There is a battlefield strategy wherein the losing side retreats and tends to its wounds before attacking anew in hopes of surprising a foe lulled into the complacency of apparent victory.
After a lifetime of hearing it threatened at every opportunity, it looks like the South is rising again.
I don’t mean literally. There is no nation of insurgents declaring armed warfare on the United States of America — not yet, anyway — but the cold war between those who would lead society into a future of diversity and equality and those who would drag us back to an era of unchecked White rule is trying to heat up.
If you accept the argument that the Civil War was about states’ rights — specifically, the right to permit some citizens to enslave others for monetary gain — then it’s hard to avoid seeing parallels with the current push for states’ rights to regulate elections, censor public education and take away women’s control over their bodies.
Just last week, Republican Senator Mike Braun of Indiana responded to a question about states’ rights in relation to abortion and interracial marriage. The context was his consideration of Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson.
Braun said the Supreme Court had overstepped with Roe V. Wade in legalizing abortion. When asked if he felt that way about other decisions such as Loving V. Virginia, which legalized interracial marriage, Braun said he did. He later tried to clarify his comments but the original question seemed clear enough, as did his reply.
Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, one of the diminishing number of relatively sane Republicans left in Congress, announced that while he recognized and respected Jackson’s qualifications he would not be voting in support of her appointment because she wasn’t enough of an “originalist” to suit his tastes.
Who needs modern wisdom to interpret and apply law when you have the original Constitution, written to affirm the rights of White land-owning slaveholders over everyone else’s?
Reporter Josh Moon of The Alabama Political Reporter has written for years of the “Alabamization” of America, with the nation becoming “a not-so-magical land where crooks rule by claiming the moral high ground and voters routinely choose to give their money to billionaires.”
Sounds like an apt description of the insatiable grift perpetrated on working-class conservatives — and I’m not just saying that because I used to work with Josh.
The sentiment is further echoed in Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Cynthia Tucker and historian Frye Galliard’s new book, “The Southernization of America: a Story of Democracy in the Balance.” The two native Alabamians — she is Black, he is white — revisit the writings of John Egerton, another Southerner who saw the ways the South was negatively influencing the rest of the country.
In the introduction to their book, Tucker and Galliard write of former Alabama Gov. George Wallace:
“In the presidential primaries of 1964 and ’68, Wallace spoke more obliquely about race, almost as if he were teaching the nation how to think in code. … Wallace cast the federal government as a bully — an outside force pursuing integration without regard for the will of the people — and himself as a noble defender of freedom.”
We hear echoes of Wallace’s code in today’s protests against mask mandates and transgender rights, with well-intentioned public heath officials being rewarded with death threats and every politician who isn’t a Republican described as being part of the “radical left.”
We see the code in the rear windows of our neighbors’ cars, the stickers of the white rabbit branded with the letter “Q” for QAnon, or the Three-Percenters, who pledge to take up arms to save the country from federal overreach. They align themselves with some mythical three percent of colonists who fought the British during the American Revolution, though that number has been refuted.
We note increasingly violent rhetoric, where every ideological disagreement becomes a call to arms; where riled-up masses are urged to “fight like hell” to save the country; where enemies must be hung from the highest tree; where even a Supreme Court justice’s spouse can text that any course of action is justified since “there are no rules in war.”
The South, of course, doesn’t hold a patent on poor race relations or any other measure of social dysfunction, but it often seems to take an embarrassing pride in its rebellious image.
Still, anyone who thinks they want to start another war here should study its devastating effects abroad. There are no winners in war, only the living and the dead.
Terry E. Manning lives and works in Savannah, Ga. He is a Clemson graduate and worked for 20 years as a journalist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.