There are plenty of sanctimonious idiots in the world, and one of those idiots writes for the Economist. You’ve heard of that magazine, right? It’s pretty well-known, and despite its right-wing leanings, it generally publishes some reasonable content — I mean, it ain’t a shameless agglomeration of conservative verbal circle-jerkitude like the National Review, right? Maybe so, but the Economist still employ some idiots, and one of those idiots wrote an idiotic review of historian Ed Baptist’s non-idiotic new book, The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism.
The Confederacy, Slavery, and the Fog of Historical Memory
Americans are still in the midst of celebrating (if indeed that’s the appropriate word to use) the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. Yet even after all this time, a good many aspects of the war and its legacy are difficult for some people to accept and process. This is especially the case regarding the central role of slavery in causing the conflict, and how the war’s losing side, the Confederacy, should be remembered. The Confederate States of America existed from 1861-1865, and the men who founded the southern nation did so for the express purpose of protecting slavery from what they alleged to be the abolitionist, pro-racial equality stances of the Republican administration of Abraham Lincoln.
Thus, the Confederacy was, at its core, a paradoxical entity: it was a slaveholders’ republic; a democracy based on white supremacy, in which the existence of black slavery explicitly contrasted with, and nurtured, white freedom.
Why You Can’t Separate The Confederate Flag from its History
The Confederate battle flag inspires, shall we say, some passionate opinions among different groups of Americans. To a particularly weird contingent of neo-Confederate apologists, including the various branches of the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV), the flag symbolizes “Loving the South and defending its culture, symbols and heritage.” These groups go out of their way to separate the Rebel flag from its historical associations with slavery and racism and claim that the emblem merely represents their love of all-things Dixie. To other groups, however, especially African-Americans, the Confederate flag is a historic symbol that invokes the legacy of slavery and racism that defined the American South for generations.
So who’s in the right here? Does the Rebel flag today merely serve as a symbol for historically illiterate Bubbas to wave in the name of “Heritage, Not Hate?” Or, does the flag still symbolize slavery and racism — basically the two worst things about the Old South? The answer is both complicated and straightforward.
“12 Years a Slave,” the “American Spectator,” and the Historical Legacy of Paternalism
In the year 2014, most people would agree that slavery was — and is — a very, very bad thing. In an American context especially, slavery and its proponents flouted supposedly sacrosanct ideals such as freedom, equality, and liberty – you know, the really important stuff. Moreover, the “peculiar institution” caused unmeasurable human misery and left a cultural scar on U.S. society that still hasn’t fully healed. So if historians’ work hasn’t been in vain — and I think it hasn’t — then most of us will have long been informed about the nature of slavery and why it was (one of) the greatest atrocities ever committed by the United States.
Why Some Americans Just Can’t Handle the Truth About Slavery
Americans like to think of themselves as exceptional people. As the world’s dominant economic and cultural power for much of the last century, they tend to puff their chests and proclaim that, “We’re the best! Look at our wealth! Look at our military power! There are McDonalds restaurants in China!” But for all of America’s power, the idea of American Exceptionalism wouldn’t hold as much appeal if it wasn’t backed by a clear belief in American moral superiority. After all, plenty of civilizations have dominated the world in the past, but a key component to American Exceptionalism is the idea that, unlike those past powers, the U.S. achieved peaceful world domination via the exportation of freedom, democracy, and capitalism – not necessarily in that order.
“Job Creators” and the Echo of Slaveholding Republicanism
Greetings fellow plebeians. Have you done your patriotic duty lately and courteously genuflected before our great nation’s sacred bestowers of all things employment based? Yes, I of course refer to that most noble, industrious, ultra-rich, and all around better-than-you group of Americans referred collectively by that oversized chamber pot known as the political pundit industry as “job creators.” If you have not yet shown due and expected deference to these money-swollen lords of society, then I suggest you do so quickly; for you see, the “job creators” are angry, and when they get angry, they refuse to cast their magical, job-creating spells like so many disgruntled Hogwarts rejects.
Unemployment Insurance and the Southern Roots of Modern Conservatism
If there’s one thing that characterizes the pit of drooling, addle-brained wampas known as the 133th United States Congress, it would be inactivity. Dominated as it is by the Republican Party faction of obnoxious brats known as the Tea Party, the so-called “Do-Nothing Congress” and its only mildly less insane Senate counterpart is once again engaged in the now traditional ritual that involves deciding whether or not long-term unemployment benefits should be extended.
Republicans in the House and Senate are, as in the recent past, opposed to unemployment insurance, and the welfare state in general, on ideological grounds. For example, arch-conservative Wisconsin rep., and failed vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan claimed on the 2012 campaign trail that welfare policies of all kinds had “created and perpetuated a debilitating culture of dependency, wrecking families and communities.” Indeed, the idea that millions of Americans take advantage of welfare as an incentive to simply not work is standard dogma on the American Right.
Slavery’s Legacy: Why Race Matters in America
What does it take for that contradictory, opinionated, but not always informed, ethnically amorphous mass of sputtering, super-sized humanity known collectively as the American public to have an honest conversation about race? Heck, what does the phrase “conversation about race even mean?” Henry Louis Gates, esteemed Harvard professor of African-American history, thinks it’s utterly meaningless, and that talking about race means recognizing how race is interwined with U.S. History. In an interview for Salon, Gates emphatically states that “since slavery ended, all political movements have been about race.”
Big Government and Race: An American Saga
With the Republican Tea Party-backed congressional orcs continuing to lay siege to the Helm’s Deep of the federal government, there’s been a lot of discussion of late, especially by Salon’s Joan Walsh and Think Progress’ Zack Beauchamp, about how deeply entrenched issues of racial resentment are at the heart of the government shutdown. Both point to the GOP’s “Southern Strategy” that for several decades now has effectively convinced insecure white people that “Big Government,” steered by the Democrats, will redistribute state-supported goodies like tax benefits and welfare from the truly deserving ivory nobles to the allegedly mooching dusky rabble.
The Republican Party, Race-Baiting, and Reconstruction’s Legacy
Its become a truism in modern American politics that the Republican Party traffics in coded racial resentment. Dog-whistle phrases like “taxes,” “welfare,” “food stamps,” “dependency,” “entitlement reform,” or, if you’re the non-too-subtle former Pennsylvania senator Rick “Frothy Mix” Santorum, “I don’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money,” have helped relay the message to status-anxiety ridden working and middle class whites that the GOP will protect them from the welfare scrounging black hordes.
With good reason, the GOP’s use of racial resentment to win votes is considered a twentieth-century century phenomenon, but it also has deep roots in the nineteenth century Reconstruction era, when the intersection of race and class planted the seeds of racial resentment that show a clear link between the party of Abraham Lincoln and the party of, well, the Tea Party.