Confederate States of mind
by Tom Sullivan
Dave Neiwert linked the other day to this Doug Muder piece that traces the origins of some of our current rhetoric. He begins, "Tea Partiers say you don’t understand them because you don’t understand American history. That’s probably true, but not in the way they want you to think." Muder contends that while the North won the Civil War, the planter aristocrats won Reconstruction, effectively nullifying the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, thereby preserving the social order and power structures God himself intended -- to make and keep the planter aristocrats wealthy.
"[I]n the Confederate mind, no democratic process could legitimate such a change in the social order. It simply could not be allowed to stand, and it did not stand," writes Muder. So, perhaps, it is with obstructionism in Congress today.
When in the majority, Confederates protect the established order through democracy. If they are not in the majority, but have power, they protect it through the authority of law. If the law is against them, but they have social standing, they create shams of law, which are kept in place through the power of social disapproval. If disapproval is not enough, they keep the wrong people from claiming their legal rights by the threat of ostracism and economic retribution. If that is not intimidating enough, there are physical threats, then beatings and fires, and, if that fails, murder.
What was old is new again. The South may be a place, writes Muder, "but the Confederacy is a worldview." One not unique to the South. Gadsden flags appeared after Barack Obama was elected. Talk of tyranny was in the air and ammunition shelves emptied. There were implied threats of violence. Open carry advocates now strut through downtowns with AR-15s. (No threat implied, of course.) Echoes of the Reconstruction-era "rifle clubs," perhaps.
One book Muder does not reference is Stephen Budiansky's The Bloody Shirt, which covers the same period, the same cries of tyranny, and the rifle clubs mentioned above. In the Prologue, he writes,
A bald fact: Generations would hear how the South suffered “tyranny” under Reconstruction. Conveniently forgotten was the way that word was universally defined by white Southerners at the time: as a synonym for letting black men vote at all. A “remonstrance” issued by South Carolina’s Democratic Central Committee in 1868, personally signed by the leading native white political figures of the state, declared that there was no greater outrage, no greater despotism, than the provision for universal male suffrage just enacted in the state’s new constitution. There was but one possible consequence: “A superior race is put under the rule of an inferior race.” They offered a stark warning: “We do not mean to threaten resistance by arms. But the white people of our State will never quietly submit to negro rule. This is a duty we owe to the proud Caucasian race, whose sovereignty on earth God has ordained.”
That's not an argument for slavery or for re-enslavement, but a demand for the continuation of superior privilege by people convinced they are entitled to wield power and fearful of sharing it. That is, it's about power. Tribal power and racially tinged, but about power nonetheless.
The re-imposition of restrictive -- and targeted -- voting laws half a century after passage of the Civil Rights and the Voting Rights Acts seems eerily reminiscent of the post-Civil War resistance described above. It was then and is now a denial of the equality among men which the Founders considered (in theory, anyway) self-evident and the foundation of democracy.