Don’t Laugh, They Run the Country
Did you ever wonder how the United States government became dominated by white southern Republicans and their northern cohorts? It was a slow process that began when the South began to move north and west more than half-century ago. They took with them their quaint accent–which sounds powerful endearing coming out of the mouth of Dolly Parton, but not so charming when the speaker is Mitch McConnell. They also took their rural-exploitation economics, their slavers’ racism, their beatification of ignorance, their love for guns and the flag, their fundamentalist Christianity and their faith-based view of reality which admits no common sense, not to mention scholarly thinking. Little by little their influence grew, thanks to factors we’ll look at here. Today they direct the fate–and the fatality–of a great nation.
Disclaimer: This piece is not intended to be a blanket condemnation of southeners and things southern. There are a lot of good and valuable people down there. Nor do I limit the term “toxic redneck” to southerners. There are plenty of them in the north, right up to the northeast, right up to the very, very Toxic Redneck in Chief.
Before we go any further, let’s define “toxic redneck” so we’re on the same page. For our purposes that term–usually, but not always–refers to a rural, southern, white, bigoted, racist with limited education and virulent extreme-right-wing political convictions. Due to the “southernization” of a large part of the northern and western parts of the United States, the rankest versions these values have been adopted in the north, as well. The common denominator in both cases, north and south, appears to be ignorance and intolerance.
The Epidemiology of Southernization
The term “southernization,” for the tendency to adopt traditional down-home customs, mindsets and values was probably borrowed from the title of a 1974 book by John Egerton: The Americanization of Dixie: the Southernization of America. Egerton’s well-documented thesis is that the “Americanization of Dixie” and the “Southernization of America” are complementary social phenomena that migrated respectively from North to South and South to North and have changed the essential character of the nation. He feels that they have cannibalized each other to the detriment of both and, of course, the country, which is currently advancing backwards. Egerton’s book is more than 40 years old but its theses remain surprisingly valid today.
It seems that it was the most brutal and retrograde of plantation values that traveled best, from white supremacy and exploitation mentalities to the most primitive forms of down-home miracle religions. Kevin Phillips, in his 2006 book, American Theocracy, traces the evolution of Christian sects in America from the time of the American Revolution. The trend, he suggests, is toward ever more fundamentalist versions of Cristianity, embodying biblical inerrancy, speaking in tongues, millenarianism, and rebirth in Christ. Phillips traces the trajectory of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). It was denominated “southern” when it was founded in Atlanta, Georgia in 1845 in opposition to the northern Baptists over the issue of slavery. Today it is the world’s largest Baptist denomination:
In his article “The Southernization of America Religion: Testing a Hypothesis” (Sociological Analysis 1991), Mark A. Shibley undertook a systematic, empirical examination of the Egerton thesis. Using church membership data from the Glenmary Research Center and population and migration data from the U.S. Census, he showed that virtually all the membership growth in evangelical churches during the 1970s could be attributed to growth in historically southern evangelical churches. Moreover, Shibley found that the growth of southern-style religion was especially marked outside the South and corresponds with regions that experienced high levels of in-migration from the South during the same period.
Kevin Phillips quotes the historian, Mark Noll, who says:
The protestant bodies whose rates of growth in recent decades have exceeded general population increases–sometimes far exceeded–are nearly all characterized by such labels as Bible-believing, born again, conservative, evangelical, fundamentalist, holiness, Pentecostal or restorationist.
This is the tenor of the religious beliefs that have migrated north and west and today rule supreme in the United States government. Believe it or not, there are full-fledged members of President Trump’s cabinet–along with scores of other high-level appointees–who sincerely believe that the biblical “end times” are upon us. According to these evangelical Christians all that is necessary is the Jews’ return to Jerusalem followed by the great war of Armageddon which is prophesied in the Bible. Then God will swoop down and lift all of his born-again true believers into Heaven and send the rest of us straight to Hell. This is the “Rapture” that is currently all the rage among born-again rednecks. And these are the people responsible for shaping United States foreign policy. The truth is that God doesn’t have to bother to descend to earth in order for a war in the Mid-East to deteriorate into Holy Hell.
Elizabeth Parker Illuminates the Issues Graphically
In her website, blogger and web developer Elizabeth Parker sums up the southernization process in her commentaries on thirteen carefully-selected maps. She sets the tone with the first one which portrays the division between slave and free states in 1861, just before the Civil War. Its design coincides eerily with today’s map of red and blue states.
And here is the map of red and blue states:
The twelve following maps in her presentation illustrate the “progress” that has been made in various aspects of the American experience since the process of southernization began. The maps shed light, state by state, on such issues as numbers of high-school graduates, gun deaths, encarceration rate, minimum wages, teen pregnancy, etc. Her accompanying explanations and examples further illuminate the uncomfortable truths exposed by the maps. You might want to have a look at the complete 5,000-word article.
The Southernization of the Nation’s Capitol
Washington DC sits on land originally donated by the states of Maryland and Virginia, so it was born with a marked southern character. The city of Washington was declared the national capital in 1791. Then, in 1846, Virginia requested the return of the area they had donated to the capitol in the beginning, fearing that slavery would be banned in the district, and Congress approved. Subsequently the northward march of southern attitudes in increasing numbers had increasing influence on national elections. After–and largely due to–the civil-rights legislation of the mid-sixties the solidly-racist south abandoned the Democratic Party en masse, thus reinforcing the Republicans’ strength both in Washington and throughout the country.
Naturally, their racist, white-supremacist values went with them and remain powerful today. How else can we explain the absolute boycott of President Barak Obama’s legislative agenda by both houses of Congress dominated by good ol’ boys who, though they never announced it publicly, considered Obama “just another uppity nigger.” President Trump follows the same tacit policies, going to exaggerated lengths to annul President Obama’s legacy. Needless to say, Trump’s nazi, klan, and white-supremacist followers are delighted with this turn of events and will follow him to the gates of Hell.
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