Fear and Loathing in the Deep South

With his usual political incorrectness, Tom Wolfe has said that there is an ethnic minority no one pays attention to as such, the Scots-Irish. Their defining trait, he added, is not liking to be told what to do. Since that is the ethnic backbone of the white rural South, or the urbanized and often North-residing white proletariat of the South, that is, of the people tagged "redneck", there is much food for thought.

I live in the rural South. Folk here have guns and don't like to be told they shouldn't. Though racial animus has greatly diminished to the point of cordial relations and, to my eye, manifestations of affection, the word "nigger" is used without remorse, albeit no longer to anyone's face. And most certainly no one cares for Barack Obama, at least no one white.

One aspect of the culture is a sense of marginalization and disenfranchisement. One can hear it in the words of country songs that boast of being country and proud, and speak of the virtues of the genre and its culture in opposition to the outside world. The political fallout from these feelings, analyzed by more knowledgeable and acute minds than mine, is the current GOP roster. Someone, most often Donald Trump, is finally telling the truth, their truth.

From the perspective of where I live, this society and the rest of the world looks out of kilter. All of a sudden, everyone is transsexual. South of the border is this inferno of drug violence that is fast seeping into American territory. There's a tumultuous horde of Muslim terrorists at our gates. Those damn yankees keep facilitating the collapse of American values. And the President, well, don't get them started. 

I can understand this vision. Every time I learn about some silly acting-out of political correctness at a college campus I wince. The challenges posed by the Middle East are so complex and dangerous that I want to crawl into bed saying, wake me when ISIS has been wiped out or I'm living in the caliphate. Actually, if the latter, don't wake me, just give me strong drugs so I won't feel any pain during my execution.

Deeper currents run here. This is, after all, a short lived nation that lost a noble war and felt humiliated afterwards, or at least so runs a history that was taught in schools I attended before college. That such history is simpleminded has to do with the power of myth humans so gladly yield to. No, not everyone buys it. My best oldest friend, initiated by his grandmother into the Sons of the Confederacy, goes postal when such Confederacy is mentioned or the names of Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis. Then again, though he calls himself a "cracker", he is literate and by nature a dissenter. But not all humans are dissenters. Most prefer myth to history, which is almost impenetrably dense -- no less in the US than in the Middle East -- and open to widely opposed interpretations, even among those who are not beheading one another.

There is a fear among those left of center that this marginalized subculture can be the breeding ground of fascism. One really has to have strong faith in the resilience of American democracy to believe no such thing will happen. So far the political season has been stupendous theater. But time is running out and very soon the play will no longer be the thing. The real thing will be the thing. Mercy.