Barry’s Blog # 374: Did the South Win the Civil War? Part Nine of Nine

Conclusion: Primary Facts

We consider our racial world-views as a challenge to our very identities as good, moral people. Thus, we perceive any attempt to connect us to the system of racism as an unsettling and unfair moral offense. The smallest amount of racial stress is intolerable – the mere suggestion that being white has a meaning often triggers a range of defensive responses…Though white fragility is triggered by discomfort and anxiety, it is born of superiority and entitlement. – Robin DiAngelo

American reality is dictated by what they’re trying to avoid. – James Baldwin

I mentioned in Part One of this series that Woodrow Wilson was the first Southern President since the Civil war. But during the past half century, the country has had more presidents from the former Confederacy than from the former Union.

As I noted earlier, most antebellum Presidents had been slaveholders. Indeed, 34 of the 47 men depicted in John Trumbull’s famous “Declaration of Independence” painting were human traffickers. Southern politicians took advantage of the infamous “three-fifths clause” in the Constitution, which determined how enslaved people would be counted when determining a state’s total population. This number determined a state’s number of seats in Congress; and it gave Southern states a third more representatives and a third more presidential electoral votes than if slaves had not been counted. As a result, most of those slaveholding Presidents were elected only because of these inflated numbers.

This means that if we were to divide presidential history into periods (1789-1860, 1860-1972 and 1972-2021), then the South takes two out of three.

It has become for the Republicans what it had previously been for the Democrats, the core of a national, racist coalition. In the early 1980s a lawyer in Reagan’s Justice Department wrote memos passionately opposing aggressive enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. It took three decades for that lawyer – Chief Justice John Roberts – to lead a Supreme Court majority that struck down the major enforcement provision of the act.

That decision ensured Trumpus’ election, and even since his defeat, it has helped enable the current wave of voter suppression bills in over forty states. Philip Dray writes:

When election officials in Florida, Georgia, or North Carolina force voters in minority districts to wait for hours in line before casting a ballot and send “poll monitors” to intimidate voters, they are reviving methods used by their forebears a century and a half ago. Accounts of racial profiling and state violence toward blacks, the presumption of black criminality, and white panic at the appearance of black people in “white spaces” would be largely familiar to Americans of the 1870s and 1880s, when newspapers carried almost daily stories of black citizens denied their rights, frequently in the form of white vigilantism.

But we can also see how Southern priorities have impacted the Democrats. We all remember the “Solid South” of Democrats that lasted roughly from 1890 to 1970 and that is now nearly as solidly Republican. I’m talking, however, about the lamentable trends that were on full public display in recent Democratic primaries. These numbers are from 2016, but they were similar in 2020:

The count of pledged delegates (not counting conservative super delegates) through April 27th showed Hillary Clinton with 1,644 (including 761 from the former Confederate states) and Bernie Sanders with 1,316 (352 from those states). Without including them, Sanders was actually leading by 964 to 883. Of course, it’s silly and unrealistic to theoretically eliminate the Southern votes, but these numbers do show their overwhelming influence.

Clearly, Sanders all-but conceded most Southern primaries because they occurred too early. Certainly, Clinton’s victories had much to do with the high percentages of African-Americans in those states who supported the Clinton brand. But does this really explain her 44 – 10 delegate margin in Alabama? I tried but couldn’t find any voting patterns by white democrats (who remain the great majority) in these primaries, but I doubt if those voters supported Sanders either. We could just as easily say that it was conservative, white, Southern Democrats who gave Clinton (and, four years later, Biden) her victory margins.

And what about this pattern of having almost all the Southern primaries early? David V. Johnson argues that the South has had too large a say too early in the primaries – and that this is no accident:

The effect of the Southern-leaning calendar is far more profound than the straight delegate numbers, because of what psychologists and political scientists call the bandwagon effect — the proven tendency individuals have to follow the beliefs and behaviors of what is seen as popular. The more the voting public appears to favor Clinton, the more voters will tend to do so in the future…This effect is likely even more pronounced due to the influence of superdelegates…This year’s Southern-fried scheduling is profoundly undemocratic.

As the primary season continued and Sanders’ name recognition increased, that bandwagon effect decreased. When Kentucky finally voted on May 17, Clinton won exactly one more delegate than Sanders did (28-27). We might well ask what if the entire south had waited until that date, and why the Democratic National Committee annually determines such a time sequence that inevitably gives its most conservative candidate early momentum.  

Clinton won the nomination because she swept the Southern states – none of which the Democrats had any hope of winning in November. Stated differently, the typical strategy that moderate Democrats use to triumph in the primaries almost guarantees their loss (or at least extremely close votes) in November.

What few analysts could see (because it was too obvious) was that, due to this Solid South, and gerrymandering elsewhere, the Republicans could have put up any clown (and they did!) and still claim at least 45% of the Electoral College vote. Add in electronic thievery and that’s all they needed.

This bears repeating: Clinton swept the Old South in the primaries, but received none of their votes in the Electoral College. Partially because of voter suppression made possible by the Supreme Court majority (most of whom were appointed after elections determined by the same Southern Strategy) and partially because of old-fashioned racism and misogyny, these states all went to Trumpus. In 2020, these patterns persisted, with the exceptions of Georgia and Virginia.

Let’s be clear about this issue. Corrupt voting patterns and voter suppression are as American as bad food. But legalized voter suppression – segregating those who are allowed to vote from those who are prevented from doing so – is a Southern legacy, stemming from three hundred years of slavery and Jim Crow. And the DNC’s willingness to engage in voter suppression in the primaries also proved to be useless against the acknowledged masters of the art, the Republicans, in the general election.

Clinton’s negative numbers were as low as Trumpus’. Most Americans, right or left, voted for the lesser of two evils, and millions of young voters who had so enthusiastically supported Sanders stayed home. Consequently, countless progressive candidates, from the Senate to the local dogcatcher, also lost for lack of interest and low turnout. In this climate, even if Clinton had prevailed, she’d have had no mandate and no Democratic Senate. The American Empire – with its heritage of Southern militarism – would have endured undisturbed and unquestioned. And the obstructionist Republican Congress would have been happy to destroy even the mildest of liberal legislation, just as they had for the previous eight years, and blame the mess on her and Obama.

In July of 2021, Biden faces the same problems, for the same reasons.

On January 6th of this year insurrectionists carried the Confederate battle flag (and Trumpus flags, and Nazi flags) into the Capitol, and there was no mistaking its meaning. The lineage from Confederates to this mob was clear. Both were willing to destroy the union. Both used racialized violence to deflect their own fear of losing privilege. And both were shamelessly manipulated by cynical politicians.

It fit a pattern going back to the 1876 election, where Republicans traded away Reconstruction in return for a presidential victory. That compromise guaranteed that the Confederate leadership would suffer no consequences for having waged and lost a war to destroy the Union. This year, there was no compromise. Many members of the mob will serve jail time, but the politicians who enabled, inspired and sent them forth will not. In each case, white supremacy went unchallenged.

For nearly two centuries, ever since the times of Andrew Jackson – or should we begin with Washington and Jefferson? – almost all racist demagogues (political or religious) have arisen from the same Southern and Western areas that staunchly defended Indian removal, Chinese exclusion, imperial war, Jim Crow segregation and 4,000 lynchings. Cynical as most of these men undoubtedly were, at least they could lay some claim to being men of the (white) people and could speak their language without seeming utterly mendacious. The fact that so many could fall for Trumpus’ New York version of the Con Man remains a mystery to liberals who cannot understand the depths of grievance these people seem to experience, nor the TV celebrity culture that birthed him, nor the historical patterns that had long preceded him.

And he might well have faded away in January but for his months-long prediction that Democrats would steal the election. It was, however, a form of political genius to revive the memory of the Lost Cause, an idea that sits so deeply engrained in the Southern consciousness that it is like an archetype, always available to be activated. And so it has been by these people, except that now it has a new subject – the “stolen election”. This new lost cause is connected in many minds (and right-wing media) with the idea of a new civil war. Historian David Blight says:

We really have arrived at, it appears, two irreconcilable Americas with their own information systems, their own facts, their own story, their own narrative…In search of a story – in search of a history, in search of a leader, in search of anything they can attach to – lost causes tend to become these great mythologies whose great conspiracy theories tend to explain everything.

The new civil war isn’t new; it’s been happening at least since the 1950s, even if people experience it mostly on the economic and cultural levels. And it has a very specific purpose. As Americans fret over transexual bathrooms, medical cannabis and minor tweaks to the tax codes, the Empire abides and Covid vaccine profits mint 10 new Pharma billionaires.

The narrative of the stolen 2020 election is, of course, baseless. But we should understand that in addition to its propaganda value, it serves another purpose that may have longer lasting effect. As I showed in my analyses of the last two elections (and going back at least as far as 2000) of course there was massive corruption, and it was perpetrated primarily through Republican control of electronic voting machines in over half of the states.

Every time a Democrat denies that there were no irregularities, he or she is adding, consciously or not, to a massive coverup of actual crimes that the nation must address eventually.

Once again, in 2021, two Democratic senators (Arizona’s Kirsten Sinema and West Virginia’s Joe Manchin) are blocking all progressive legislation, from ending the Filibuster to protecting voter rights to making Washington, DC the 51st state. Ironically, the state of West Virginia was formed by anti-slavery whites who seceded from Virginia, and many ex-Confederates settled Arizona. Even among the Democrats, the South/West alliance is in control.

What are the deeper lessons here? One aspect of the myth of American innocence is the narrative of an America that put aside its differences, resolved its racial problems, unified after the Civil War and then turned its face outward to become the savior of the world (or: join the other white European empires in their frenzy to divide up the Third World for capitalism). From the mythological perspective, Trumpus’ inauguration, unpopular as it was, began the next installment of our four-year cycle in which the political establishment and most middle-class Americans come together in the great ceremony of re-affirming America’s divinely inspired purpose.

Yes, yes, I know there are differences. Tell that to a child in Palestine. Neither a Trumpus nor a Biden presidency would care to change these aspects of our national myth. Indeed, it would solidify them further and lay the groundwork for further imperial atrocities, further divisions between rich and poor and irreversible environmental decline.

But it may well destroy – perhaps forever – the notion that our political system has the built-in capacity to re-invigorate itself, to inspire millions of new, young voters to work for real change, and to encourage them to see their idealism reflected back at them by their elders.

Does facing the truth make us any freer? At this point I have little to offer but an invitation to drop our innocence. The truth is that such dark conclusions are of value only if they inspire us – make us willing – to re-write, or reframe, our history. And this requires the ability to think mythologically. Perhaps our national story – not the official story of freedom and opportunity, but the actual one, the one that acknowledges that the South really did win the Civil War – is losing its hold on us.

But because the new story has not been written yet, we are all living in liminal times, an initiatory period that produces more of the same anxiety that drives white rage. The bad news is that this condition will certainly give us more mass shootings, more brutal cops, more drone attacks and more Trumpus’s, and that more innocents will suffer.

Thinking mythologically allows us only one privilege: to entertain the possibility – just as Southerners did in 1876 – that the new story may well be in its birth stages. Thinking mythologically requires us to hold irreconcilable opposites in our minds. As Wendell Berry writes,

Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.

Meanwhile, as Malcolm X said,

As long as you are south of the Canadian border, you are South.

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Barry’s Blog # 373: Did the South Win the Civil War? Part Eight of Nine

Capture the Flag

Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past. – George Orwell

No other democratic nation revels so blatantly in such self-deceptive innocence, such self-paralyzing reluctance to confront the night-side of its own history. – Cornell West

Shortly after I posted an earlier version of this essay (June 2015), the Charleston church murders occurred. Then came the debate over the Confederate flag and the predictable Republican rants that the South had fought the Civil War primarily over state’s rights (which, I argue, it won on that question), not over slavery (in a very real sense, it won on that one as well). Then Trumpus, even before he became President, gave every angry white man in the country permission to act out his self-hatred. Soon, they burned down seven African American churches.

The South had already won the war in yet another category, one that few could have imagined in 1865. It won the war of memory.

In pondering these ideas let’s keep in mind that we are talking about how mythology trumps historical accuracy. As Amos Elon writes in a different context (Palestine), “Then as now, a myth was not necessarily a fact, but the existence of a myth was a very great fact indeed.” A broken mythology such as ours serves powerful interests that naturally prefer to perpetuate their advantages. People, however – even white Americans – are not naturally stupid or insensitive; nor are they born racist. They must be dumbed down, proselytized, and propagandized to tolerate and support those who do violence in their names. This helps explain why those in power have gone to such massive lengths – for 160 years – to control our dominant narratives of who we are as a nation and how we got here.

James Loewen writes:

The Confederates won with the pen (and the noose) what they could not win on the battlefield: the cause of white supremacy and the dominant understanding of what the war was all about. We are still digging ourselves out from under the misinformation they spread…

Neo-Confederates achieved their mythologizing through generations of fictionalized literature and films (Birth of a Nation and Gone With the Wind), newspaper editorials and religious sermons that depicted a postwar South invaded by carpetbaggers and rootless black people and punished by heartless federal misrule. The Dunning historians were very active in this process. Indeed, they managed to rebrand the war itself, calling it the “War Between the States.” Due to their influence, this was one of the primary ways Americans (not just Southerners) referred to the war up to the middle of the 20th century.

Eventually, they named hundreds of schools, courthouses, military bases, streets and entire cities after their heroes. Their romantic narratives converted brutal slavers such as Robert E. Lee and KKK founder Nathan Bedford Forrest into men of deep and noble intention. Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church, the site of that 2015 mass shooting, is located on Calhoun Street, named after one of the most infamous racists.

With the growth of the Lost Cause story, from 1900 into the 1930s, Confederate monuments sprang up everywhere in the South. But there was a huge resurgence in the 1950s when the Civil Rights Movement challenged the basic assumptions of white supremacy. In other words, most of these monuments (honoring 184 named Confederates, almost all on public property) are not about “heritage.” Their real purpose is to perpetuate racist ideology and repress contemporary expression of Black freedom and progress. Alabama governor George Wallace unfurled the Confederate flag above the state Capitol in 1963, vowing “segregation forever.” The massive Stone Mountain site officially opened on April 14, 1965 – 100 years to the day after Lincoln’s assassination. Eight years later, when the Jefferson Davis Monument opened in Kentucky it was the 4th largest monument in the country.

No, this is not the Washington Monument.

As recently as 2016, over 1,900 such sites, including 109 public schools and ten military bases, still remained. A dozen Confederate statues stood in the U.S. Capitol until this month, when the House voted to remove them, with 120 Republicans opposing the bill. (Good luck in the Senate.) Stained-glass windows in the Washington National Cathedral memorialize Lee and Stonewall Jackson.

Over a hundred of these monuments and symbols have been removed in the past five years, including from all U.S. Marine bases, but as of early 2019, 780 monuments and thousands of historical markers still stood,  and the effort to maintain them is costing taxpayers $4 million per year. Over a hundred public schools, three colleges and eighty counties and cities named after Confederate icons remained, along with nine observed (paid) holidays in five states, which still flew the flag. These monuments are found in 23 states, including California, Arizona and the District of Columbia. Even Massachusetts (!) had one, which it didn’t remove until 2017. The Confederate standard flies over four county courthouses and was part of the Mississippi state flag until 2020.

White supremacists found a suitably provocative cause, staging hundreds of rallies across the country to protest monument removals and attacking anti-racist protesters. In Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017, a neo-Nazi rammed his car into a crowd calling for the removal of a statue of Lee, killing Heather Heyer. They held over 350 rallies in the six months after the Charleston attack. Trumpus, always looking for opportunities to pander to the worst in us, called the removal of these “beautiful” monuments “foolish” and threatened to veto the 2020 defense bill if it included a provision to rename military installations named for Confederates.

Five states have monument protection laws. Despite recent public revulsion with them, legislatures in most former Confederate states have considered — and in some cases enacted — new statutes to prevent cities and counties from removing monuments.

After Reconstruction, in the “reborn” nation – now an unapologetic, expanding empire – war monuments in the North helped replace the farmer with the soldier as the prototypical American citizen in this new age of inequality. The soldier (rather than the factory worker) personified the conformity and vigor that government expected from ordinary citizens. Thomas Brown writes:

…over time, many northern memorials shifted from Union monuments to soldier monuments, indicative of a general military readiness…a few northern sponsors eager to reach national audiences dismissed the moral gulf between blue and grey. Yale listed its Union and Confederate dead on the university memorial installed in 1915. Princeton did not even identify the sides on which its former students fought.

The mythologizing reaches the federal bureaucracy, including the process of becoming an American citizen and its American History test:

Item No. 74 asks them to “name one problem that led to the Civil War.” It then gives three acceptable answers: slavery, economic reasons and states’ rights. (No other question on this 100-item test has more than one right answer.) If by “economic reasons” it means issues with tariffs and taxes, which most people infer, then two of its three “correct answers” are wrong.

It certainly infects public education, such as The American Journey, “…perhaps the best-selling U.S. history textbook.” And here is where we can ask once again, Cui bono? Who profits? “Publishers mystify secession because they don’t want to offend Southern school districts and thereby lose sales.”

Five million public school students in Texas use social studies textbooks based on state academic standards that barely address racial segregation. The state’s guidelines for teaching American history do not mention the Ku Klux Klan or Jim Crow laws. Children learn that the Civil War was caused by “sectionalism, states’ rights and slavery” – written deliberately in that order to telegraph slavery’s secondary role in driving the conflict. And most states follow the example of Texas, since it is the second-largest school textbook market. Owing to economies of scale, some 50-80% of American high school students read history textbooks that do not mention the Crusades or the New Deal, and science textbooks that challenge evolution and global warming.

Creating and maintaining political myths involves two major efforts. The first is what is shown: everything from monuments and flags to films, TV shows, books, coffee mugs and t-shirts. The second is what is not shown. There were 1.2 million slave sales between 1760 and 1860. Yet the 1619 Project has found fewer than 50 marked auction sites. Sites of African-American focus represent 2 percent of those registered on the National Register of Historic Places, and only a small portion of these are devoted to slavery. Similarly, writes Tim Wise,

…we have weddings at former plantations. Check that: We have weddings on the grounds of forced labor camps, whose history we elide because they’re so “beautiful.”…Just forget that these places were prisons and the people who ran them were jailers and kidnappers engaged in a vile and murderous enterprise. And don’t worry, they’ll make sure the reception for your guests is well away from the slave quarters…That we would do all this, while no one in Germany would think to have their wedding at Dachau…tells us all we need to know about America.

For a refreshing contrast, read about the Whitney Plantation, “the only museum in Louisiana with an exclusive focus on the lives of enslaved people.”  No weddings are performed here.

Whoever controls the narrative – deliberate construction of ignorance – controls behavior. Due to well over a century of disinformation and mythologizing, nearly half of Americans – and 60% of people under age thirty – believe that the primary cause of secession was state’s rights. In practical terms, the Confederate flag now symbolizes both state’s rights and racism, as well as a host of other reactionary positions.

Why is this important? Because even though in 1860 state’s rights was not a major issue, in 2021 it is. Ask any resident of a Red state hoping for a living wage or an abortion or federal health insurance or medical marijuana or equal employment rights for gays, or the simple right to vote. Ask any African-American. Ask Dylann Roof.

Read Part Nine, the conclusion, here.

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Barry’s Blog # 372: Did the South Win the Civil War? Part Seven of Nine

Part Seven: War and Empire

I don’t believe what you say, because I see what you do. – James Baldwin

Let’s recap the South’s objectives prior to the Civil War:

1 – Preservation of slavery

2 – Acceptance by the whole nation of white supremacy and patriarchy

3 – Division of the working class by motivating white people through fear

4 – The further prosecution of American imperialism

5 – Acceptance of “state’s rights” and the erosion of federal authority

6 – Free trade, or low tariffs on foreign manufactured goods

The first three of the South’s objectives – preserving slavery and white supremacy – were essentially met. For at least a hundred years after the war, the great majority of African Americans, even if they were legally free, were unable to control their destinies. They were not slaves, but most could not vote, most could not live or work where they chose to, and participation in the American Dream remained an abstract ideal. Meanwhile, white supremacy was the dominant, de facto thinking in government, educational, security and cultural policies. And (with some exceptions) poor, working class and even unionized whites throughout the country had traded away the possibilities of solidarity with Blacks and improvement in their material lives in favor of white privilege. 

What about those other Southern objectives of 1860?

Point 4 – The furthering of American imperialism. Steven Jonas writes:

It was the South that strongly believed in the establishment and prosecution of American Imperialism. Before the Civil War, much of the leadership for U.S. imperial expansion, first on the North American continent, came from Southerners.

Thomas Jefferson, who purchased the Louisiana territories in 1804 that enabled the westward expansion, also advocated for the annexation of Cuba. Jefferson Davis, Secretary of War in the Pierce Administration, agreed. And President James Polk, a North Carolina slave owner, prosecuted the War on Mexico. By the mid-1890s (a time precisely coinciding with the establishment of universal legal segregation throughout the South), the nation was unashamedly proclaiming its imperial designs all across the world. Greg Grandin reminds us of

…the role endless war played in sustaining domestic racism. Starting around 1898, well before it became an icon of redneck backlash, the Confederate Battle Flag served for half a century as an important pennant in the expanding American empire and a symbol of national unification, not polarization.

Much longer than half a century, as we’ll see. Woodrow Wilson, another Southerner, manipulated the nation into World War One and savagely prosecuted dissenters. In World War Two, Southern officers carried the Confederate battle flag into combat. After a two-month battle for the island of Okinawa, the first flag Marines raised over the Japanese headquarters was the Confederate one. In Viet Nam, a Black serviceman told a journalist that, in the barracks at the U.S. base in Cam Ranh Bay, “there would be nothing but Confederate flags all over the place.” There, white soldiers celebrated the death of Martin Luther King by raising the Confederate flag and burning crosses. As recently as 2003, American soldiers carried it into Iraq and Afghanistan.

In 2016, writes Grandin, “The flag’s current presence in American culture is ubiquitous. It adorns license plates, bumper stickers, mugs, bodies (via tattoos), and even baby diapers.” And once the primary season got into full gear, the flags were a constant presence at Trump rallies. As I wrote in We contain multitudes, some of the least likely people still display it. And, as we know, many of the thugs who attacked the Capitol on January 6th carried it as well.

It should be no surprise that Southern politicians are our fiercest warmongers, that 40% of recruits, most officers and 80% of military chaplains are from the South, and that most domestic military bases are located there. Imperialism is the South’s biggest business and has more than made up for the decline of its agriculture. Internationally, the U.S. has military bases in over 150 countries and its expenditures exceed all other nations combined.

Consider even deeper implications, how different things might have been. It is at least possible that without the reactionary Southern Republican takeover of Congress and the Electoral College, there would have been no Ronald Reagan, no Bush (I, II or III), no invasion of Iraq or Afghanistan, no demonizing of Muslims, no FOX News, no War on Terror, no War on Drugs, no mass incarceration of Black people, no Tea Party and no refusal to heal the wounds of Global Warming. And no Trumpus, who received 160 Electoral College votes from Southern states in 2016, well over half of the 306 he won.

We can’t put all the blame on the Republicans; Democrats regularly played along. But this is the truth: all of the sordid history of the past seventy years has played out because the Southerners’ philosophies of racist imperialism and white supremacy were never excised from our national mythology.

What about Obama? This is a long and difficult subject. I address his image (or brand) and his function in Stories We Tell Each Other About Barack Obama. But in terms of this essay, I suggest that he served the aims of the Empire in two ways:

1 – He was a hired gun. Right from the start, his role, wrote Greg Palast, was to “…soothe America’s conscience with the happy fairy tale that his election marked the end of racism in the USA.” Obama was chosen for his role because he could successfully sell the Deep State’s agenda to the American public. Once elected, he followed all of his predecessors in extending the arms race and supporting the most brutal dictatorships on the planet. By faithfully executing the Empire’s international priorities, he gave militarism the implicit endorsement of Black people.

2 – With his regressive domestic policies, he re-established a Black face on the projection screen for anxious whites, adding to their growing rage and setting the stage for Trumpus, who reflected mass disillusionment at an economy that Obama’s financial backers helped destroy.

So, on one hand Obama helped re-invigorate the myth of American Innocence. And on the other, deliberately or not, he provoked a newer, more lethal white backlash. He showed that he could play the inspirational role of the King. But it was only a role; and it was played by a trickster. The archetypal King imagines for us all; the Trickster (a poor version of the Trickster – the Con Man) is out for himself. In this sense, from the empire’s perspective, the Republicans (had they spoken honestly for once, off the record) would have given him a straight-A. We got Trumpus not despite Obama, but because of Obama.

Point 5 – Acceptance of “state’s rights” and opposition to centralized federal authority. This is a hugely complicated issue, but I will offer a few examples. Due to gerrymandering and removal of literally millions of blacks from the voting roles, reactionaries dominate over thirty state governments. This means that they have permanent control of at least 40% of electoral votes in national elections and nearly majority control of both Senate and House votes. At local levels, this has meant that public education in the South is as segregated as it was in 1954,and access to affordable abortion is almost impossible in half the states. Today, despite the successes of a few celebrities, fewer Black people are eligible to vote than in 1965, and 80% of metropolitan regions are more segregated than they were in 1990.

This situation is due not only to Southerners, but, as I wrote in Part Four, of the lightly-populated but well-represented Western states that commonly vote with them. Heather Cox Richardson writes that in the West, aided by migration of white southerners, “Confederate ideology took on a new life, and from there over the course of the next 150 years, it came to dominate America.” After the end of Reconstruction, anti-lynching and voting rights legislation lost because of the votes of westerners, and new states aligned for decades more “with the hierarchical structure of the south than with the democratic principles of the civil war Republicans”, thanks to their reliance on extractive industries and agribusiness. Aided by migration of white Southerners, “Confederate ideology took on a new life, and from there over the course of the next 150 years, it came to dominate America.”

On the cultural level, as always, Hollywood colludes with the dominant myths. Seventy-four years after the end of the Civil War, the classic Western Stagecoach depicted the post-reconciliation world. Happy audiences cheered a former Confederate officer fighting alongside U.S. Calvary soldiers against the “savage” Apaches. Stagecoach, to Richardson, is a cinematic representation of the South-West alliance.

Of more universal consequence, both trust in government and voting rates have plummeted to their lowest numbers ever, at least until the last election. And voter suppression bills in over forty states will likely reverse that trend.

These changes are the results of deliberate policy. The Republican agenda – led by Southerners – has been to so corrupt and degrade the political process, public participation, civic engagement and the idea of even voting so fully as to speed up the already existing process of withdrawal from those realms. For whatever reason we choose – from Tea Partiers to Occupiers to vaccine refusers – nearly all of us now hate the government.

This idea of state’s rights is an example of one of the central contradictions of American conservatism. It meant, then and now, independence of federal oversight combined with authoritarian legal and political domination on the local level over minorities and unions.

Independence from federal regulations and civil rights enforcement, however, does not mean some kind of principled refusal of federal aid. Forty-two states receive more money from the federal government than they receive. Politicians such as Mitch McConnell are masters at this game: eight of the ten most government dependent states, and 19 of the top 25 are red states.

Anyone who doesn’t acknowledge the effect of the Southern agenda of destroying faith in the authority of the federal government (except of course for “Defense” appropriations, potential outlawing of abortion rights and foreign trade – see below) in favor of State’s rights has simply not been looking. It may have taken over 150 years, but the South has succeeded, even if its attempt to secede failed. Now it no longer needs to.

Point 6– In 1860 northern voters favored high tariffs on foreign manufactured goods to protect their domestic industrial development, while the South strongly supported low tariffs. Some writers argue that this issue was the most important factor in Southern secession and the Northern military response.

Pre-war white Southerners were usually defenders of local rights. However, they favored robust national action when it suited their needs, and they invoked federal power often to strengthen slavery. The Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, writes Eric Foner, was the most vigorous expansion of federal authority over the states, and over individual Americans, of the antebellum era. It wasn’t repealed until 1864, over a year after the Emancipation Proclamation.

This was another example of conservatives manipulating the ideals of freedom and equality to fit their political aims. Southerners have always muted their defense of personal or local rights to attack anti-war movements or legislate morality around abortion and other issues.

After the war, as the influence of corporations increased, tariff-related disputes increased. But the long-term results are clear. By the late twentieth century, due mainly to Southern political clout, so-called “free trade” policies such as NAFTA and the World Trade Organization led to the free export of American capital, its subsequent de-industrialization and the loss of millions of jobs (by the way, it was Bill Clinton, a Democrat and a Southerner, who was most influential in enabling this situation). The same clout has resulted in 28 states having passed “Right-to-Work” (otherwise known as union busting) laws. Southern Republicans, when it suits their purposes, and thanks to moderate Democrats like Joe Manchin, have managed to enshrine the idea of state’s rights in the national consciousness.

Read Part Eight here.

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Barry’s Blog # 371: Did the South Win the Civil War? Part Six of Nine

Part Six: The Federal Government

If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you. – Lyndon Johnson

Ours is a political myth not because it is untrue, but because its pervasiveness and its unexamined assumptions produce a consensus reality among a majority of those who subscribe to it; that is, to a majority of those who identify with its primary narratives; that is, with a majority of White people. It is a container of multiple and inconsistent meanings, allowing the powerful to manipulate the two polar American values of freedom and equality to suit their purposes. This is perhaps the central contradiction of American life.

Segregation (as the preposterous notion of “separate but equal”) was legal for sixty years. Now, reactionaries invoke the ideal of equality by claiming that legal equality is sufficient and calling affirmative action “reverse discrimination”. Some even argue that since prejudice no longer exists, minorities should require no assistance (which only encourages the sin of laziness). This false argument has potency because it contains some truth; since individuals have occasionally “pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps,” then conservatives claim that everyone should. If they can’t, says the myth, Puritan at its core, then failure is their own fault. As Jerry Falwell, one of the nation’s best known preachers of the 1980s, said, “This is America. If you’re not a winner, it’s your own fault.”

To attack economic redistribution, however, conservatives invoke the opposite pole of individualism and freedom, which becomes the right to accumulate and invest wealth without government intrusion and regulation. Many if not most of the Republican Party’s recent leaders have described themselves as libertarian gun-lovers, and for thirty years their most prominent intellectuals have spoken openly of destroying the concept of government itself. GOP strategist Grover Norquist said, “My goal is to cut government in half in twenty-five years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.” Others have bragged of undoing the New Deal. This, along with the new voter suppression drives, does great damage to working class Whites as well as to Blacks. The calculus would appear to be that wrecking interracial solidarity, combined with gerrymandering, is worth the risk.

But we all know that the same forces have consistently backed agricultural and industrial subsidies, a massive military budget and a carceral state, while also attempting to legislate morality, including the demonization of non-violent drug use and regular attempts to ban abortion. Any one of these examples would completely negate their anti-statist rhetoric. The fact that millions of their supporters (concentrated, once again, in the old Confederate and western states) do not see or do nor mind such massive hypocrisy is a tribute to the power of myth. Indeed, at this level, the function of a mythology is to resolve these contradictions.

In 1913, Woodrow Wilson, the first Southerner elected president since the Civil War, (before the war, ten of the first twelve presidents had owned slaves, eight of them while in office) declared that it was “a quarrel forgotten” – and then proceeded to segregate federal government offices. Two years later, he endorsed a well-publicized White House showing of the Lost-Cause fantasy Birth of a Nation (originally titled The Clansman). The film’s deeply racist ideology was heightened by its technical virtuosity, its three-hour length and its musical score. It became a national phenomenon, convincing millions that the fiction they saw on screen was actual history. It led to the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan, which, a few years later literally ran several states, not all of them in the South.

The Birth of a Nation (1915)Directed by D.W. GriffithShown: Walter Long (as Gus) surrounded by Ku Klux Klan members

Wilson and many Southerners, oddly enough, did support unions, and this is a clue to white attitudes. Throughout the century, white people, even in the South, tended to support civil rights legislation, but only when they perceived the economy as growing. When they believed that it was contracting, they quickly perceived themselves as victims, not of the rich but of liberals who were redistributing resources toward the “undeserving” poor. This, again, is rooted in Protestant religion.

In the 1930s, as I have written in “Affirmative Action for Whites,” Franklin Roosevelt unified northern liberals and southern conservatives. But he had no choice but to maintain silence on race, fearing that his coalition would disintegrate. Southern politicians defeated over 200 anti-lynching bills (the Senate would not make lynching a federal crime until 2018). And they supported Social Security only if it excluded agricultural laborers and domestic servants. This compromise deliberately kept most Blacks outside of the welfare state. The Homeowner’s Loan Corporation, for example, gave out a million loans, none of them to Black homeowners in white neighborhoods, and “redlined” countless African American neighborhoods, preventing Blacks from getting mortgages even in those areas. These policies continued for decades, with the Federal government, despite its progressive rhetoric, acting as a proactive instrument of white privilege.

As a result of these policies (which extended well past World War Two with the discriminatory G.I. Bill), an average black family still has one eleventh of the wealth of a white family, even when they make the same income. Ira Katznelson’s book When Affirmative Action Was White: An Untold History of Racial Inequality in Twentieth-Century America gives many more examples.

Federal policies shifted in the mid sixties with progressive voting legislation and continued through the seventies. Those policies were influenced by changes in public opinion and in turn helped change public speech. Eventually, as minorities more fully entered the political and entertainment realms, it was no longer quite so acceptable to use the old language of uncensored bigotry. Racist politicians (until the advent of Trumpus) were forced to use commonly understood code words(“law and order,” “states’ rights,” “inner city,” “super-predators,” “gangs,” “thugs,” “rapists,” “drug dealers,” etc.) to manipulate White fear. A Black middle class rose from the ashes of Tulsa and the other massacres. As I write in my book, the terribly long process of welcoming the Other into the Polis seemed to be concluding.

But the government’s attempt to fund its “Great Society” policies without raising taxes on the rich led to economic crises that have perpetuated themselves ever since. This was the beginning of the vast disparities of wealth that we lament today.

Soon after the Democratic Party finally committed itself to full support of Civil Rights in the mid-1960s, Richard Nixon lured Southern Dixiecrats to the Republican side and convinced even Northern white workers to vote against their own economic interests. His success in this strategy showed that the old mythic narrative was still potent. It was still possible – even easy – to divide and conquer the working class by appealing to their fear that they might lose their privileges. Major financial interests took note and soon bankrolled hundreds of think tanks and conservative radio and TV stations with their pundits and “shock-jocks.” The massive propaganda of overt fearmongering and thinly disguised hate set the tone for our current civic discourse.

Factory owners left the industrial Northeast and Midwest, and working-class whites became susceptible, once again, to backlash. This led to George Wallace, Ronald Reagan and their successors who pursued regressive policies including increased policing and mass incarceration to curry favor among yet a new generation of whites who perceived themselves as victims rather than as privileged. This has been perhaps the South’s greatest victory. Now the South is nearly as solidly Republican as it once was solidly Democratic. And America remains the only advanced industrial nation without a powerful, organized, working-class political party.

Despite federal legislation, many American schools were never fully desegregated. Countless school districts across the South defunded their schools, now primarily Black-attended, and shifted support to all-White private schools. Less than twenty years after the landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling, schools across the entire country quietly resegregated. After the 1974 Supreme Court case Milliken v. Bradley, which ruled that school districts could legally be segregated as long as it was not intentional, most students once again began attending schools in which nearly everyone looks like them. Now, 45 percent of African Americans and Hispanics attend high-poverty schools while only eight percent of white students do.

These themes have played out with devastating effect since the end of the 1960s, when conservatives, far more mythologically literate than liberals, began to masquerade as “rebels” against the establishment. In symbolism if not in name, the South was rising.

Indeed, nearly every serious presidential candidate of either party since 1976, regardless of his Ivy League credentials (think of George H.W. Bush’s Connecticut accent, despite his residence in Texas) has presented himself as a Protestant and a rebel of some sort.

It has been said that most elected Democrats attended law schools, while most Republicans emerged out of business schools, where motivation and indeed brain science are part of the curriculum. For fifty years, Democrats have tried to appeal to the mind, while Republicans aim for the gut. Reagan (or his advisors) was deeply conversant with the driving themes of American myth. Wearing a cowboy hat, he launched his presidential campaign in the same Mississippi town where three civil rights workers had been murdered only 15 years before, declaring, “I believe in states’ rights.” As I write in Chapter Eight of my book,

Evoking both ends of the mythic spectrum, he told Americans they could have it both ways. They could get rich and have their traditional values, while paying no price.

Republicans continued to distil these basically mythic and religious messages even further, down to their Pre-Civil War essence:

You (whites) have your privileges because God has ordained them. If you have nothing else, it is because you have been victimized by the Other – People of Color – and we will punish them for their sins.

Meanwhile, the Democrats were abandoning their working-class roots and siding with corporate donors, leading to a huge drop in voting rates. This all culminated in the Trumpus years and beyond, as opportunistic politicians and media spewed their bigotry, no longer needing to water it down with euphemistic language. I wrote about the new racial permissiveness in this essay: The Dionysian Moment – Trump Lets the Dogs Out

Most observers interpreted “Make America Great Again” to be a return to the 1950s, but it could just as well have been about the 1850s. As Rebecca Solnit writes, “Inequality is the central platform of the right and Trumpism.”

Two current issues exemplify this legacy. One is the revived effort to make Washington, DC a state. I write “revived” because this is certainly not the first attempt. All previous ones were defeated by Southern senators, who clearly preferred to keep the city’s large black population under federal control and without Congressional representation. We can understand the second, the controversy over the filibuster, through the same lens. Those same Southern Senators used it in the 19th century to control the admission of anti-slavery states; they used in the 20th century to control New Deal legislation and block anti-lynching bills; and they will block Biden’s mildly progressive agenda if it isn’t abolished.

But through all these years hasn’t it been obvious to intelligent, educated whites everywhere that segregation and discrimination were moral abominations that had no acceptable philosophical grounds? Hardly, writes Jim Powell:

The South was victorious ideologically. Its view of the Civil War was the prevailing view in the North for a century. Columbia University Professor William A. Dunning, a founder of the American Historical Association and its president in 1913, was perhaps the most influential promoter of the Southern view. He portrayed Radical Republicans as villains…(and) defended segregation by claiming that blacks were incapable of self-government. A star of the so-called “Dunning School” of post-Civil War historical writing was Ulrich Bonnell Phillips, who finished his teaching career at Yale. He defended slaveholders against charges that they were brutal, and he claimed they did much to civilize the slaves. Dunning School historians dominated American textbooks well into the 1950s and even the 1960s.

Racist historiography was entirely consistent with Eugenics among a wide range of American intellectuals who argued that moral character was inherited, that “inferior” southern and eastern Europeans polluted Anglo-Saxon racial purity, and that Black blood was far worse. The movement hid nothing, because it claimed to be backed by “science”. Its leader, Lothrop Stoddard, author of The Rising Tide of Color against White World‑Supremacy, wrote:

…black blood, once entering a human stock, seems never really bred out again…The whole white race is exposed, immediately or ultimately, to the possibility of social sterilization and final replacement or absorption by the teeming colored race…segregation of defectives and abolition of handicaps penalizing the better stocks will put an end to our present racial decline.

Brian Clowes writes:

From its beginning, the leadership of the eugenics movement has been drawn exclusively from influential white elitists. And those targeted by eugenics measures have invariably been minorities, the poor and the powerless…Stoddard’s books won him wide acclaim in Nazi Germany, and, when he visited that country, he was allowed access to the highest elements of the Reich’s hierarchy (including) Adolf Hitler himself. 

Twenty-seven states passed laws to sterilize “undesirables.” A 1911 Carnegie Foundation report recommended euthanasia of the mentally retarded through the use of gas chambers. Yes, you read that right.

The solution was too controversial, but in 1927 the Supreme Court, in a ruling written by Oliver Wendell Holmes, allowed coercive sterilization, ultimately of 60,000 Americans, mostly people of color. The last of these laws were not struck down until the 1970s. Meanwhile, in Mein Kampf, Hitler praised American eugenic ideology, and in the 1930s, Germany copied American racial and sterilization laws. Years later, at the Nuremberg trials, the Nazis quoted Holmes’s words in their own defense.

Well into the 1960s, state legislatures considered laws that would mandate the sterilization of all welfare mothers after they had borne two children out of wedlock. These laws directly targeted Black and Native American women. In New York, municipal judges commonly offered women the choice of sterilization or a cutoff of welfare benefits. Even today, many argue that racism is at the base of the population control movement.

I mean literally today, 6/27/21, when the San Francisco Chronicle is carrying a long article about an economics professor at Cal State East Bay who taught Eugenics-inspired racist nonsense for years until quite recently.

In 2021 – A hundred years after the Tulsa massacre, we can still trace the influence of these racist gatekeepers in the thinking of many politicians and even academics. We can follow it further in the media pundits who fan the flames of racial hatred in the minds of deranged “individuals” such as the mass murderer Dylann Roof and the white policemen who shoot unarmed POC every 28 hours. Sure there’s been progress; tell that to the aggrieved families.

Read Part Seven here.

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Barry’s Blog # 370: Did the South Win the Civil War? Part Five of Nine

Part Five: Systemic Violence

…this is the crime of which I accuse my country and my countrymen and for which neither I nor time nor history will ever forgive them, that they have destroyed and are destroying hundreds of thousands of lives and do not know it and do not want to know it…but it is not permissible that the authors of devastation should also be innocent. It is the innocence which constitutes the crime. – James Baldwin

To really understand America’s myth of innocence and how much Southern values are American values, we must see these tragedies in the proper perspective. Every 28 hours, a police officer, a security guard or a self-appointed vigilante shoots a person of color to death. Forty-three percent of these murders occur after incidents of racial profiling, and 80% of the victims are unarmed.

This violence has not decreased in the past several years, despite the fact that so many of the shootings have been documented in bodycam or bystander videos. What’s going on? My essay Hands Up, Don’t Shoot: The Sacrifice of American Dionysus investigates this question from a mythological perspective:

Apparently, the police…knowing how rarely they are held accountable, want you to see the evidence. In the age of cell phone photography and instant publicity through social media, these police killings have become increasingly, audaciously, proudly, brazenly public affairs…we have to ask, “Does this pattern have a function?… Throughout history, when a community needs to resolve some fundamental social transition, human sacrifice becomes its method. American Southern whites faced precisely such a period of acute liminal transition in the decades after the Civil War, and they performed regular rituals of human sacrifice well into the 1930s…The community achieves temporary unity and restored innocence by focusing its shadow upon the Other (usually accused of having the Dionysian qualities of sexuality or irrational violence) and projecting it outwards where all can safely view it. However, as in all addictive conditions, the need to be cleansed of the unacceptable feelings always continues to build up, and so does the need to sacrifice a scapegoat… Human sacrifice must be a public spectacle, or it has no value…

We as a society have given local cops and other enforcers the right and privilege to carry out these rituals of sacrifice – approximately five times a week, out on the streets, brazenly, proudly, especially before videotaping witnesses, with practically no interference from the legal system. The George Floyd verdict was a very rare exception. But even in that case, the cop / murderer stared directly at the camera for most of those nine minutes.

Derek Chauvin gazed at the Black woman with her cell phone camera as if to ask, “What you looking at? Nothing unusual happening here! This could happen to you, too.”

The image is a direct descendant of the many photos of lynchings (some of which were printed as post cards) in which large crowds of well-dressed whites stare proudly and comfortably at cameras.

Certainly, our current age – with women and gays continuing to question traditional notions of masculinity; with men rapidly losing jobs and their authority in the family; with immigrants questioning our notions of who is a member of the Polis; with technology driving change faster than we can assimilate it; as we wake up from the American dream to discover the nightmare we have been living – certainly our age qualifies as one of fundamental transition. Hence the search for scapegoats and the need to sacrifice them.

Around 2015 activists replaced “Hands up, don’t shoot” with “Black lives matter!” Why? Because the earlier chant was ironic; it was intended (like the old chants of the Civil Rights movement) to shame police – and the nation – a into moral action. But in this dark time, we have become shameless. And without irony we have to ask, Do Black Lives Really Matter?

We are talking about the situation of advanced capitalism in a world of austerity and lowered expectations; a nation in which the population greatly exceeds the available jobs. From this point of view, we have a very large number of essentially useless people. These are people who, because of the exporting of jobs to the Third World, have no marketable skills in what is essentially a service economy and – because of a failed education system – will never have those skills. Perhaps “failed” is the wrong word, since many critics argue that schooling is deliberately intended to dumb us down.

In the eyes and schemes of our corporate masters, such people are valuable only as consumers or as cannon fodder. As for the first, a person without a job doesn’t qualify as a consumer. As for the second, since the Empire now outsources much of its mayhem to “contractors” (otherwise known as mercenaries) and Third-World dictators, even the cannon fodder option has been reduced. So millions of them, primarily people of color, have become, quite simply, expendable.

Capitalism no longer needs them as it needed their grandparents who worked the factory jobs that once sustained a middle class. From that point of view, it makes no difference whatsoever if people starve on the streets. But they can still fill our prisons. They are the raw material, the natural resource (exactly like oil or slave-produced cotton) without which our massive and lucrative prison-industrial complex could not exist. Among the two million persons in federal and state prisons are 80,000 people in solitary confinement. Cui bono: follow the money. With 30,000 members, the prison guards union is one of the largest unions in California.

Ironically, once poor people are committed to those hell-holes, they do assume the function of working at absurdly low wages for over 4,000 businesses, either through production or through services. The junk call you received today probably originated in a penitentiary.

A final context in which Black lives have mattered involves the corruption of science. From James Marion Sims’ gynecological experiments on unanesthetized slave women to the 40-year Tuskegee study of untreated syphilis in Black men to the Guatemalan STD Study of the 1940s to Cold War irradiation studies on cancer patients to medical studies conducted on untreated natives of the Marshall Islands after nuclear tests, American scientists have used people of color as guinea pigs for two centuries. The fact that German, Japanese and Soviet scientists were also guilty of such crimes does not exonerate their actions.

Mythology adds a dark dimension to our analysis. When we think in terms of the myths that govern our thinking at the deepest levels and provide a sense of identity in fast-changing times, it is difficult not to conclude that Black (and Brown and Red) lives do matter – but only to serve as the Other. America as it exists today will always need a dark, demonized Other to measure its own lightness by. In religious terms, in order to convince themselves that they are still among the elect, white people need to know, to see – on video – exactly who is not worthy of being saved, and that they are being punished. The simple truth is that, in order to remain “America,” this nation requires a population of suffering – deservedly suffering, as whites prefer – Others within the borders just as it needs an identifiably evil population of terrorist Others (now that the Communist Other has receded) outside the borders.

It remains a marker of white innocence, denial and privilege that, despite this long and well-documented history of white-on-black violence, and despite the fact that white men commit the vast majority of mass murders, despite the fact that blacks and whites commit crimes at similar rates, when psychologists ask people to mentally imagine a violent criminal, ninety-five percent of us picture a Black man.

Read Part Six here.

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Barry’s Blog # 369: Did the South Win the Civil War? Part Four of Nine

Part Four: Violence and Intimidation

If Americans were not so terrified of their private selves, they never would have become so dependent on what they call “the Negro problem”. This problem, which they invented in order to safeguard their purity, has made of them criminals and monsters, and it is destroying them; and this not from anything Blacks may or may not be doing but because of the role a guilty and constricted white imagination has assigned to the Blacks. – James Baldwin

Capital punishment is our society’s recognition of the sanctity of human life. – Senator Orrin Hatch

The oligarchs of the Old South knew that perpetuating slavery meant extending it into the western territories and new states. After the war, new versions of this goal appeared. The first was keeping the newly freed Blacks in virtual servitude in the South. The second was influencing conditions in the West.

After 1865, the idea of “free” was no longer one of the primary definitions of whiteness. Those who had previously been defined by the characteristics of “not-white” and “non-free” were suddenly free, and this change set off yet another in a very long historical process in which white fragility was heightened. So the ideas of white supremacy and white privilege required new thinking.

This included limiting the freedom to escape the hellish conditions that persisted in the South, even as Blacks briefly held some power. Some of these laws outlawed the selling or leasing of land to blacks and prevented them from buying liquor or carrying weapons. Extreme poverty, combined with these legal restrictions prevented most Blacks from moving west and kept them de facto slaves in the South. In the Southwest, similar systems targeted Latinos.

Over time, the Homestead Acts gave away over 160 million acres of public land (nearly ten percent of the nations’ total area). They were theoretically open to everyone. But in reality, homesteading became a privilege of whiteness, yet another example of affirmative action for whites, in which they received free land, federal protection from the natives and access to railroads. Thousands of ex-Confederates took advantage of the situation and moved west.

Although most Southern states completely undermined federal Reconstruction efforts to promote landowning as the blacks’ ticket to economic freedom and equality, there was a much smaller, briefer and poorly administered program of homesteading on poor land, mostly in Florida, for Blacks. About a thousand families (a sixth of those who had applied) received land.  And in 1879, nearly 40,000 “Exodusters”  settled in Kansas and Oklahoma, creating many Freedman’s towns.

But that number amounted to one percent of the Black population of the South. Since the vast majority of the 1.6 million homesteading families were white, it is no wonder that our mythic picture of the hardy “pioneers” is lily-white. A hundred and forty years later, their 45 million descendants compose much of the population of the states west of the Mississippi River. No wonder these states tend to be aligned politically with the far right. No wonder Oregon entered the Union in 1859 with an exclusion clause in its constitution banning all Black People that was not repealed until 1927. Each of these states, despite their relatively small populations, sends as many Senators to Washington as does California. In this regard, the Confederacy certainly won the war.

Little House on the Prairie

With the end of Reconstruction, Northerners gradually forgot the ex-slaves, consigning them to the reign of terror that would last for another century. In 1892, as the nation celebrated the 400th anniversary of the discovery of the New World, at least 240 Black persons were lynched. By 1896 legal segregation was in place throughout the South. Thirty states enforced anti-miscegenation laws, sixteen of them lasting until 1967, over a hundred years after the “defeat” of the Confederacy.

Let’s be clear about the conditions. The 1865 Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery generally, but it left an enormous opening by permitting it as a punishment for crime. Southern states quickly enacted Black Codes to restrict the freedom of blacks and restore slavery in everything but name. This provoked the North to send federal troops and institute martial law. But once the troops withdrew, the South quickly reinstated the codes at all levels of government.

Their defining features included vagrancy laws, which allowed local authorities to arrest freed people for minor infractions and commit them to long periods of involuntary labor, often on the same plantations they’d recently left. The state essentially conspired with Big Business. Historian Alex Lichtenstein notes that

…only in the South did the state entirely give up its control to the contractor; and only in the South did the physical “penitentiary” become virtually synonymous with the various private enterprises in which convicts labored.

Thousands of Black men were forced to work in conditions so brutal – and so familiar – that 25 % of them died while serving their sentences. Cui Bono? As always, we follow the money. In addition to being harsh and unfair, the convict lease system was lucrative. In 1898, for example, it supplied 73% of Alabama’s entire state revenue. It was the last state to formally outlaw it – in 1928.

The Ku Klux Klan and other terrorist organizations ensured that these conditions would last for decades. Estimates of the violence vary greatly, but one source states that in Louisiana alone over 2,000 people were killed or wounded prior to the Presidential election of 1868. Glen Ford writes:

After crushing Black Reconstruction, the southern states invented, from the bottom up, the world’s first totally racially regimented society. U.S. “Jim Crow” inspired Adolph Hitler’s vision for nation-building under Aryan supremacy, as documented in James Q. Whitman’s recent bookHitler’s American Model...It is generally accepted that fascist states are characterized, to one degree or another, by:

* Extreme nationalism

* Frequent resort to mob rule

* Oppression of an internal “Other” as an organizing principle

* Militarism

* The political dominance of the most reactionary elements of the bourgeoisie

The end of Reconstruction led to disenfranchisement, Jim Crow segregation, mass incarceration, thousands of unpunished lynchings and tens of thousands of unpunished police murders. We cannot minimize its long term, epistemic trauma (added on to the trauma of slavery itself). But neither can we minimize the long term effect on the entire nation of a solid block of white, segregationist Senators who soon had veto power on most federal legislation.

Fast forward briefly to 2021, in which Republicans are attempting to pass nearly 400 voter suppression bills in 48 states. Their influence on Congress (switched from the Democrats) is much older than we commonly suppose. Michael Kazin writes:

When lawmakers from the South strongly favored a bill, such as the Federal Reserve Act or the 16th Amendment allowing Congress to impose an income tax, it passed. When they opposed a bill, such as the one proposed by Republicans in the late 1880s that would have enabled federal officials to supervise the conduct of elections all across the country, they nearly always managed to kill it…By the early 20th century, most Republicans had essentially given up the battle to secure the right to vote that the 15th Amendment had guaranteed to black men—a right that the Democrats, who ruled every Southern state, had gradually stripped away from them.

The effort to maintain the South’s obsession with segregation and white supremacy has always carried with it the threat of violence. And it has – far more often than we’d like to think – overflowed into literal, mass violence, including over 4,000 lynchings and countless massacres of Native, Latino and Chinese Americans.

I’m writing this on the hundredth anniversary of the Tulsa / Black Wall Street massacre. Joe Biden has just spoken eloquently about remembering history. What he didn’t mention, however, is that Tulsa, even if it was the worst, was part of a very widespread pattern. In the sixty years between 1863 and 1923, there were nearly two dozen events in which white mobs killed large numbers of Black people and destroyed their accumulated wealth. Here is a searchable database of these massacres.

Epistemic traumas are the psychic/emotional consequences; long-term losses of equity comprise the physical/economic after-effects. Manuel Canales and Scott Elder have calculated the numbers for Tulsa alone:

The Black victims filed insurance claims, but the insurance companies cited riot clauses in their policies and rejected them all. The policyholders sued for damages: Total claimed losses of the 193 lawsuits were $1.8 million in 1921 dollars. Simply adjusted for inflation, that would equal $26,752,705 in today’s dollars. Had the claimed losses grown for 100 years at 6 percent compound interest, a benchmark for investment returns, the lost projected wealth would total $610,743,750—resources that could have been passed down to generations of descendants.

Two of the worst massacres occurred only a year after the end of the Civil War, in Memphis and New Orleans.

Since then, there have been numerous large scale “race riots”, mostly in midwestern and northern cities, all of which, until the urban uprisings that began in the 1960s, were White-on-Black violence. All of these events resulted in far more deaths and injuries to Blacks than to whites, and the massive economic losses they incurred have had long-term impact on the fact that today White families have ten times the assets as Black families, even when they make the same salaries.

These events followed a much older pattern. There were at least 46 White-on-Black massacres in Northern cities, including New Haven, Cincinnati (3 times), Philadelphia (twice), Providence (twice) and New York City between 1824 and 1841. Christy Clark-Pujara and Anna-Lisa Cox write,

There is a toxic myth that encourages white people in the North to see themselves as free from racism…White people in nearly every northern state before the Civil War adopted measures to prohibit or restrict equal rights and the further migration of Black people into their jurisdictions…

Once again, when we consider American violence and the related issue of gun control, the South has won most of the battles if not the war. Seventeenth century laws prevented slaves from ever possessing guns. Each white man, however, was required by law to own a gun and serve on the slave patrols, which later evolved into police departments. After independence, argues Carol Anderson, the Second Amendment was designed not so much to protect the right to bear arms as to keep them away from African Americans. Its writers didn’t trust federal control of their militias. So they crafted the language of the amendment to ensure that slave owners could quickly crush any slave rebellions without appealing to centralized authority.

By contrast, the right to bear arms, presumably guaranteed to all citizens, has been repeatedly denied to Black people, both slaves and freemen, from 1800 to the experience of the Black Panthers in the 1960s (when the NRA briefly supported gun control) to the present.

…the second a Black person exercises this right, the second they pick up a gun to protect themselves (or the second that they don’t), their life – as surely as Philando Castile’s, Tamir Rice’s, Alton Sterling’s – may be snatched away in that single, fatal second.

Read Part Five here.

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Barry’s Blog # 368: Deconstructing a Gatekeeper, Part Three of Three

If the Nuremberg laws were applied, then every post-war American president would have been hanged. – Noam Chomsky

That’s a provocative quote, and it has serious implications. Is Chomsky being literal? If we take it at face value – culpability in the bombing of over forty sovereign nations since the end of World War Two, murder and torture of literally millions of civilians and indigenous people, CIA drug running and assassinations, environmental destruction and global warming – then anyone in government, military or corporate capitalism who knowingly took part in such activities shares the responsibility. And the storytellers, anyone of influence in education, religion, the history profession and especially “journalism” – who abetted such activities by subtly justifying them is also responsible.

Knowing that I write about how fear of the Other is a major theme in American myth and politics, a friend recommends another of Brooks’ NYT articles: “On Conquering Fear”. It references the Passover prayer book (the Haggadah) and offers “subtler strategies and techniques to conquer fear.”

Brooks tells us that in the Moses story, Hebrew married couples were immobilized by fear of Egypt’s Pharaoh. But by “challeng(ing) each other to see beauty in the other,” they “began to sense unexpected possibilities.” Once people started speaking to each other and telling stories to each other, they generated alternate worlds. Storytelling became central to conquering fear. A story isn’t an argument or a collection of data, he says. It contains multiple meanings that can be discussed, questioned and reinterpreted (and that’s exactly how we need to respond to Brooks).

Later, at the critical point when the Israelites face the crossing of the Dead Sea, they begin to sing – not in celebration, but to overcome their fear. Their “climactic break from bondage is thus done in a mood of enchantment.” So “the sophisticated psychology of Exodus” teaches that it is sometimes wise to confront fear “obliquely and happily, through sexiness, storytelling and song.”

I sincerely praise Brooks for a fine article. In this age of heightened – and manipulated – fear, we could all appreciate this message. Perhaps the only way to transcend the paranoid imagination is by turning toward the creative imagination through art and ritual.

But we can’t consider what this article says without acknowledging what it doesn’t say. This is my responsibility as a mythologist to you as the reader. Then it becomes your responsibility to think mythologically, to train yourself to identify the subtle ways in which media gatekeepers continuously manipulate our dominant narratives to revive the myth of innocence. So let me unpack it, if you don’t mind.

First of all, consider the massive irony that an article about facing fear was penned by a persuasive media giant who has supported all of the American empire’s military adventures with all the usual fear mongering and has written countless other articles that have helped to ratchet up the level of fear in the culture. The media watchers FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting) include Brooks in their list of “Highly Placed Media Racists.” Why? Because his “reasoned, moderate” essays often reference outright, unreconstructed bigots.

If his article has any wisdom to offer, remember the old joke that even a broken clock is right twice a day. Now let’s look at the text of the article, which constantly refers to the myth (remember that there is no actual archeological record for it) of the Exodus. I offer two points to consider:

One: the people in his story who experience fear are the Israelites, not the Egyptians. Stories of Jewish fear are familiar to us, quite justified from Roman to medieval persecutions to the Holocaust, all the way to the current moment when antisemitic (as well as anti-Asian) crimes are peaking once again.

However, the article, published during the debate about Iranian nuclear weapons (a debate that never mentioned Iranian fear of Israel’s nukes) subtly reinforces the dominant media theme of Israelis and their constant fear of Arabs, especially Palestinians. Yes, I know that Egypt and Saudi Arabia are currently Israel’s allies, and Iranians are not Arabs. But we are talking about images, not objective truth. We’re talking about narratives that, like almost all foreign policy issues, are constructed for domestic consumption, not for Iranian diplomats, but for fundamentalist voters in Red states and Jewish donors in blue states.

I’m not nitpicking here. This toxic narrative is a constant in our media, and it completely inverts reality. What is reality? The actual, overwhelming fear of Israeli violence that all Palestinians experience, every single day of their lives. It’s an ongoing form of bone-crushing, cumulative, epigenetic trauma that in our society can only be compared to the similar anxiety felt by all Black men driving cars who encounter the police.

Let’s be clear about this. Inverting reality is one of Brooks’ primary functions as a gatekeeper. Can you imagine him telling a story with the same “anti-fear” theme, but with Palestinians as the subjects?

And, before I’m accused of being a self-hating Jew, let me remind you that this is not really about Israel. It’s about Israel’s function as a surrogate for an American foreign policy that has remained remarkably consistent for fifty years, regardless of who has been President. And it’s about mythic narratives, including the remarkable similarity between the myth of American innocence and the myth of Israeli Innocence.

My second point repeats one of the primary themes of my book. The grand tale of American exceptionalism — that America is the one nation divinely ordained to bring freedom and opportunity to the rest of the world — was originally born in Biblical terms. The seventeenth century myth likened the Pilgrims to the Israelites. The English Church and Crown represented Pharaoh and the Native Americans became the Philistines (which, by the way, is the Arabic word that modern Palestinians use to describe themselves: Philistina). Fear of those Native Americans, whether real or constructed, became the most basic factor in the American story.

In this manner America offered its original sin and contradiction to the imagination of the world. Our tales of liberation were bound up from the start with the original Hebrew invasion of Palestine.

The quest for liberation from fear justified that Biblical conquest and served as the template for Euro-American colonial aggression. In the “either-or” context of monotheistic narratives, it is a simple series of steps from difference to slavery to fear to escape to journey (a journey that has no initiatory significance) to arrival (rather than homecoming). But the steps continue: to invasion to conquest to colonialism to exclusion to ghettoization and eventually and inevitably to genocide.

In the process, some victims of history become perpetrators of the same crimes that had been done earlier to them, passing on the trauma to other people and the guilt to their own children. God commands and the invaders obey. Or do invaders create new myths to justify their crimes? Just what do you suppose happened to the indigenous population of Jericho once “the walls came a-tumbling down?” The Israelites, so recently liberated from slavery themselves, proudly tell us:

And we captured all his cities at that time and devoted to destruction every city, men, women, and children. We left no survivors. (Deuteronomy 2:34)

Is this myth? Ancient history? Irrelevant? I re-post this essay about a week after hundreds of extremist Israeli Jews, egged on by Benjamin Netanyahu, marched through Jerusalem shouting “Death to Arabs!”, attacking and wounding over 100 Palestinians. And speaking of gatekeepers, note how CBS chose to report the event: “Officers injured, 40 arrested in Jerusalem as hardline Jewish group and Palestinians clash with police during Ramadan.”

This religious rationalization of genocidal violence, the narrative of the Israelite conquest of the Holy Land, written at least a thousand years before the advent of Islam, became the ideology behind the crusades, colonialism, the invasion of the Americas and all of the subsequent wars of American history. Ironically, the 1948 conquest of Palestine took much of its energy from American “manifest destiny,” which, as I have shown, was itself modeled upon the Israelite conquest of the Philistinas.

But Brooks tells us that the Israelites feared Pharaoh. Again, we have to focus on what he doesn’t say: how sometimes we come to identify with our own oppressors, how the victims of Nazi barbarism became barbarians themselves. In Auschwitz and other death camps, the SS recruited many Jews as overseers who brutally controlled behavior among the prisoner population – until they themselves were sent to the crematoria. They were called “kapos,” a term that David Friedman, Trumpus’ ambassador to Israel, used to insult American Jews who dare to criticize this nation’s long-term, massively expensive ($3 billion / year) support of Israeli apartheid.

Am I nitpicking to remind you that Brooks neglects to mention that centuries after the Children of Israel escaped destruction by Pharaoh (and slaughtered the population of Jericho), their descendants would kill exactly 504 Children of Gaza through aerial bombardment in the summer of 2014? Or that, when they ran low on ammunition, Barack Obama quickly re-supplied them? Or that eight months later, not one of the 9,000 houses completely destroyed in that attack had been reconstructed?

I know, I know. Why focus on the negative? Of course, there’s no need to bring this dark stuff up in the context of a truly uplifting story. But do we have the privilege not to do so? The mandate of Depth psychology is clear: we must become conscious of the fullness of reality, both the awe and the terror. It tells us that the victims of history cannot conquer fear simply by singing or by projecting its source onto other victims.

Either we all face our fear or none of us can.

Brooks continues: “Eventually, the Israelites are able to cope with fear. This makes them capable of loving and being loved.” I say: May it be so. May we all take his advice. May Brooks take his own advice.

He concludes his article: by “challeng(ing) each other to see beauty in the other,” they “began to sense unexpected possibilities.” I say: We cannot truly see the beauty in each other unless we can see it in all the Others of the world. I say: May we all realize that our fear of the Other mirrors our fear of recognizing our deepest selves. May our collective, creative imagination make art out of our fear and our grief.

Hafiz says:

Fear is the cheapest room in the house. I’d like to see you in better living conditions.

Antonio Machado says:

What was your word, Jesus?

Love? Forgiveness? Affection?

All your words were one word: Wakeup.

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Barry’s Blog # 367: We Contain Multitudes, Part Three of Three

The Curious Case of Lee Atwater

Perception is reality – Lee Atwater

Born in South Carolina in 1951, Atwater was one of the most complicated and influential personalities of the 20th century. He redefined the role of the reactionary political operative, enlarging upon Richard Nixon’s “Southern strategy.” His “dirty tricks,” racially charged tactics and magnification of emotional wedge issues such as abortion and crime helped Republicans win over disaffected white working-class voters to a largely pro-business agenda and away from the New Deal priorities of the Democrats. A friend of Atwater’s – a friend – observed, “Resentment became the future of the Republican Party.”

Without him, there might not have been a Ronald Reagan Presidency, and certainly no Bush (I or II), nor few of the horrors of the past thirty years: no war on terror, no war on drugs, no mass incarceration, no destruction of Welfare, no destruction of the tax laws, no mass voter suppression and no Trumpus.

Atwater was assistant campaign manager in Reagan’s 1984 re-election. That Ronald Reagan, the man about whom James Baldwin said, “What I really found unspeakable about the man was his contempt, his brutal contempt, for the poor.” By 1988 Atwater was George H.W. Bush’s campaign manager, and he created the reprehensible “Willie Horton” attack ad that portrayed Michael Dukakis as soft on crime and a friend to rapists and murderers. After the election, Atwater rose to become chairman of the Republican National Committee.

He was not only a brilliant, evil genius who faithfully served three Presidents. He was also a vicious infighter among his own peers, about whom he said, “There’s always a bunch of guys trying to outsmart you, to stick it to you. Your job is to stick it to them first.”How nasty was this bastard? Working for Reagan in 1981, he admitted:

Y’all don’t quote me on this. You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger”. By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I’m not saying that. But I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me—because obviously sitting around saying, “We want to cut this”, is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger”. So, any way you look at it, race is coming on the back-burner.

Atwater, despite never having run for office, was perhaps the person most responsible for shifting the country’s priorities toward a reactionary stance in which we could well ask – as I writeDid the South Win the Civil War? The man was a political thug who, in a time when America was beginning to welcome all the “Others” into the family, helped resurrect the most hateful and hurtful aspects of our national psyche. But now this story starts to get downright weird.

In 1989, still RNC chairman, Atwater was appointed to the Board of Trustees of historically black Howard University. But students rose up in protest and disrupted its 122nd anniversary celebrations, forcing him to resign. The next year, sick with a brain tumor and apparently seeking redemption, he claimed to have converted to Catholicism and very publicly apologized to several people whom his tactics had hurt, including Dukakis. In 1991, the dying Atwater wrote in Life Magazine:

My illness helped me to see that what was missing in society is what was missing in me: a little heart, a lot of brotherhood. The 1980s were about acquiring – acquiring wealth, power, prestige. I know. I acquired more wealth, power, and prestige than most. But you can acquire all you want and still feel empty…It took a deadly illness to put me eye to eye with that truth, but it is a truth that the country, caught up in its ruthless ambitions and moral decay, can learn on my dime. I don’t know who will lead us through the ’90s, but they must be made to speak to this spiritual vacuum at the heart of American society, this tumor of the soul.

An odd and heartwarming story, right? Well, it gets stranger. As a teenager Atwater played in rock bands. He was good enough to briefly play backup guitar for visiting soul singers such as Percy Sledge and Marvin Gaye. Years later, even at the height of his political power, he often played concerts, solo or – are you ready? – with B.B. King. In 1988 he and other Republican politicians opened a barbecue and music restaurant, Red Hot and Blue, in Washington.

Lee Atwater was a Blues cat.

In 1989 he produced an inaugural concert for Bush the elder, clowning onstage along with him and many Black performers. Ben Sisario writes:

Atwater’s reputation preceded him with some of the musicians he pursued, but playing for a president is a hard gig to turn down…(Koko) Taylor’s manager recalled bringing the offer to his client. “I went to Koko and said, ‘These awful people who I hate and think are a bunch of racists want you to come and perform at an inaugural ball.” And she said, ‘I want to play for a president.”  As the guitarist Joe Louis Walker put it, “It’s an honor for the blues to go all the way from the outhouse to the White House, no matter who the president is.”

Recalling the event, several of the musicians said they were paid well and treated with respect. Still, there were odd moments. Willie Dixon wore a “Jesse Jackson for President” button. The music scholar Peter Guralnick wrote in an essay for the DVD of seeing musicians backstage, “…each wearing an expression of incredulity on his or her face that as much as said, What are you doing here?”

In 1990 Atwater released a Blues album featuring him playing with Carla Thomas, Isaac Hayes, Sam Moore, Chuck Jackson, and King. What the Hell is going on here? Professor and author Jelani Cobb, who was one of those students protesting at Howard University in 1989, writes:

Atwater was exemplary of a nuance in Southern politics, that people can be virulent race-baiters and still have an intimate familiarity with black and shared Southern culture, that those things are not at all contradictory.

Rock critic Dave Marsh was more direct: “Even if (Atwater was a great performer), the presence of the Republican Party chairman on the recording scene would be toxic.”

Hayes (ironically predicting the Blues Foundation’s 2021 response to Morganfield) responded,

First of all, music should be for all people…It should be free. No one should put a tag on music and say who’s to like what. If it suits your fancy, you embrace it, and that’s what that little boy from South Carolina did. I don’t see it having anything to do with party affiliation.

Hayes was being kind, with the capacity for forgiveness that perhaps only African Americans can achieve. Jackson actually insists that he and Atwater were close friends. But I’m not that kind. I’m left with the fact that Atwater deeply loved Black culture, and probably Black people, but was willing to support politicians and policies that contributed quite directly to the suffering and deaths of millions of those people.

So – We all contain multitudes, don’t we? It gets weirder still. One of the essential, even archetypally American characters residing among those multitudes is the con man, about whom I write here. If there is one thing we can say about Lee Atwater that might – weirdly – give some insight into his (and perhaps our) character, it is that almost every Republican interviewed in the ironically titled 2008 documentary Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story comments on the man’s sheer cynicism.

According to these people, he really didn’t believe in any of his hateful rhetoric. He probably didn’t even believe that he was a racist; only that absolutely anyone or any group could and should be used for his personal aggrandizement. One long-time friend even says that he could just as well have been a Democrat. All he cared for was proximity to power. Ed Rollins, another GOP operative and all-round horrible person, says of Atwater: “Those were the eyes of a killer.”

Remember his dying conversion and very public apologies? In the film, Rollins admits:

Atwater was telling this story about how a Living Bible was what was giving him faith and I said to Mary [Matalin], “I really, sincerely hope that he found peace”.

Matalin is another person carrying a mountain of contradictions. The lifelong reactionary operative who is married to Democratic consultant James Carville responded,

“Ed, when we were cleaning up his things afterwards, the Bible was still wrapped in the cellophane and had never been taken out of the package”, which just told you everything there was. He was spinning right to the end.

Let’s not miss the bigger picture. Are people like Atwater, Matalin and Carville too big a bunch of contradictions to wrap our minds around? Sorry, we don’t get that luxury this time around. Atwater and all the rest of the racist white Blues cats – and all the millions of us white folks who refuse to understand, let alone admit, let alone do something about our privilege – are Americans. Atwater stands in for us all. Yes, his hypocrisy was more extreme, but, as I’ve argued about Donald Trump – Trumpus – he is us. Our work is to understand this basic American story, and to work to reframe it. I conclude my book pondering about it:

Shared suffering is the great gift otherness offers us. We would realize that if we suffered together in a ritual container, democracy would invite a higher (in Christian terms, the Holy Spirit) or deeper (in pagan terms, the spirit of the land) intelligence that could resolve conflict. We would realize that an appropriate metaphor has already arisen out of this land: the spirit of Jazz improvisation. Here is Wynton Marsalis: “… to play Jazz, you’ve got to listen (to each other). The music forces you at all times to address what other people are thinking, and for you to interact with them with empathy…it gives us a glimpse into what America is going to be when it becomes itself.”

Our work is to look into our darkness, identify these multitudes, welcome them, and, as Fred LaMotte writes:

Don’t pretend that earth is not one family.
Don’t pretend we never hung from the same branch.
Don’t pretend we don’t ripen on each other’s breath.
Don’t pretend we didn’t come here to forgive.

Thanks for reading. You might like two other essays of mine on music:

Driving Dixie Down

Evolution of a Song

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Barry’s Blog # 366: We Contain Multitudes, Part Two of Three

We Are Multiple

The ultimate cliché: no one’s perfect. We have a culture of celebrity because our modern, literalistic religious imagination will not enable us to access the old Pagan deities, who in their particular ways were perfect. Now, we have (in Caroline Casey’s words) only the “toxic mimic” of that imagination, which once enabled us to make images that reflected our own innate possibilities. So if we want some view of those possibilities we have little choice but to raise up and celebrate an infinite procession of movie stars, pop musicians, athletes and the occasional politician to the level of demi-god.

But this involves the psychological process of projection; we almost literally project a part of ourselves onto these people (or in reality, onto images of these people). We give part of ourselves away to them, and at some point, we need to take those parts back.

When we inevitably discover that our heroes are limited, imperfect or even fraudulent (the list of male celebrities, preachers, gurus and politicians accused of sexual harassment alone is infinite), we react with the disappointed innocence of children. Or we double down, refuse to admit the obvious and defend the hill of lies we’ve created, rather than allowing ourselves to experience the pain of disillusionment. It’s complicated: should Al Franken have resigned from the Senate because of old harassment accusations? Wouldn’t an apology have been sufficient? But most of us find new celebrities to project upon. Stir, cancel culture and repeat. It’s an endless, addictive cycle because it never satisfies the need that produced it.

This kind of disillusionment has its own potential. Taking back those projections, we may well discover that they are us – and welcome them back. Not “part of us” but “us.” But it is long and difficult work:

I am not a mechanism, an assembly of various sections.
and it is not because the mechanism is working wrongly, that I am ill.
I am ill because of wounds to the soul, to the deep emotional self,
and the wounds to the soul take a long, long time, only time can help
and patience, and a certain difficult repentance
long difficult repentance, realization of life’s mistake, and the freeing oneself from the endless repetition of the mistake which mankind at large has chosen to sanctify. — D. H. Lawrence

And it may require re-assessing our modern notions of the Self.

I am not I. I am this one
walking beside me whom I do not see,
whom at times I manage to visit,
and whom at other times I forget;
the one who remains silent while I talk,
the one who forgives, sweet, when I hate,
the one who takes a walk when I am indoors,
the one who will remain standing when I die. — Juan Ramon Jimenez

Do we all contain multitudes? Or is it more accurate to say that we are composed of multitudes? For most of its existence since Freud, therapeutic Psychology has been dominated by “Ego Psychology.” Its various permutations use a theoretical and convenient construct called the ego to explain how we make rational decisions to interact with the world. The ego gives identity and is essential for mental health. The goal of psychotherapy is to strengthen and empower the ego so it can function well in society – regardless of the moral quality of that society – to, in Freud’s phrase, “love and work.”

In the 1960s James Hillman formulated Archetypal Psychology as a criticism of Ego Psychology, which includes Jung’s idea of individuation, much of what passes for “Depth Psychology,” and all notions of “self-realization.” The idea of one dominant psychic factor reflects the monotheistic tradition of the western world, with its colonial domination of traditional cultures. Other “mono-words” share the brittleness of one correct way: monopoly, monogamy, monolithic, monarchy, monotonous, monoculture.

Exclusive focus on the practical concerns of the ego fits well in particular with the radical individualism of American culture that has led to a world of constant warfare, environmental degradation, the culture of celebrity, the “Me Generation,” a historical procession of con men, narcissistic politicians, ideas that corporations are people, and a consensus valuation of the needs of the individual over the society.

In psychotherapy, this leads to what Hillman called the “therapeutic culture,” the first assumption of which is that emotional maturity entails a progressive differentiation of self from others, especially family. He argued that American psychology had come to mirror its economics: the heroic, isolated, libertarian ego in a hostile world who looks out only for himself. In our myths, he rises and succeeds entirely on his own merits:

Do you see the complete harmony between central dictatorship, fascism, political callousness, and the self-centeredness of the spiritual point of view?…Economics is our contemporary theology, regardless of how we spend Sunday.

Exclusive focus on the ego, the self (“big” self or “lesser” self), or the light, or any of the ways in which we consciously identify (white, rational, progressive, or even compassionate or peace-loving) as individual or as a national group – each of them – inevitably constellates a shadow voice, often one that would disappear into the selflessness of extreme conformism:

…the idea of surrendering to the fascist mob is the result of the separated self. It’s the old Apollonian ego, aloof and clear, panicked by the Dionysian flow.”

It is also reflects our American form of Protestant religiosity which buttresses the notion that if we fail, it is entirely our own fault, not that of social forces greater than ourselves.

Hillman offered another model, claiming that in polytheistic societies like Ancient Greece, religion reflected the understanding that the soul is inherently multiple. Only a polytheistic psychology takes this into account. Personality is a drama in which “I” participate but may not even be the main character:

I like to imagine a person’s psyche to be like a boardinghouse full of characters. The ones who show up regularly and who habitually follow the house rules may not have met other long-term residents who stay behind closed doors, or who only appear at night. An adequate theory of character must make room for character actors, for the stuntmen and animal handlers, for all the figures who play bit parts and produce unexpected acts.

So to him even the whole range of self-help books with titles such as Gods in Everyman, Goddesses in Every Woman, Awakening the Heroes Within, Healing the Inner Child, Discovering the Inner Mother, Dethroning Your Inner Critic, The Inner Self, The Giant Within, The Therapist Within, etc, though often quite valuable, still represent a “colonialism of the ego” that is entirely analogous to any centralized political power. To Hillman, that ego does not “have” images:

Images are not in the psyche as in a container but are the psyche. In other words, images mirror the psyche just as it is – as constantly imagining.

And those images inevitably demand to be recognized. For a thorough look at the theme of “the return of the repressed”, see Chapter Four of my book. As Jungian Marie-Louise Von Franz wrote, “Nothing in the human psyche is more destructive than unrealized, unconscious creative impulses.” Exactly that happened during the period we know as “the sixties”, which produced a long overdue explosion of under-valued or repressed experiences, value systems and identities (often quite justifiably angry) and led to new emphasis on diversity as opposed to the flattening effect of the old image of a “melting pot.”  

In the 1980s the controversial idea of multiple or “split” personalities, or “Dissociative Identity Disorder” received much publicity (we recall that “person” and “personality” derive from “persona,” the mask in Greek Tragedy). Researchers claimed that 90% of people diagnosed with DID were victims of childhood trauma (affecting, they claim, 1.5% of the population), and that it is a response to unbearable life conditions. But their broader perspective is ego psychology; the condition is a “disorder” in which what should be a strong ego has been damaged. Hillman, by contrast, saw pathology itself as a road to the soul.

Is multiplicity a disorder, or is it something natural? Many psychological schools have emerged that acknowledged the multiple nature of the soul, as well as the idea that psychopathology does not reside in the individual, but rather in a disturbed system of family relations. These include Family Systems Theory and Parts Psychology. Ecopsychology goes even further, suggesting that much of our distress stems from our modern loss of connection with the other parts of ourselves (in the broader sense) – the natural world.

Most recently, Your Symphony of Selves: Discover and Understand More of Who We Are, by James Fadiman and Jordan Gruber, summarizes the research and celebrates our multiplicity. They go so far as to argue that

We are multitudes, and the sooner we get comfortable with this realization, the sooner we can get on with the business of forgiving ourselves – that “long difficult repentance” – and others, with all their inconsistencies and contradictions. And this offers the added possibility of welcoming and encouraging others to express the better angels of their natures.

Rumi writes:

This being human is a guest house.

Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,

Some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!

Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,

Who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture,

Still, treat each guest honorably –  

He may be clearing you out for some new delight.

The dark thought, the sham, the malice,

Meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,

because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.

But what about those racist white Blues cats? Read Part Three here.

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Barry’s Blog # 365: We Contain Multitudes, Part One of Three

Part One: Racist White Blues Cats

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then, I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.) – Walt Whitman

I’m a lifelong fan of African American music, especially Blues, and I’ve written about the subject extensively in Chapter Eleven of my book, as well as here, here, here, here, and here.

So I was surprised to learn about a recent decision by the Blues Foundation to rescind Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s 2021 Blues Music Awards nomination for best blues/rock artist. But I was stunned to discover the reason: apparently Shepherd had portrayed the Confederate flag on his car and guitars. A Blues cat displaying something that any African American (and most Euro-Americans) would instantly recognize as a symbol of racial hatred and multi-generational suffering?

It gets stranger. Had the board of directors independently determined the inappropriateness of nominating this guy for an award (less than two weeks after a Confederate flag-carrying mob attacked the Capitol building)? Why, no. It took a long social media post by Mercy Morganfield, daughter of – yes – McKinley Morganfield, otherwise known as Muddy Waters, to get their attention. Her post – “The Way My Daddy Looks At a White Man Winning a Blues Foundation Music Award While Waving A F*****g Confederate Flag” – was a masterpiece of righteous polemic, part of which I quote:

My daddy did it (played Blues) because he had no choice. He was born in the early twentieth century when a blk man could become strange fruit in the blink of an eye…(his) greatest rebellion was refusing to return to Mississippi to perform…What is y’all’s excuse? Why haven’t y’all descended on the Blues Foundation in droves and demand they rescind that award to that motherfucking racist?…It was born in bondage. In the southernmost part of the Mississippi delta. Where a confederate flag represented the very bondage it was born into and the very men who would gladly have hanged McKinley Morganfield from a tree if he was in their town after sundown…Now, you give a blues award to a man who feels the need to decorate his fucking car with a Confederate Flag? That’s a brand new kind of stupid…If one of the whitest institutions in American history, NASCAR, can ban the Confederate Flag, Blues Foundation, why can’t you?

The Foundation initially responded, “We are not a political organization” before public pressure forced them to do the right thing. Shepherd issued an apology with the lame explanation that the car is a replica copy of the “General Lee,” (yes, that General Lee) featured in the favorite TV show of his childhood, “The Dukes of Hazzard.” Was the apology helpful? I doubt it. Not when the flag had been removed from toy versions of the car back in 2013.

THE DUKES OF HAZZARD, Tom Wopat, John Schneider, 1979-1985. © CBS / Courtesy: Everett Collection

Well, I hadn’t been paying attention to this kind of stuff. But an internet search reveals that simply because they play Blues, white musicians are not always politically sympathetic to Black people. Several (Willie J Campbell, Jimmie Vaughan, Anson Funderburgh) are apparently Trump supporters. Then we have the case of Eric Clapton, who went full racist in a live 1976 concert (Notice the URL):

Do we have any foreigners in the audience tonight? If so, please put up your hands. Wogs I mean, I’m looking at you. Where are you? I’m sorry but some fucking wog…Arab grabbed my wife’s bum, you know?…this is what all the fucking foreigners and wogs over here are like, just disgusting, that’s just the truth, yeah…I think you should all just leave. Not just leave the hall, leave our country…I don’t want you here, in the room or in my country. Listen to me, man! I think we should vote for Enoch Powell…Stop Britain from becoming a black colony. Get the foreigners out. Get the wogs out. Get the coons out. Keep Britain white. I used to be into dope, now I’m into racism. It’s much heavier, man. fucking wogs, man. Fucking Saudis taking over London. Bastard wogs. Britain is becoming overcrowded and Enoch will stop it and send them all back. The black wogs and coons and Arabs and fucking Jamaicans…this is a white country, we don’t want any black wogs and coons living here. We need to make clear to them they are not welcome. England is for white people, man. We are a white country. I don’t want fucking wogs living next to me with their standards. This is Great Britain, a white country, what is happening to us, for fuck’s sake?…Throw the wogs out! Keep Britain white!

Clapton has repeatedly apologized over the years, blaming his heavy drug and alcohol addictions for his racist diatribes. In the old movie cliché, the “liquor made him do it,” or in Homeric terms, some god made him say those things. Such refusal to take full responsibility is, according to one Black writer, a form of “whitesplaining.”

These men are second and third-generation white Blues cats. Back in the first generation, they didn’t even bother with apologies. Greil Marcus writes that Jerry Lee Lewis,

…far more than Elvis, came to represent all the mythical strangeness of the redneck South: lynch-mob blood lust, populist frenzies, even incest.

Lewis also flew the Confederate flag, back when few fans even noticed, and freely used the N-word.

Lewis’ cousin is the televangelist Jimmy Swaggart, who (like many other TV preachers) suffered a series of scandals involving prostitutes in the 1980s and 90s. This may offer us a clue to their world. In Chapter Eleven of my book I write of Southern religion:

Throughout the Jim Crow era this spirit survived in the black church. Even though many of its members absorbed the conservative social values of their former masters, there was never any mind-body split in the practice of their religion, which some white churches copied. Southerners, both white and black, have been in this bind for generations, writes Michael Ventura. “A doctrine that denied the body, preached by a practice that excited the body, would eventually drive the body into fulfilling itself elsewhere.” The call-and-response chanting and rhythmic bodily movement typical of southern preachers absolutely contradict their moralistic sermons. This contributes to “the terrible tension that drives their unchecked paranoias.”

Only such a “terrible tension” can produce people who love Black culture but are willing to insulate themselves from the social realities that convert that tension into white supremacy, or that allow them to appropriate and profit from that same culture. We’ll return to this question, but let’s contemplate a related theme.

Muddy Waters is one of my culture heroes. But what of some of my intellectual heroes? Carl Jung, according to some of his detractors (and current Neo-Nazis), was at least a borderline anti-Semite, although he opposed the Nazis in World War Two. (At the same time, Ezra Pound supported Italian Fascism and was a proud anti-Semite.) A similar controversy swirls around the legacy of Joseph Campbell, the father of modern mythological studies.

Never mind all those mass killers like Columbus, slaveholders like Washington and Jefferson and Indian killers like Lincoln whose names are being stripped off public schools. Never mind “they were men of their times.” This is America: many socialists like Jack London were outspoken racists; feminist Margaret Sanger was a eugenicist. We could go on and on. According to filmmaker Ken Burns, “That’s what’s so endlessly fascinating about (Ernest) Hemingway, is that in the Whitmanesque sense, he contained multitudes.”

Read Part Two here.

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