It should come as no surprise that Americans in some states have filed petitions to secede from the union now that America’s first black president has won a second term. For decades, residents of former Confederate states have been chanting, “The South shall rise again!” It’s a nostalgic notion that gives them a nice, warm feeling, and it helps to soothe the sting of defeat.
Here in Central Florida, I sometimes run into people who refuse to forget the War Between the States. A close friend once jokingly remarked that she was 22 years old before she knew that “damn Yankee” was two words.
It’s the kind of tribalism that seems to come naturally to human beings. In its most virulent form, you get the savagery in places like the Sudan and the religious massacres in the Mideast. One of the benefits that civilization brings is the suppression of such primitive urges. But the underlying feeling persists, finding relatively harmless release in sports, fan clubs and politics.
We all tend to club together and shut out “the others.” It’s part of nature’s dark side, I guess.
But, from what I’ve heard and read, the Old South was not an example of benign tribalism. In spite of the romanticism evoked by “Gone with the Wind,” and those infectious Stephen Foster songs, the ugly truth is that the Southern states bred savagery of the most brutal kind. It was a society in which oppression and injustice were the norm and in which horrendous crimes were committed by racists consumed by irrational hatred.
Some decent Americans still cling to the romantic notion of an elegant southern culture and uncouth northern invaders, but they are a dying breed. Today’s southern separatists are more likely to be uneducated bumpkins, the kind with the Confederate flag in the rear window of their pick-up trucks and the shotgun on a rack behind the driver’s seat.
Political polls describe them (euphemistically) as white males who did not graduate from college. And they are not only southern; you will find racist bumpkins in the northern states, too (though admittedly in much smaller numbers). It’s interesting that the secession petitions come from states like Illinois and Indiana as well as Alabama and Arkansas. It suggests that the movement is powered not only by racism but also by the fact that Republicans are sore losers. However, I’m sure the only serious secessionists reside in Texas, Louisiana and the Old South.
Fortunately for America, the southern states are changing. Many young voters in the south came out for President Obama as they did across the nation. (In Virginia, for example, 61 percent of young voters chose Obama.) Young Americans – especially young American women – joined Hispanics, Asians and African Americans to send him back to the White House for four more years.
And these young Americans aren’t going to secede. They embrace the diverse America of the future.
It will take a little more time but the Old South will evolve along with the New America. In the meantime, a lot of aging, white men will mutter and grumble – and some will circulate petitions to secede.