Having grown up in the 1960’s and 1970’s, I always assumed that when the South lost the Civil War, that unfortunate matter was pretty much settled. After all, slavery had ended, and while de facto segregation and and racist disenfranchisement were proving to be stubbornly difficult to eradicate, a steady progression of court cases and civil rights laws seemed to mean that such peculiar institutions existed less and less de jure.
I could be forgiven for my naivete, I suppose, because I lived in a prosperous neighborhood in a relatively liberal part of the country, and the only vocal racists I knew were my crazy grandmother, Etta, and Archie Bunker. Since Etta was, well, crazy and Archie was fictional, I foolishly didn’t see either one as part of any oncoming wave of the future. Little did I know how wrong I was, although in retrospect there were clear signs even then that “Dixie” was, and would be, more than just the name of cute little paper cups.
When my parents divorced, my father moved to Burns, Oregon, a dusty, God-forsaken hellhole by any measure, but what struck me about it as a child was that everyone there talked funny; they all sounded to my child’s mind like one of those redneck sheriffs I’d seen and dreaded on TV. Even though I was a just a little kid, I thought it odd, and a little scary, that just a few hundred miles from my leafy coastal hometown, I could close my eyes at the rodeo or A & W and think I was the Old Confederacy.
And I was right; twenty years and many history classes later I’d learned that after the Civil War, huge numbers of disaffected Southern dead-enders lit out for the territories and had virtually taken over the then-unpopulated interior west, bringing with them not just their accents, but their poisonous habits of mind. Rebel yells could be heard, and still are, all the way to Alberta, Canada, where the “victorious” Yankees like myself couldn’t hear them, at least back then. Now, we can’t hear anything else, as the Bush-era red/blue maps starkly illustrated.
Even a cursory look at the agenda of the modern day American Right, though often generated in the posh boardrooms of globetrotting corporations and stuffy, corporate-funded Washington think tanks, could have come straight out of Georgia or Mississippi, circa 1860. School re-segregation. Voting restrictions. Prison labor. Racial profiling. Draconian sentencing. Wild West gun laws. Labor exploitation. Self-deportation. Military aggression. Regressive taxation. Sexual repression….. Jefferson Davis? No, ALEC. The only difference is that Jefferson Davis lost and ALEC, despite the Recent Unpleasantness, is still winning.
One need look no further than the routine capitulations of the ostensibly Yankee party, The Democrats, to the neo-confederate wishes of today’s ironically pro-South Republicans to see that the Civil War is finally nearing its end, with a diametrically opposite outcome from the first time around. With the industrial might of the North in tatters and Wall Street bankers having opportunistically switched sides, the pesky arithmetic that caused the South to lose the first time has been laid to rest as just another tired, elitist affectation, along with such egg-headed notions as evolution, climate change, and gender equality.
Under a purportedly “liberal” President whose children are actually descended from slaves, racist policies like wars, drug laws, extrajudicial killings, and economic disempowerment of the Lower Orders, vault forward unabated, despite previous (and now revealingly abandoned) rhetoric to the contrary. And the endgame of the neo-confederates, the final abolition of a century of hard-won civil and voting rights victories, now meet only desultory and half-hearted opposition from Obama’s “Justice” Department. Indeed, for 2012, his own party chose to hold its own convention below the Mason-Dixon line, in a state known for its corporate corruption and anti-labor practices.
If the arc of history ultimately bends toward freedom, it’s either a damned long arc, or it stopped bending somewhere around 1980.