Saturday, April 22, 2006

America, the compromised

I just finished this long comment over at Digby's place. I figured I would post it here since I might as well remember what I write. Besides, I wanted to post this picture anyway:

We seem to have a little glitch in our national psyche that won't go away. It isn't just southern anymore. The misadventure of the last five years has been run by a southern dominant political party, but its architects were elite, cosmopolitan intellectuals. This is an American problem and we are going to have to get rid of it if this country is going to survive.

I couldn't agree more. We are still paying the price for the Missouri Compromise and for the failed Reconstruction period after the Civil War. This is true for race relations, as Katrina and its aftermath amply prove, and, just as importantly, it is true for class relations.

I am not a Civil War historian, but I am from the South and lived in the South for a long time before coming to L.A. One thing I know about red states is that they are a model of colonialism and extraction, seeking to suck out the fruits of natural resources and human labor where they can.

If the most efficient means of labor/resource extraction means classifying a group of people as sub-human, then that is the obvious path. If that becomes socially or politically unacceptable, then other means become necessary. The South's loss in the civil war was as much a social conversion as it was a resource failure. In fact, it is a myth to think that the South lost because it did not have industry. The South lost because people gave up. If the average Southerner in 1864 really believed in slavery and that the slave-owner society was really helping the average citizen, then the South, in 1866 or 1867, would have resembled Iraq in 2006--there would have been widespread rebellion, uprising, guerilla war. This did not happen. Why? The answer if of course complicated, but, in part, it is because many, many white people were oppressed by the upper-class land owners. These whites, while having many more benefits than slaves, obviously, understood that the system was working against them. It was not their war to begin with. How else does one explain the huge desertion rates in the Southern army? (I know, I'm generalizing.)

To get back to my point, and perhaps yours, something changed during reconstruction. As soon as Blacks had "equal" status, they could become the boogeyman for Whites. White Elites exploited this to their full advantage and began to mythologize racism and the "Golden Age of the Old South" through groups such as the KKK --and the Southern Democrats.

The racist mythology allowed poor Whites and rich Whites to find a common ground at the beginning of the 20th century, and at the present. The Republican party, as everyone knows, constantly summons this racist mythology through hint and allusion by nominating racist judges on MLK's birthday, by avoiding speaking to the NAACP, through talk radio and TV pundits. And this is where it gets dangerous, as D. Dneiwert, among others in the blogosphere, points out. The racist myth is so pervasive, so easy to tap into, and so powerful (because its fallacies seem to explain so many things), that a word here, an image there, and our Mass Media has fed into and propagated a racist creed. It is a creed that is false, but powerful because it imbues the believer with power, with an impression of superiority, and this "superiority" crosses class lines, and that is the ultimate scam.

So it isn't just Southern (it never was, it was just more so), and it isn't just race. I have lived abroad, and I will say that America is one of the most racist places I know. Racsim is a huge, huge problem. That said, I feel that it is the ability of the myth, through racism, to elide over class issues that is causing us problems today. It isn't that the "South" has taken over; it is that the extractors, those adept at mining the land and its humans, have come into power. Their belief system in 1860, like now, was exploitation (of blacks and whites), elitism, and expansion. The extractors, now as then, are constantly seeking new territories and peoples at the lowest cost. It is their way of hiding the true cost of their (and our) wealth.

They know that the weath of the here and now almost always comes at the price of people and land. They just don't care.

Look at how the Republican leadership frolics in New York and L.A., supposedly speaking for the "common man", while, in reality, the red-states they represent are among the poorest regions of the country. Though to a lesser degree, Kansas and South Dakota are to America what Africa and South America are to the "developed" world.

This is the Brand America they have created; its purveyors are Fox News and Malkin and Bush. They are all racists, they are all elitists, and they just don't care. The only hope is not it some PC version of eliminating racism, but in re-forming the instutions that purvey the racism and exploitation of Americans, namely government, big business and the media.

Whoever the next president may be, the only real hope is in "demolishing" large swaths of the federal government, and by that, I don't mean getting rid of it, but re-doing it. The Republican party has infiltrated every nook and cranny of government and will hold on to those positions no matter what. The only way to get rid of them is to litterally re-invent the departments from the ground up, removing, where possible, the revolving doors, promoting career officers, etc. Re-organize is perhaps the best term, but there will need to be some creative destruction before the demons of the Republican party, which are overwhelmingly the demons of the Civil War and the Reconstruction, are sufficiently reduced, removed, or whatever.

I do not want to absolve the Democrats in this. They carry a huge blame historically in promoting racsim and exploitation, but, presently, they are simply a weak, rudderless party. The Republicans are, and they know it, up to something far more dangerous and corrupt. It will take an earnest Reconstruction of government to repair what the Repblicans have done and continue to do and to make progress in alleviating the burdens of our national demons.

[Update: I see that other people are working on a Grand Unified Theory, all inspired by Digby's musings.]