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Hullabaloo


Sunday, February 03, 2013

 
Garry Wills on "the home of lost causes and nostalgic lunacy"

by digby

The great Garry Wills, a proud Southerner, explains the history of the South and offers some truly fascinating insights into what makes it tick --- and what makes it valuable to America as a whole. But he knows that something's gone wrong, very wrong:

Under the tattered robes of Miss Havisham were hidden the preying hands of the Artful Dodger. Southerners were not really trapped in the past, since they were always scheming to get out of the trap. They were defeated but not dumb. With dreams of an agrarian society, they might denounce the industrial north, but they got the funds to bring electricity to large parts of the South from the government’s Tennessee Valley Authority. They wanted and got government-funded port facilities, oil subsidies in Louisiana, highways and airports and military bases.

But the current South is willing to cut off its own nose to show contempt for the government. Governor Rick Scott of Florida turned down more than $2 billion in federal funds for a high-speed rail system in Florida that would have created jobs and millions of dollars in revenues, just to show he was independent of the hated federal government. In this mood, his forebears would have turned down TVA. People across the South are going even farther than Scott, begging to secede again from the Union...

Humans should always cling to what is good about their heritage, but that depends on being able to separate what is good from what is bad. It is noble to oppose mindless change, so long as that does not commit you to rejecting change itself. The South defeats its own cause when it cannot discriminate between the good and the evil in its past, or pretends that the latter does not linger on into the present: Some in the South deny that the legacy of slavery exists at all in our time. The best South, exemplified by the writers listed above, never lost sight of that fact. Where are the writers of that stature today in the Tea Party South? I was made aware of the odd mix of gain and loss when I went back to Atlanta to see my beloved grandmother. She told me not to hold change between my lips while groping for a pocket to put it in—“That might have been in a nigger’s mouth.” Once, when she took me to Mass, she walked out of the church when a black priest came out to celebrate. I wondered why, since she would sit and eat with a black woman who helped her with housework. “It is the dignity—I would not let him take the Lord in his hands.”

Tradition dies hard, hardest among those who cannot admit to the toll it has taken on them. That is why the worst aspects of the South are resurfacing under Obama’s presidency. It is the dignity. That a black should have not merely rights but prominence, authority, and even awe—that is what many Southerners cannot stomach. They would let him ride on the bus, or get into Ivy League schools. But he must be kept from the altar; he cannot perform the secular equivalent of taking the Lord in his hands. It is the dignity.

This is the thing that makes the South the distillation point for all the fugitive extremisms of our time, the heart of Say-No Republicanism, the home of lost causes and nostalgic lunacy. It is as if the whole continent were tipped upward, so that the scattered crazinesses might slide down to the bottom. The South has often been defeated. Now it is defeating itself.

If you formed your identity as the defender of slavery, I'd say that's probably inevitable.


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