Why We Can’t Whistle Dixie Past the Graveyard of American Unity

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Grant-Christian-MuralSome 37 years ago, the eminent Southern writer John Shelton Reed posed an intriguing question: Why No Southern nationalism?

I have thought a lot within the last 25 years about the prospect of a renascent Southern nationalism in the face of American decline. And, yes, the South, for several reasons, simply must represent a vital and essential facet of discussion about the future of American constitutional liberty in the midst of this decline.

Here is the problem as I see it: There currently is no coherent Southern nationalist identity to speak of, at least presently. What we currently have in the South is a sense of Southern distinctiveness and identity amid a deep well of hyper-American patriotism, one that is particularly evident in the Deep South, where I live. To put it another way, we have nationalism IN the South but not nationalism OF the South.

Southern Historical Roots

Much of this is deeply rooted in Southern history.

In the last decade of the 19th century, as the South dug its way out of defeat, economic dispossession and grinding poverty, the United States not only was regarded the world over as the most successful post-colonial nation but also the one most likely to overtake and to supplant Britain as the dominant global power.  Reed rightfully noted that this prospect appealed especially to the defeated and economically prostrate South, which retained a strong martial tradition and an enduring affinity for cultural rootedness and identity.

Also, as he stressed, the South’s enduring racial legacy certainly has played a significant role in detracting Southerners, black and white, from forging a strong regionalism comparable to Welsh or even Scottish identity. Indeed, the fact that the South’s legacy remains the focal point of the so-called Culture War has only reinforced the Southern penchant for embracing a wider American identity rather than a distinctly Southern one.

One could argue that the Culture Wars, far from driving Southerners away from American identity, has intensified this sense of hyper-American patriotism.  The left’s unrelenting assault on Confederate symbolism and the Confederate legacy in general has only worked to drive many Southerners, particularly younger ones, away from anything that smacks of a distinctly regional identity.

The South’s Evangelical Christian Legacy

The present-day cultural struggles within Evangelical Christianity have also reinforced this disposition. This brand of Protestant Christianity has historically served as the de facto state religion of the South and still comprises its moral and ethical cultural ballast. Yet, the largest and most culturally influential Evangelical faith, the Southern Baptist Convention, not only officially decries the display of Confederate symbolism but even has considered whether to retain Southern in its name.

It’s worth pointing out that Evangelical Protestantism has never served the South in terms of supplying a nucleus of cultural identity, certainly not in the way that the Catholic Church has historically sustained the cultural and national identities of Ireland and Poland.   And considering the frontier roots of Evangelicalism, that’s not surprising. Evangelicalism, a product of Back Country settlement, was incubated in an environment of strong cultural deracination, just as Southern pioneers were settling the region.  Southern identity is not fused with Evangelical Christianity in the way Irish nationalist identity is Catholicism or Russian identity is with Eastern Orthodoxy.  And the faith’s strong emphasis on soul competency at the expense of tradition and church authority only reinforces this tendency.

The View among Rank-and-File Southerners

A survey of Southerners randomly chosen from the various socio-economic levels would support these arguments.  Most native-born Southerners — whites and, no doubt, a respective number of blacks — are proud of being Southern.  They feel a sense of rootedness with Southern culture, with its faith, its cuisine and particularly with its sports traditions.  Undoubtedly, the minority of those who have followed closely the growing levels of political and cultural acrimony in this country and who have  considered their long-term implications would acknowledge the South as the region of the country best suited to restoring the founding principles of American constitution liberty in the aftermath of some of federal breakup.

But the vast majority of these Southerners, especially the middle-class, college-educated ones among them, would express these views within a decidedly post-racial, post-Confederate context.

This is the great paradox facing the 21st century South.  The region, because of historical and cultural cultural distinctiveness, represents the best prospect for restoring a viable counterweight to the culturally corrosive liberalism now represents this country’s regnant culture and political ideology.  Yet for such a restorationist movement to survive and grow, it must remain explicitly American and not take on so much as a tincture of Confederate restorationism or symbolism.  In time, Southerners could and undoubtedly would conceive a national identity with a more distinctly Southern hue, though one explicitly post-Confederate in nature.

What emerges over time likely would resemble a kind of symbiotic nationalism, one in which an over-arching American identity provides a safe harbor for a uniquely Southern national identity to emerge, one deeply rooted in the region’s culture and faith.

Lessons from Ireland and Taiwan

We can draw lessons from other countries around the world.

Historians have observed that the late Edward Carson, the father of Northern Ireland was arguably as much an Irish nationalist as Eamon de Valera or Michael Collins, only he perceived the British Union as the most congenial context for preserving Protestant Irish identity.  Protestant identity on the island has been sustained through affiliation with a wider sense of British identity.  But the case also could be made  that Catholic and Protestant Irish identities have co-existed in Northern Ireland only because of the adhesive effect British identity has provided.

There is an added lesson here for Southerners:  If the American Union ultimately splits into smaller federations, maintaining a kind of  residual American identity in the South very well could provide the basis on which black and white Southerners can forge a new distinctly Southern identity.

There are also lessons to draw from the besieged Nationalist Chinese redoubt on Taiwan.  Some 70 years ago, the forces of the Republic of China vacated the mainland and established the government on the Island of Taiwan. Initially, this island remained officially Mainland Chinese.  Over the course of time, though, as this exiled republic became more democratic and materially prosperous, it provided a harbor for the formation of a strong, home-grown Taiwanese identity.

Today, Taiwanese identity exists in two forms: a soft nationalism, combining elements of both Chinese Mainlander and Taiwanese identities and that emphasizes separateness of the Taiwanese people, though without necessarily eliminating the official name (The Republic of China), versus a much more explicit nationalism calling for replacing the current official name with “The Republic of Taiwan” and seeking United Nations recognition as a fully sovereign nation separate from Mainland China.

Preparing for the Possibility an American Breakup

Granted, we can’t predict what the future will bring for the South and for the United States in general. Even so, we all should be fully cognizant of the growing number of columnists and other public intellectuals on both ends of the American political spectrum who are taking note of the perilous state of American unity.  We must begin preparing for the possibly of an American breakup.

For us Southerners, the prospect of an American breakup forces us to consider this remarkable paradox:  that the South, because of its very uniqueness, represents the best prospect for restoring a constitutional republic in the aftermath of an American federal crackup.  But we can’t assume that this will initially take any form other than one largely American in substance.

The days of saving Confederate dollars and pining for the Confederate restoration are long gone. In time, we will build a distinctly Southern edifice, though one that closely comports with the realities of the 21st century.

To put it another way, we can’t afford to whistle past the graveyard of American unity, and we sure can’t be whistling Dixie.

 

The Mainstreaming of Secession

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Texas: One of several states harboring a nascent secessionist movement. 

I’ve been bowled over the last few weeks reading the growing number of articles in which mainstream columnists are finally coming to terms with a reality that I embraced more than a quarter century ago: the likely, if not inevitable, transformation of the  American Union into a much looser federation or into a number of smaller nation-states.

Predictably over the last quarter century, I’ve even been labeled everything from a neo-Confederate and a racist to a secessionist and traitor for subscribing to such views.

Actually, far more prodigious intellects, notably, the late George F. Kennan,  foresaw this inevitability years before I did.

I, for one, and despite my conservatism, respect the right of California and other left-leaning states to experiment with different domestic policies. I hope when all the chips are down that these enlightened blue-coast cosmopolitans will afford their counterparts in the red American hinterland the same courtesy.  And lest we forget, that was the concept behind American federalism:  that states possessed the attributes of nationhood but had chosen out of a desire for self-preservation against Britain and the other maritime powers of Europe to delegate a comparatively narrow range of powers to a general government that operated on behalf of the states.

Aside from all the constitutional arguments, there just comes a point when people outgrow relationships, whether these are business contracts, civic groups, friendships or marriages.  And the simple fact of the matter is that America is simply too damned big and diverse to govern, at least, based on the cookie-cutter approach that Woodrow Wilson and the progressives devised for us roughly a century ago.  We have reached the point where cultural evolution throughout through Europe and America has outstripped the ability of the central government to keep pace with it.

I really believe that.  In fact, I think that this is one of the inherent flaws in federations: The constituent parts are often inherently fissiparous, with their own highly evolved cultures and political ideologies.  These constituent parts don’t stop evolving when they enter into a federation: Their cultural and political evolution continues apace, sometimes to the point at which they feel compelled to question the utility of their relationship with the other members of the federation. Maybe it’s time for us to take into account that incontrovertible fact whenever we undertake the design and execution of another federation.

How close is America to a crackup?  I’m not sure.  Even so, I do believe that in many notable respects, we are drawing close to where the beleaguered Soviet Union found itself in about 1990.  Either we find some way to renegotiate federal arrangements in the United States by devolving more power back to states and, most important of all, localities, or we face a situation where internal pressures build up to a degree that states and regions take it upon themselves to address these problems.

Deep-blue California’s nullifying tendencies vis-a-vis the policies of the Trump Administration are merely a taste of what is to come.

In fact, in an unusually comprehensive and informative column posted in the Intelligencer recently, one perceptive columnist, Sasha Issenberg, predicts that growing number of states may enter into interstate compacts to work through a number of intractable domestic problems.  In the end, the United States may comprise up to three de facto federations: blue, red and neutral, each conducting their own unique domestic policies, while remaining parts of the United States.

Yet, even this columnist concedes that these de facto arrangements will only work for a time before the internal stresses build up and rend apart these federations, forcing each to move close to becoming bona fide countries.

For his part Kennan offered a sort of middle way, one to which I’m sympathetic: a union of about 15 or so constituent republics, to which the bulk of domestic powers would be entrusted, leaving the central government to run a common market and defense pact.

Whatever the case, we are very possibly approaching a constitutional impasse in which large states, particularly California, increasingly will assume more and more powers on their own, drawing us closer to a Soviet scenario. By that I mean that, despite our attempts to stay ahead of the problem by introducing institutional reforms, the country inevitably comes apart.

 

Reassembling Humpty-Dumpty

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Photo: Courtesy of Rodhullandemu.

There’s been a long-stated conviction among conservative Christians, particularly evangelicals, that the path out of the West’s current predicament requires their active re-engagement with culture, the now regnant, post-Christian secular culture, with the ultimate aim of restoring Christianity to some preeminent place in American and Western culture. But given secular culture’s largely hostile regard for all forms of Christianity, particularly evangelicalism, is this even possible?

Almost a quarter millennium ago, the term “Ottantotist” (literally, Eighty-Eighter) was invented to describe French reactionaries who doggedly and vehemently insisted that the clock somehow could be turned back on the 1789 French revolutionaries.  The late American political philosopher Peter Viereck borrowed that term to describe American reactionaries suffering from similar illusory thinking.

I particularly relate to this term having spent 29 years as a Cooperative Extension professional writing extensively about the implications of invasive species to Southern forests, croplands and pasturelands.  I’m well aware of how such infestations, after wreaking considerable havoc for a generation or so, eventually establish a sort of equilibrium within the ecosystem over time, acquiring a permanent niche.

After that line has been crossed there really is no turning back:  The effects of these invaders only can be mitigated; they cannot be reversed.

Restoring a status quo ante is simply impossible in a complex, vastly extended  ecosystem, whether the interloper happens to be human, plant, mammal or insects.

The historically Christian West has been beset with its own invasion over roughly the last two-hundred years: a secular one.

Secularism, has moved far beyond its beachhead and now functions as the unifying ideal of Western culture. The Christian culture of the West now comprises an embattled remnant. Indeed, far from any sort of resilient cultural beachhead with a real prospect of staging a comeback, Christian culture more closely resembles Chiang kai-shek‘s besieged Nationalist fortress on the peripheral island of Taiwan, though lacking anything resembling the backstopping that Chiang enjoyed from the United States.

I recall a remarkable observation offered years ago by the late Oregon State University religion scholar Marcus Borg that illustrates the increasingly marginalized status into which Christianity has fallen. He noted how his students would undergo a discernible change from engagement to one of disengagement and even hostility whenever the classroom topic switched from, say, Hinduism or Buddhism to Christianity.

This hostility has grown from several deep roots, though much of it can be traced to advances in textual criticism and evolutionary sciences.  In material terms, these two advances have carried humanity a long way, but by removing much of the adhesive that has bound together the civilization of the West, they have produced catastrophic effects too.

I am not a conventional Christian.  In fact, I count myself a nontheist – I won’t go to the trouble here of explaining all the differences between atheism and nontheism. Suffice it to say I believe that everything that we have achieved, including our insights into transcendence, has been the result of a network that has developed over eons and that has grown primarily out of language, writing and technology, all of which are fused in this network and, as a result, create a kind of synergistic effect. I have come to call this networking the Non-corporeal Human Exoskeleton, because this dense networking of language, culture and technology enshroud us, much as shells do crustaceans, providing us with all manner of sustenance and protection.

Religion has historically been bound up this network and has afforded humanity all manner of advantages in terms of providing a sense of purpose and keeping all of the psychological furies and common human fears at bay.

This networking amounts to scaffolding – in fact, that term more or less could be substituted for network or exoskeleton to underscore how everything in existence is contingent on everything else.

The Christian faith afforded European civilization invaluable scaffolding.  But with the destruction of much of this scaffolding,  I’m not that confident that we will ever manage to put anything of equal and enduring value in its place.

So much of this scaffolding was bound up in Christian dogma.  The promise of an afterlife and the fear of eternal damnation for egregious offenders provided an integral, if not essential facet of this scaffolding. These unique facets of Christianity, despite the enormous psychological burdens they imposed on millions of adherents, arguably breathed life into the faith and provided it with its strongest and most enduring scaffolding, at least, until the mid-19th century.

Textual criticism and evolutionary science have challenged this.  In the minds of of the most culturally influential members of Western society, these advances put a lie to the faith.

Nietzsche, as memory served, believed that this destruction of old scaffolding would clear space for well-integrated humans who would put aside the old slave morality of Christianity and construct a new ethos more aligned with humanity’s true character and better equipped to maximize human potential.

Some technophiles and techno-utopians even have expressed the fervent hope, if not certainty, that advances in Artificial Intelligence will enable us to construct a viable alternative.

Ientertain serious doubts, frankly.

The faith tradition that provided the unifying idea for Europe beginning in the Fourth Century conferred all manner of advantage on the culture of the West.  But the scaffolding on which this civilization was built is facing structural collapse.  And this has led many of these West’s leading public intellectuals to wonder if these structural deficiencies will lead us into another dark age.

Whatever the case, it seems painfully evident to many that Humpty-Dumpty is broken and that despite the most fervent hopes and best efforts of well-meaning people to reassemble him, he is ruptured beyond repair.

What An Irish Phenotype and an Ivy League Education Will Buy You in 21st Century America

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Beto O’Roarke (Photo: Courtesy of Wikipedia.)

I am not a frequent listener of talk radio, though I readily concede that conservative talk show commentator Rush Limbaugh frequently offers pungent and even prescient criticism of the American ruling class.

I was especially struck by a recent observation.

Speaking at the Trump rally in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, Limbaugh observed that the hatred associated with the 45th president stems from boundless jealousy among our political class, haunted by the knowledge that not one of them — not Biden, not even the sainted Barack — can approximate the Trump’s star appeal.

Limbaugh’s observation was spot on, though I would argue that this observation, insightful as it is, doesn’t go deep enough.

The jealousy and enmity for Donald Trump run much deeper. And I’m convinced that this liberal disdain stems from a deep well of narcissism, which is reflected in the way that liberals — elite liberals, at least — both view themselves and their place within the American cultural and political context.

At the risk of oversimplifying the issue, I would even go as far to say that liberalism has always been less about ideals, more about perpetuating an image:  one in which the bold and elite-educated beautiful — the heirs of FDR, JFK and RFK —  are entitled by birth and intellect to be held in breathless veneration by the masses.

American liberalism has been bound up in this narrative for most of the past century.  It started with FDR, a handsome, polished scion of the American ruling class who, despite his physical infirmity, selflessly marshaled the slumbering masses toward a greater vision of themselves and the country.  But the young, telegenic Irish-American hero, John F. Kennedy, brought this narrative to the peak of refinement.  In fact, an aspiring professional historian could write a dissertation about how Kennedy’s assassination and subsequent martyrdom has driven this liberal narrative.

There has been a deep hunger among liberals ever since to find someone, some charismatic, Kennedyesque figure to modernize and carry forth this lofty narrative. A new movie scheduled for release on Nov. 21 explores the stellar rise and ignominious fall of the presumptive heir of JFK’s mantle, Gary Hart. But a string of other successful and unsuccessful Democratic contenders have also competed to fill this void: Bill Clinton, John Kerry, and John Edwards.  Once upon a time, a few people even compared Jimmy Carter to JFK.

That is why the recent political phenomenon of Betomania is very instructive.  Indeed, it’s not all that surprising that Beto O’Roarke, notwithstanding this week’s defeat, already is being touted as a hot Democratic presidential prospect in 2020. He underscores how far a tall, lean frame, an Irish phenotype, an Ivy League diploma, and a reasonably aristocratic pedigree will take you in modern America, of course, providing that you’re willing to subject yourself all the outrageous indignities and misfortunes of modern America politics.

O’Roarke, in fact, seems right out of central casting: a fourth-generation Irish American possessing an almost an uncanny physical resemblance to the late Robert F. Kennedy — a dynast from an old El Paso political family that can even point to modest links to the Kennedy clan.  Even better, he hails from the deepest reaches of red America in a region of the country likely on the verge of being flipped purple, if not  blue. And to top it off, he’s nicknamed Beto, which affords something akin to an ersatz Hispanic identity at a time when ethnic ties to rising demographic groups are at a premium.

Indeed, we’re likely to see many different permutations of Betomania in an era when liberalism, beset with disillusionment and division, seems more bereft of ideological substance than ever its history.  In such a context, form will always trump substance.

The changes in American elite education that have occurred over the last few decades will only contribute to this. Earlier American elites such as FDR and JFK arguably felt a sense of noblesse oblige, partly stemming from a sense of guilt that their status was largely unearned.  Way back then, elite universities on both sides of the Atlantic functioned as extensions of Eton, Harrow and Groton.  FDR, described as a man of “third class intellect but first-class temperament,” was typical of his class.

Yet, elite education has undergone a sea change in recently years, becoming far more meritocratic, far more SAT-driven.  And the people who pass through these elite institutions now fit a wholly different set of criteria, conforming very closely to the products described by William Dereciewicz in Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite.

Having clawed their way up to these to these stratospheric heights, they expect a payoff.  Even more than the old guilt-ridden WASP elites, they regard themselves as people worthy of deep respect, if not a healthy degree of adulation.  Many regard themselves as anointed by genetics to rule and to think on every else’s behalf.  And, oddly enough, this has only worked to reinforce the old elite liberal narrative.  Granted, many of them are not as poised and physically attractive as Roosevelts or Kennedys, but the old liberal elite narrative nonetheless resounds among them.

If you doubt this:  Consider what is unfolding even now in Silicon Valley as tech moguls arrogate to themselves the task of reengineering of a basic tenet of American liberty, free speech, simply on the basis that they have conceived something better.  Never mind the corpus of judicial rulings on free speech that have been handed down over the past quarter of a  millennium; they know better.

Simply put, the liberal narrative is undergoing significant revision, becoming even more virulently narcissistic as a new generation of meritocrats rise to assume the place of older elites.

Back to Trump.  He’s not one of them.  He openly mocks their pretensions to power.  Even worse, he even has inspired millions of ordinary Americans to turn their backs on them, the anointed, the heirs of this lofty narrative.

Small wonder why they hate him.

 

The Left’s Real Problem with the Senate

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senate-logoThe outcome of the 2018 mid-term elections, especially in terms of how it is reflected in the composition of the U.S. Senate, underscores the perennial wisdom of the Founders. But the left’s dissatisfaction with this outcome and its increasingly strident criticism of the “undemocratic” nature of this upper chamber demonstrates two things: its ravenous thirst for power and its growing awareness of its power, especially as it’s manifested in the most influential facets of American culture, namely academia, the Establishment media and the arts.

Two other important points must be mentioned: First, the Senate represents the essence of America union and nationhood, and there would not have been a United States without this indispensable compromise. Second, no other institution established by the Constitution better embodies the limited nature of our federated republic

Indeed, the compromise reflects one of the primary concerns of the Founders: to establish a federal republic with sharply delineated powers and scope, one that enabled the individual states to carry on with virtually all the attributes of nationhood.

To put it another way, the Senate was conceived as a sort of chamber of state ambassadors to serve as a counterweight to the larger popular chamber: the House of Representatives. Its purpose was to ensure that the United States remained what Madison called a “republic of republics,” a federation with sharply circumscribed powers that chiefly functioned to protect the states against against dissolution and the inevitable threats from the chief European maritime powers, Britain and France.

Through its increasingly harsh criticism of the Senate, the left is calling one of the most vital safeguards of the Constitution and our federal republic into question. And, of course, there is an ulterior motive driving this, because abolishing or, at least, radically altering the composition of  both the Senate and the Electoral College would confer the blue coastal regions of the United States with virtually unbridled power to dictate to the rest of the country.

This demonstrates one of the perennial challenges of large, extended federal republics such as ours: the specter of sectionalism, the desire of one part of a federation to dominate at the expense of the others.  It was one of the factors that led to the outbreak of the bloody Civil War.  And without the vigilance of present-day Americans, it could lead to a similar upheaval.

For more insight into all of this, I recommend a thorough reading of the writings of South Carolina statesman John C. Calhoun – that is, if you are able to wrangle a contraband copy of it.

The Implacable Left

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Leftist Protesters in Washington, D.C.  Photo Courtesy of James McNellis

A close friend just passed along this fascinating piece.

It takes me back to an exchange I had with an old Sigma Chi brother a few days ago. In a previous social media exchange with another Sig brother, I bemoaned the divisive trends unfolding in America and offered pretty much the same view outlined in this article: namely, that these divisions seem irreconcilable over the long term. The old fraternity brother, a D.C operative who has been burnishing his liberal credentials and virtue signaling skills for decades, weighed in to decry the breakdown of American civil discourse, harkening back to those halcyon days of political discourse the Sigma Chi House when all of us discussed politics freely and openly.

Here’s the interesting part: He followed these plaintive remarks with a litany of reasons why he deemed conservatism a threat to democracy, engaging in the usual right-wing stereotyping.

In other words, we’re not complying with HIS expectations. And that’s the part that really fascinates me about the modern left. As I’ve stated before, most hard leftists secretly pine to run this country like an old-style Eastern Bloc peoples democracy. They’re all for political opposition, but only so long as it conforms with basic leftist precepts.

The very same rhetoric is evident in this article: If the left doesn’t succeed in the mid-term elections, the country will have hell to pay. As the columnist stresses, major Hollywood events have now become a means of rallying Blue America and disparaging the values and leaders of its red counterpart.

That’s the part about the left I find simultaneously remarkable, maddening and TERRIFYING. They will be happy only when the rest of the country hews to their expectations – only when the right capitulates, in other words.

I’ve read too much history not to know where this is heading. And that is why I remain a fervent proponent of radical devolution and barring that, peaceful secession.

But, to be sure, the left is not going to let us go easily, I know that.

The Ruby-Reddening of Alabama: A Short History

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Alabama Republican Gov. Kay Ivey. (Photo: Courtesy of the Alabama Republican Party.

Based on the results of the June 5th primary, Alabama continues to affirm its reputation as one of this nation’s reddest of red states.

Case in point: My native northwest Alabama county of Franklin. Based on my quick but possibly faulty math garnered from The New York Times’ election data, I noticed that some 4,500 voters participated in Franklin County’s GOP primary, while only around 600 participated in the Democratic one.

This is a remarkable turnaround from the early 80’s, when I was a young Franklin county voter and GOP poll worker. The first GOP primary was held in Alabama in 1978. Before then, a GOP state convention nominated candidates, who generally served as sacrificial lambs in the November general elections.

The only basis for excitement for Franklin County Republicans way back then was the presidential elections in which GOP presidential nominees were generally competitive. With the exception of 1976, when Jimmy Carter swept the South, Republican presidential nominees carried the state. Franklin County, a historically yellow dog Democratic county, generally proved no exception to this rule, though Democrats continued to dominate the down-ballot offices, as they did in mf the rest of the state.

Early GOP Forerunners

Even so, there were a few talented Republican outliers holding aloft the Republican banner in spite of all these daunting obstacles.

One especially memorable Republican insurgent was an unusually gifted and charismatic GOP forerunner named James Douglas Martin, a highly decorated WWII combat veteran.

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James Douglas Martin

He was one of a handful of Republicans who secured a seat in Congress during the Goldwater sweep in ’64. How? By positioning himself to the right of Alabama Democrats, which, needless to say, took some doing.

He even employed a phrase about “returning to the principles of ’61 – 1861,” which, needless to say, sounded like a veiled call for secession – certainly a statement laced with irony, considering that he was a candidate of the party of Lincoln.

Martin was an unusually gifted public speaker with a very polished and charismatic bearing that rivaled Reagan’s. I can vouch for that, having attended in the late 70’s a Reagan Rally at the Jefferson County Civic Center, featuring Martin as a warm-up speaker to Reagan.

One of Martin’s most memorable acts of chutzpah was running against the wildly popular Lurleen Wallace as the GOP’s gubernatorial nominee in 1966. It proved to be another ill-fated Republican attempt at storming what remained an all but impregnable Democratic electoral wall. He polled only 31 percent of the vote and carried only Greene County and the maverick and perennial Republican county of Winston, known as the Free State.

He made a last attempt at a statewide office in 1978 against a relatively liberal Alabama incumbent senator named Donald Stewart. His campaign slogan: “Alabama Needs Another Jim,” referring to the late conservative Democratic Senator Jim Allen.

Martin was defeated handily and suffered a severe heart attack shortly thereafter but recovered and lived to be almost 100.

Comparatively late in life, he was appointed director of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. Several of my Cooperative Extension colleagues worked with him and described him as one of the most brilliant and dynamic people they ever encountered.

In a very real sense, Jim Martin was the John the Baptist of Alabama Republican politics, one who entered the political fray as a Republican about 20 years prematurely. If he he had been born a generation later, he not only would have secured high office but also would be remembered today as one of the most gifted and influential statesmen in Alabama history – of that I have little doubt.

The 1986 Breakthrough

Republican fortunes improved markedly after the election of 1986, when the Alabama Democratic Party was widely perceived among voters as stripping conservative Democrat Charlie Graddock of his gubernatorial nomination on highly specious grounds and handing it to party stalwart Bill Baxley. That was the first sign of fissures within what had been the indomitable Alabama Democratic Party.

The obscure 1986 GOP nominee, Amway salesman and former Cullman County Probate Judge Guy Hunt, was swept into office and subsequently won reelection in 1990.

Corruption charges forced Hunt out before the completion of his term and he was succeeded by Lt. Governor Jim Folsom, Jr., who was upset in the 1994 election by former conservative Democrat-turned-Republican Fob James.

James was defeated in 1998 by the Democratic nominee, then Lt. Gov. Don Siegelman, but this Democratic resurgence proved short-lived.

Siegelman was defeated by congressman Bob Riley in 2002. Less than a decade later, the GOP secured control of both houses of the Legislature in 2010, the first time in 136 years.

Today the Republicans dominate the Democrats by more than a 2-1 margin in the Alabama House of Re and by 5-1 in the Alabama Senate.

With the possible exception of Utah and Oklahoma, Alabama, once considered virtually synonymous with the Democratic Party, is now the ruby-reddest Republican of U.S. states.

MSM: American Pravda

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One can always count on the perspicacious Victor Davis Hanson to put the issues of the day into sharp perspective.

And he’s right as rain on this one: The MSM’s refusal to soldier on in its traditional role as nonpartisan muckraker is deeply troubling.

A Hanson observes, “High-tech corporations have acquired massive power and wealth, dwarfing the might of the robber barons of the past.” Yet, MSM seem to have abrogated their traditional role of investigating corporations whose influence threaten the very sinews of a free society.

Yet, this seems to reflect the wholesale decline of media standards in general.

I watched part of the Anderson Cooper’s Stormy interview and was deeply appalled and, yes, troubled. As Sean Hannity recently observed, it sounded like a Jerry Springer interview. It was simply red meat thrown to the MSM’s liberal base. And ponder, for a moment, the outrage that the left would have expressed if Fox News had employed the same voyeuristic treatment of one of Clinton’s detractors some 20 years ago.

Yes, right-wing media have their own problems with marching in ideological lockstep, but, honestly, MSM’s editorial practices are coming to bear a striking resemblance to Pravada’s in the last years of the Soviet Union – simply put, they seem to regard facts as true only so long as the right people (the accredited segments of society) say that they’re true.

Jefferson as Post-National Prophet

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The Jefferson Memorial (Photo: Courtesy of SamsonSimpson20)

A recent column in Vox explores the decline of dominant American identity and the ways that this identity could be rebuilt amid widespread demographic division and economic distress.

Ezra Klein, the author, contends that the vibrant, effusive American identity that prevailed throughout the 20th century was forged primarily on the basis of two world wars and the 70-year threat of Soviet communism.

I’m inclined to take a slightly different view. The modest imperial standing America acquired in the aftermath of the Spanish-American War formed a critical component of 20th century America identity too. Millions of Americans were carried on a wave of imperial euphoria, confident that the acquisition of a modest, backwater empire heralded our virtually unimpeded ascent to national greatness. And much of this was bound up in the war’s success in re-enlisting the defeated South in nation- and empire-building that followed in the aftermath of this war.

Up to that time, many people in the former Confederate states spent the Fourth of July commemorating the fall of Vicksburg rather than celebrating American Independence.

At the turn of century, some 35 years after one of the bloodiest struggles in history, the South reasoned that if it couldn’t have its own nation, it at least could participate in the building of a nation destined to ascend to the front ranks of global leadership.

This was a fortuitous turn of events for the American national enterprise: The post-Civil War South ended up supplying this nation not only with a significant share of its patriotic ballast but also a generous portion of men and women to guard the outposts of the global American empire that emerged after World War II.

Yet, we seem to be reaching an critical juncture, if not a major impasse, in defining American identity. And one wonders: How much practical value is derived from doubling down on one-nation rhetoric and insisting on more dialogue?

In the view of a growing number of heartland Americans, the only rhetoric deemed unifying by our ruling classes is that which conforms to the agenda of the left.

Moreover, another vital adhesive of American identity, centralized federalism, seems to be losing its efficacy too. Americans seem less inclined than ever to operate off the same page on issues that were once seen as vital to national security, such as regulating immigration and guarding our borders. Some on the left are even calling for the elimination of the Immigration and Customs Service (ICE).

Perhaps most disturbing of all, though, we seem to be rapidly approaching a cultural impasse that surprisingly few pundits have considered: namely, how this country will manage to soldier on when it is no longer regarded by ordinary Americans as standing at the pinnacle of the world’s most successful and exceptional nations.

So much of American unity and national identity is bound up with its perceived greatness and singularity.

A recent study ranked tiny Finland and several of the other Scandinavian countries as the world’s happiest, although the United States failed to rank in the top ten. Indeed, the results of the study point out a remarkable anomaly: Despite the United States possessing the world’s largest economy, millions of its citizens grapple with rising levels of obesity, substance abuse and high rates of depression, not unlike the problems that plagued the Soviet Union in the years leading up to its collapse.

Some on the left have expressed a desire to build a new national identity on the basis of socialism and identitarian politics, with the long-term goal of ridding the country of what they characterize as a historically evil and malignant white patrimony that has existed since the nation’s founding.

Given all these deep divisions over how to define the American enterprise in the future, perhaps we will return to some version of Thomas Jefferson’s 18th century vision of an American Empire: a continent of smaller states, either loosely tied or wholly independent of each other, sharing some degree of historical and cultural affinity.

Jefferson, it seems, may prove to a prophet of post-national American unity. At least, one can hope, amid all of this national division and rancor, that we can muster some semblance of mutual affinity and continental unity.

Whatever the case, a socialist, identitarian America should hold no appeal for any decent person, irrespective of race or ethnicity, who cherishes ordered liberty and constitutional government.

But if, God forbid, such an America emerges in the next 30 years, I suppose I’ll be one of those passing my autumn and winter years in a socialist gulag, at least, deriving a measure of solace that I will be living among what remains of sane people in America.

The Limits of Identitarianism

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San-Franciso-demonstration

Photo: Courtesy of Pax Ahimsa Gethen.

I have consumed a lot of  blog space lately discussing the horrifying totalitarian undertones of identitarian politics.  And I’m surprised by the increasing number of left-of-center news outlets that have been cornered into confronting the implications of this ideology.

One of the more prominent ones, The Guardian, recently served up a reasonably balanced exploration of this topic.

What many ordinary Americans simply do NOT get  – yet, at least – is that the expansion of identity politics virtually assures the end of the civil society that has held this uniquely American experiment in self-government together for roughly the last quarter millennium. (Read Alexis de Tocqueville’sDemocracy in America” for more details.)

The left has predictably hoisted itself on its own petard. It’s one thing to talk about equality under the law – to express a wish to be assimilated into the broader American matrix, which was Martin Luther King’s officially expressed view. But when exclusivist rhetoric, reflected in the demonization of other groups as a means of refining and enhancing identity, becomes the quasi-official policy of a major political party and the orthodoxy of the predominant culture – well, you can rest virtually assured that things are going to take a very ugly turn.

We are approaching a point similar to the post-WWI abandonment of the Hapsburg monarchy, the symbolic adhesive that kept sundry tribes at peace among each other within the bounds of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire.  And this has brought us to a crossroads.  We either undertake a systemic reform of the American federal system to reflect the new realities in this country – namely, the deep cultural, political and ethnic divisions that threaten to sunder us apart – or we prepare ourselves for a new centralized and increasingly authoritarian order aimed a keeping these highly fissiparous tendencies in check.

Yet, as history has demonstrated time and again, the second option ultimately runs against the grain of human nature.  It will only engender more tribal animosities, which will spark calls on the left for more educational efforts, coupled with more subdued (or, as the case may be in the future, overt) forms of authoritarianism to redress these increasing divisions.

Reflecting on all of this, I recall an observation posited some 35 years ago by one of my graduate school professors, a self-described Marxisant.  As he observed, federal policymakers and jurists in the mid-1960’s operated on the premise that while they could never alter the hearts and minds of racists, they could legislate changes in overt behavior.

We seem to have moved a long way past this.  Our ruling class seems to think with with a doubling down of cultural warfare and federal policy we can still finesse this – we can still make it work.  Even in the face of rankly exclusivist ideology, we can somehow still manage to inculcate future generations of Americans, particularly whites, with new hearts and minds.

We’ve been down this road before.  We appear to be confronted with a zealotry that bears more than a passing resemblance to the one that gave rise to efforts toward building Home Sovieticus.

In the end, though, this whole project is inimical to human freedom, at least, as freedom historically has been understood within the Anglo-American context. And it runs against the very grain of human nature.  And one must remember that rank-and-file Soviet citizens came to regard efforts to build new Soviet man with profound cynicism and contempt.  Sooner or later, likely sooner, will prove to the the case here in America, too – of that I have no doubt.