose spiritual ancestors are the old Southern conservative Democrats, like John. C. Calhoun and Jefferson Davis and Strom Thurmond and Orval Faubus.

Lind nails it. Though if he hasn’t sufficiently scared you, consider what is happening in North Carolina today. In 2010, thanks to the influx of tens of millions of dollars from billionaires like the Kochs and Art Pope, the Republican Party was able to turn a state that had voted for Obama in 2008 into a Christian right-wing laboratory in 2011, after simultaneously winning both houses in the state’s congress and the governor’s mansion for the first time in 150 years. In a state that has, for all intents and purposes, the same number of registered Democrats as Republicans, North Carolina has pushed ahead with one of the most aggressive far right agendas in the country today.

The agenda includes:

  • The destruction of public education
  • Creationism in the classroom
  • Aggressive anti-abortion legislations
  • Establishing Christianity as a state religion
  • Disenfranchisement of any voter without a white face
  • Removal of obstacles to the death penalty
  • Lowering corporate tax rates and regulations

This is alarming. Billionaires care only for the last point: lowering corporate tax rates and regulations. Southern Christians, well, throw them some red meat to their holier-than-thou rationalizations and they won’t care what corporations do to this great nation. They're looking to create a utopian society based on “biblical law.” They want to transform America from a secular society into a Confederate flavored theocracy, and they’re succeeding, ever so gradually.

The South is fixated on everything related to controlling race, sex, religious practice, abortion laws, and repealing every progressive law that has come out of the federal government. They are mounting crusades against gays, liberals, Muslims, immigrants, and atheists. They are turning our judiciaries into rubber stamps for corporations. With the backing of corporate money, they are taking this country one state legislative assembly at a time. A strategy that says, “We don’t care what the people want. We write the laws, and those laws will not reflect the wishes of the centre majority, but will cater only for the fanatical Christian Right and its corporate cronies.” All the while, we progressives take another shot of that intoxicating drug called gradualism.

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