Saturday, October 5, 2013

The Shutdown and the Dominance of the GOP by White Southerners: A Growing Meme

One of the important trends in analysis of the current situation of American democracy as the Republican party shuts down the federal government is to note how the strategy of resistance and destruction is rooted in the ideology of the old Confederacy. In an essay published yesterday in the Washington Post, Colbert King maintains that, via the tea party and its dominance in the GOP, a "new Confederacy" has picked up where the old one left off.

Joan Walsh established this meme in a powerful way several days ago in a Salon article I've already cited, which maintains the following:

On the day the Affordable Care Act takes effect, the U.S. government is shut down, and it may be permanently broken. You’ll read lots of explanations for the dysfunction, but the simple truth is this: It’s the culmination of 50 years of evolving yet consistent Republican strategy to depict government as the enemy, an oppressor that works primarily as the protector of and provider for African-Americans, to the detriment of everyone else. The fact that everything came apart under our first African-American president wasn’t an accident, it was probably inevitable.

As she notes in a subsequent article at Salon, she has taken grief from the angry right for making this statement. On Twitter and in the blogosphere, the angry race-baiting right is accusing Walsh of race-baiting for calling out their own race-baiting. And so I conclude, given what hornets she has stirred up and why they're stirred up, that her thesis in her previous article is right on target.

Corroboration for Walsh's thesis is to be found in a report just released by Democracy Corps, which compiles the results of focus group discussions the group sponsored with Republican voters. As Andrew Sullivan notes yesterday at his Dish site, the report provides solid evidence of "the primal scream now threatening to take down the entire American system of elective government" via the GOP.

Sullivan writes, 

The base Republican voters in these focus groups view themselves as besieged by minorities seeking free benefits, and see Obama as the Pied Piper of those hoping to abuse the system. They are not explicitly racist about the president or about the beneficiaries of the new goodies (though they had no such qualms during Bush's Medicare D entitlement). But they believe they are losing an America that a Roanoke [Virginia] evangelical describes like this: 
"Everybody is above average. Everybody is happy. Everybody is white. Everybody is middle class, whether or not they really are. Everybody looks that way. Everybody goes to the same pool. Everybody goes – there's one library, one post office. Very homogeneous."


More to the point, the bulk of these Republicans no longer believe in the Republican party. They identify more strongly with the Tea Party or Evangelical groups or Fox News than the GOP. On social issues, the defining issue is homosexuality – not abortion. That intransigence will alienate them them even further from the future mainstream. Their next big issue: denying climate change. Right now, I see no way to integrate these groups and people into the broader body politic or conversation. Their alienation is so deep it is close to unbridgeable. And further defeats will make their isolation worse, not better, their anger more, not less, intense.

As Robert Parry notes, the anger that is leading to what Sullivan calls the GOP's primal scream is fed very precisely by the loss of control that right-wing white men now feel due to significant demographic shifts in the nation. Parry thinks the media are asking the wrong question when they keep wondering what concessions the GOP wants in order to reopen government. The real question to be asked is what's really going on with the demand that the White House grant a group of thugs who are holding the government hostage any concessions at all: 

The real question is not what policy concessions the Tea Partiers may extract, but rather can a determined right-wing white minority ensure continuation of white supremacy in the United States?

As Parry suggests, for the base of the Republican party, which is increasingly confined to the bible belt of the Southeast with outlying centers in the Midwest and West, it's all about trying to secure a minority's control over the direction of the entire nation as that nation moves demographically beyond the complexion (in all ramifications of that word) of the minority itself: 

Instead of accepting the emergence of this more diverse and multi-cultural America, the Right – through the Tea Party-controlled Republicans – has decided to alter the constitutional framework of the United States to guarantee the perpetuation of white supremacy and the acceptance of right-wing policies. 
In effect, we are seeing the implementation of a principle enunciated by conservative thinker William F. Buckley in 1957: "The white community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas in which it does not predominate numerically." Except now the Buckley rule is being applied nationally.

And here's Ari Berman at The Nation

The GOP’s obsession with defunding Obamacare has caused them to shut down the government despite the public outcry.  Many factors play into the shutdown, but a leading cause is the fact the Republican Party is whiter, more Southern and more conservative than ever before.

Berman concludes:

After the 1994 elections, white Southern Republicans accounted for sixty-two members of the 230-member House GOP majority. Today, white Southern Republicans account for ninety-seven members out of the 233-member House GOP majority. That’s a pretty remarkable shift and one that is not likely to end any time soon. "In all but one election since 1976, the proportion of Southerners in the House Republican caucus has gone up," says Dave Wasserman of the Cook Political Report. 
Of the fifty-four members of the congressional Tea Party Caucus—which is most vociferously telling John Boehner not to compromise—33 are from Southern states. Of the eighty members of the so-called House GOP "suicide caucus”"who urged Boehner to defund Obamacare, “half of these districts are concentrated in the South,” writes Ryan Lizza of The New Yorker. As long as ultraconservative Southerners from lily-white districts hold the balance of power in the Congress, we shouldn’t be surprised that obstruction and dysfunction is the result.

And so we Americans are, as Bruce Wilson proposes in a Talk to Action essay, "at what may be an epochal bifurcation point." Here's how Wilson describes the objective of the minority that wants to assure its continued control over the majority, even as its demographic power wanes in the nation as a whole:

The objective would be to lock in Republican dominance of over 1/2 the states in the Union and preserve, even enhance, the political power of an aging, white-dominated, predominantly Christian conservative demographic for years to come. 
This would, in effect, shatter the Republic. 

This is, of course, what Frank Cocozzelli has been telling us for some time now to watch for in the neo-Confederate rhetoric of a leading Catholic agitator for the shattering of the Republic--Thomas Woods, who envisages the separation of a righteous minority from the rest of the Republic, one that would willingly seek to restructure American government as a theocracy (see here, here, here, and here). As Bruce Wilson notes, citing Frank's work on Woods, the latter has crafted a "theological underpinning" to justify the dissolution of the Union.

For my part, I'm glad to see this discussion emerging. For too long now, the mainstream media and many centrist political commentators have chosen to pussyfoot around the question of race and the central role that race-baiting has played in the movement of the Southern states to the Republican party following Nixon. The mainstream media and centrist commentators have massaged the myth of a "moderate" Republican party that can somehow pursue goals of fiscal conservatism while remaining aloof from the raw racism that energizes the base of that same party. Though the "moderate" party to which this myth points hasn't existed for decades anywhere in the U.S., as "moderates" like Mr. Boehner willingly follow the lead of extremists like Mr. Cruz and the base he represents--which is to say, the entire base of the GOP as it's presently configured--down the path to blithe destruction of the Union . . . .

Would these folks willingly blow up the whole nation to consolidate their control of said nation, as they become a shrill minority? Of course, they would. I can make that assertion with absolutely confidence, having lived through what their forebears did when legal segregation was abolished in the states they now dominate politically.

The Roanoke, Virginia, Republican cited in Democracy Corps's recent report on the GOP base speaks of the homogeneity of "everybody" in his community, where "everybody goes to the same pool." When I read that observation, what memories flooded back. In the city in which I grew up, Little Rock, there was one community swimming pool, as well as I can remember, up to the point of integration in the early 1960s. That one "community" pool served only white children.

When that pool was integrated by law, here's what happened: it simply shut down. For years, it stood as a big, ugly eyesore in the amusement park to which it was attached, which also shut down following integration. Both facilities shut down because white citizens of the city refused to permit their children to rub shoulders with black children in either the swimming pool or the amusement park.

At the same time, in communities across the South, white parents yanked their children out of public schools and set up private schools in which the racial mixing envisaged by the mandate to integrate the  schools would not take place. What was at the heart of this movement to shut down swimming pools and parks and to gut the base of support for public education across the South in the very same period in which white Southerners fled to the Republican party was a bitter, adamantine intent to destroy public institutions serving everyone if everyone now had a black face.

We preferred to torpedo it all, to tear it all up, rather than to share it with anyone whose complexion was darker than our own. We white Southerners preferred that. We've become quite skilled at torpedoing it all, at tearing it all up, and at acting out of racial animus even when we pretend that race isn't what we're really talking about as we engage in our politics of destruction.

Not much seems to have changed today, with the attack on Obamacare. Not much, except that the torpedoing and tearing up now have the active support of a lot of "moderate" Republicans, including, to their eternal shame, a strong component of Catholic ones like Mr. Boehner, who live outside the South and would love for us to imagine that their politics of destruction rides above anything as sordid as racism.

The people with whom the U.S. Catholic bishops and Mr. Boehner have been playing footsie for ever so long now, my people in the bible-belt South, do not have and have never really had any strong notion of the common good. It's not bred in our theological bones. When Christian groups outside the slave states began to look at slavery as a social sin requiring redemptive actions that see ssociety itself, and not only the individual heart, as the realm for redemption, we balked. We flat rebelled.

The gospel is about me, we replied. It's about me and Jesus. It's about warming my heart, not the heart of society. The social gospel is an abdication of the real gospel. Slavery a sin? Racism a sin? Where in the bible is any such thing written? Sin is about me and Jesus and our interpersonal contract.

Common good? What are you talking about? The world has been consigned by God to darkness after Eve sinned and Adam colluded in her sin, and the only way out of that darkness is the conversion of individual hearts. Any other way of understanding the bible is heresy. For our part, we and our households will serve the Lord and hold onto the real gospel, the old gospel preached to us by our fathers from time immemorial.

This is how we white Southern evangelicals talked during the period leading up to the Civil War, and it's how we continued to talk as movements like the movement for women's rights emerged in the latter part of the 19th century and continued in the early decades of the 20th century. It's how we talked when the movement to end segregation came along. It's how we choose to talk now when people ask questions about the sin of excluding and demeaning those who are gay.

What social sin? What common good? What bible are you talking about, when you invent those non-orthodox ideas about sin and salvation? 

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that these anti-social theological notions lie right beneath the surface of the ugly resistance to, well, just about everything necessary to the common good of a postmodern, increasingly diverse America in the 21st century. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to discover that these anti-social theological notions were largely developed by white Southern evangelicals as a specific response to the critique of slavery, and then of racial segregation.

What might take a rocket scientist to figure out is why people like the U.S. Catholic bishops and Catholics like John Boehner have chosen for so long now to pretend that they can make common cause with those holding these anti-social, anti-common good theological ideas, and call that cause a good cause. Because it's not good in the least: it's all about tearing things up to assure the control of the majority by an elite few.

Which is the antithesis of serving the common good in any theological book that makes much sense at all to me.

No comments: