It’s no longer clear to me what we celebrate on July 4, or why. Some of the people I am expected to embrace on this occasion strike me as numbering among the most odious hypocrites, despots, and slanderers on the planet. What of our national bond is left?
A few days ago, an article posted by Pat Buchanan both encapsulated my own swirling sentiments and also gave me something new to ponder. The passage that stirred me up most ran as follows:
Many liberals not only do not trust the South, some detest it. And many seem to think it deserves to be treated differently than the more progressive precincts of the nation.
Consider Wednesday’s offering by Washington Post columnist Harold Meyerson. The South, he writes, is the home of “so-called right-to-work laws” and hostility to the union shop, undergirded by “the virulent racism of the white Southern establishment,” a place where a “right-wing antipathy toward workers’ rights” is pandemic.
The South is the “the heartland of cheap-labor America…. When it wants to slum, business still goes to the South.” Then there are those “reactionary white Republican state governments.”
Were a conservative to use the term “black” as a slur the way Meyerson spits out the word “white,” he would be finished at the Post. Meyerson’s summation:
“If the federal government wants to build a fence that keeps the United States safe from the danger of lower wages and poverty and their attendant ills—and the all-round fruitcakery of the right-wing white South—it should build that fence from Norfolk to Dallas. There is nothing wrong with a fence as long as you put it in the right place.”
Harold looks forward to the day that a surging Latino population forces “epochal political change” on a detestable white South. (1)
As another Fourth of July makes me question what nature of union remains to celebrate and why I should celebrate it with the likes of Mr. Meyerson (whose type is common in both parties among the ruling class), I can find fewer answers than ever. My reading of Thomas DiLorenzo’s Unmasking Lincoln recently has brought to the light of full consciousness a feeling I have had about such people as Mr. Meyerson all my life. DiLorenzo calls them “Yankees”—as do those among whom I was raised; yet he explains them as they were never explained to me, underscoring that he himself, though born in Pennsylvania, isn’t one of the tribe:
The “morally superior” New England Yankees announced repeatedly that they did not believe black people were capable of citizenship and tried to force them out of their communities. The American Colonization Society, which raised funds to deport blacks to Liberia and other foreign lands, was very active in New England. By 1861 some twelve thousand free blacks from New England had been deported to Liberia, where most of them perished. To New Englanders “abolitionism” did not necessarily mean freedom, it meant “abolishing” the presence of black people from their midst. They were God’s chosen people, and no “inferior beings” were acceptable to them. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said [approvingly], “the abolitionist wishes to abolish slavery, but because he wishes to abolish the black man.” That would supposedly “restore New England to an idealized original state as an orderly, homogeneous, white society. A free New England would be a white New England.” In other words, they apparently hoped to create a superior master race.(2)
Lincoln himself, of course, was one of this lot in spirit, though no pilgrim blueblood. The Emancipation Proclamation declared slaves to be free throughout the South in a strategic bid to demoralize the enemy: it wasted not a word on those states still loyal to Lincoln’s precious union—such as Kentucky, Missouri, and Maryland—that held slavery to be legal. Where Abe couldn’t in fact free any slaves, he freed them all; where he might have taken the initiative in freeing them all, he touched not the chains of one. He was a two-faced Yankee hypocrite, intent only upon securing power over the maximum number of his fellow citizens—by any means possible, up to and including invasion and shelling of civilian targets (i.e., terrorism)—so as to promote the “progressive” vision of those industrialists who bankrolled him. I despise the man’s memory as my grandmother did, and I find it more difficult than ever to celebrate a holiday on which this first great murderer of the Constitution is prominently honored.
I have so far failed to retrieve the exact citation from Leon O’Broin’s biography of Richard Robert O’Madden, the Irish abolitionist and diplomat who spoke up—at great risk to his career—for the slave crew of the Amistad. (In any case, the book is written in Irish.) I clearly remember the passage, however, where O’Madden and a black friend were returning from Sunday Mass on the streets of New York in the mid-1830s. A mob quickly formed. O’Madden feared for his friend’s life. He hadn’t realized that white men don’t go to black churches in New York and that blacks don’t walk with whites in public.(3)
About four years ago now, I recall that a “Yankee” Shakespearean submitted a very fine analysis of Measure for Measure to my online literary journal. I learned much from the piece and was pleased to publish it. I label this man with the “y” word not because of where he happened to be from (all of us can find something to be ashamed of, and proud of, in our place of origin) but because of what ensued. Flattered by my admiration, he proceeded to send me a more tongue-in-cheek piece about a post-graduate experience, dimly connected to his Shakespearean studies, at some South Carolinian university. I like to believe that my sense of humor is as flexible as the next person’s; but to hear this writer tell it, all that Southerners do is get stinking drunk and eat pork rinds. There was a “nudge, nudge” quality to the whole vignette, as if to say, “Well, you know what they’re like—WE know what they’re like.” I don’t remember what particular political issue may be thanked for parting our ways permanently; but I do most distinctly recall that, until I finally raised one too many protests at his statist/paternalist/neocon rants, this worthy was constantly letting me know when he would next fly through Dallas on his busy schedule so that we might “meet and have a drink”. All of his proposed rendezvous had an alcoholic savor to them… and this was the same naïve pilgrim who had suggested that Southern moonshine had once corrupted him!
I inserted a brief little apologetic for the South in my journal a few months after publishing the Yankee burlesque, and I included an old photo retrieved from my grandfather’s album. I’ve reproduced that photo in this post. The year must be about 1900: the place is a farm outside of Clemson. As you can see, the little black children and the little white children are clearly playmates. Huddling together to squeeze into the frame, they obviously aren’t afraid of rubbing against each other. The Yankee presumption that such scenes as this could not possibly exist when and where the picture proves they did is the basis (or part of it) for the Yankee loathing of people like me: white, male, and of Southern extraction. That presumption, insofar as it is made to blanket an entire people rather than describe only a certain stratum of Southern white society, is a lie. Like the myth of Lincoln, it’s a damned lie. Yes, there were lynchings in the South—in Mississippi, especially; and there were also race riots in places like Detroit, and acts of voter disenfranchisement in many major northeastern cities directed at the Irish and Eastern Europeans for decades after the Civil War.
But the Yankee remains superior—he doesn’t do such things, and will not permit them to be recorded in our collective history books. The progressive heir to his Puritan forebears, he doesn’t have to justify his actions: they are his, and hence inspired by God. It has been said that the Southern “cracker” has to feel himself superior to a black, because “if you ain’t better than a n—-r, you ain’t better than no one.” Is this not the same function that all Southerners fulfill for the Yankee? If he is ever tempted toward self-doubt, he may always find a Southerner and recover his sense of rightful privilege.
In Ken Burns’ documentary Baseball, I recall a Yankee professor in tweeds sneering that Georgian Ty Cobb was an embarrassment to the game. This sniffing condemnation came at the end of a lopsided account of Cobb’s fight with an armless invalid in the bleachers who had reportedly flung the “n” word at him. (The man actually had no fingers due to an industrial accident: he disguised this handicap by wearing gloves.) Even if the incident took place largely as reported, why did the professor—and Burns—have no vitriol for the Northern spectator who released the slur, or for the Northern teammates who told Cobb that if he did not punch the guy, they would lose all respect for him? Why is racism always a one-way street never traveled by the Yankee and walked only by those he has selected for social and political excommunication?
A final word about racism in the South. The incomparable C. Vann Woodward reproduces in perhaps his greatest book the struggles of one T. McCants Stewart, a black journalist working for a Northern newspaper, during 1885 as he traveled South on a mission (or a crusade) to write home about the horrors of bigotry:
On leaving Washington, D.C., he reported to his paper, “I put a chip on my shoulder, and inwardly dared any man to knock it off.” He found a seat in a car which became so crowded that several white passengers had to sit on their baggage. “I fairly foamed at the mouth,” he wrote, “imagining the conductor would order me into the seat occupied by a colored lady so as to make room for a white passenger.” Nothing of the sort happened, however, nor was there any unpleasantness when Stewart complained of a request from a white Virginian that he shift his baggage so that the white man could sit beside him. At a stop twenty-one miles below Petersburg he entered a station dining room “bold as a lion,” he wrote, took a seat at a table with white people, and was courteously served. “The whites at the table appeared not to notice my presence,” he reported. “Thus far I had found traveling more pleasant… than in some parts of new England. Aboard a steamboat in North Carolina he complained of a colored waiter who seated him at a separate table, though in the same dining room with whites. At Wilmington, however, he suffered from no discrimination in dining arrangements. His treatment in Virginia and North Carolina, he declared, “contrasted strongly with much that I have experienced in dining rooms in the north.” Another contrast that impressed him was the ease and frequency with which white people entered into conversation with him for no other purpose than to pass the time of day. “I think the whites of the south,” he observed, “are really less afraid to [have] contact with colored people than the whites of the north.”(4)
Stewart had his preconceptions, and they were not groundless; but he was also an honest man, and he realized that the assumptions he had been fed were careless and over-broad. In other words, he was not a Yankee.
If my many hints that the “y” word is almost a synonym for “progressive” have been too subtle, then I will come out into the open now. I’ve had my fill—a lifetime’s fill—of people who really aren’t any smarter or better educated than I telling me—or broadcasting over my head to their elite audience, I should say—that they know what’s best, that they don’t need to justify this knowledge, and that the “right” sort of person needs no explanation of their preemptive superiority. It turns out that such insufferable, “God’s chosen” arrogance has been on display since the first wobbly days of our now moribund republic. The progressives have wanted an oligarchy—a theocracy—a faux democracy of nodding puppets at one-party elections—since the Mayflower dropped anchor. At last they’re having their way.
Mr. Meyerson, tell me where you would like to build your damned wall, and I’ll show up to raise it from the other side. Only… I notice that, like Mr. Lincoln, you have no intention of restricting the reach of your dictates from that side where you would never sully your shoe soles. What, then, is the purpose of your wall, since you shall continue trying to micro-manage the lives of the exiles even after its rearing? Is it just that every emperor needs a great wall?
Of the Mexico which Mr. Meyerson proposes to settle all along the wall’s southern boundary, I have much to write once my blood pressure falls a few ticks.
(1) Patrick J. Buchanan, “Does the South Belong in the Union?” Townhall.com. 28 June, 2013.
(2) Lincoln Unmasked (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2006), 40-41.
(3) Leon Ó Broin, An Maidíneach (Baile Átha Cliath: Sáirséal agus Dill, 1971).
(4) From early in the second chapter of C. Vann Woodward, The Strange Career of Jim Crow (first published in 1955; this citation from a e-book—no page number available).