That’s What I Like About the South

71

by

Joseph D. O’Shaughnessy

It’s an old song title. Made famous, I think, by a singer and bandleader, Phil Harris, from the great radio days of the 1940s.

What do I like about the South? Well, it’s mostly historical and aspirational. That is to say, there are a few great models of behavior  and courage and manhood and real patriotism from the South, but there are too many failures of moral courage and intellectual curiosity and social complacency and intellectual honesty and independent thought. Of course, there are many fine people in the South. More than there were at one time, but also more of the wrong kind.

Some people who know me and my attitudes and lifestyle would probably be surprised to find that my paternal grandmother leads me back to an era in which my forbears likely owned slaves and fought for the Confederacy. And despite my shanty Irish pretensions, I am not unfamiliar with what many of the customs and traditions of those earlier eras meant. I saw it in some of the uncomfortable inner conflicts of my father.

Why do we bother to analyze and then criticize the South anyway? Why not critique the citizens of New York City or Cleveland or San Francisco? There are several reasons. First, Iowans do not identify themselves with Minnesotans or Coloradoans or Californians. People of most states do not lump themselves into a regional group the way that Southerners consider themselves part of the old Confederacy. And that is a major problem. 

Many Southerners see themselves as members of a regional group roughly defined by the geographic area that encompasses what was at one time the Confederate states. While they often strive for the pinnacle of culture morality and patriotism, they fall short. While viewing themselves through a lens that reads  “Christian,” their collective judgments are often too bigoted or cruel or insensitive or inhumane to to be considered Christ-like. There is little difference between the morality of citizens of Minnesota and Alabama. The difference is that the citizens of Alabama mistakenly think that there is.

If one would be cultured, one would not tolerate bigots or racists. Bigots do not welcome advances in culture. They hide within their own comfort zones. There could never have been a Rembrandt or a Monet, let alone a Jackson Pollack in the South.

The South, as it is now constituted, wants to live within the comfort zone of its own well established cultural norms. No risk…no reward. Southerners know this rule well. It is not lack of knowledge. It is lack of moral courage. They do not have the will to break out of current vastly deflated Southern cultural values. There have always been White Supremacists in the South. But since the middle of the 20th Century, until now, they have always been the hidden stepchildren, the small, lunatic fringe.

So, if one would be moral, one would not attack, or allow others to attack, the simplest of digressions from social acceptability or sexual or gender preference. The rest of the U.S. is finally following the rest of the civilized world, and recognizes that homosexuality is a reality of life. Understanding this, the rest of America created laws to protect and accept LGBT citizens. Most states have created laws that allow for the differences that naturally occur among human beings.

But not the South. The Southern states, despite all medical and scientific evidence to the contrary, have decided that gays and lesbians should be discriminated against and refused marriage and other legal rights. Apparently this is for some perverse, delusory interpretation of the Old Testament, unique to the type of strange fictitious rites all too common in the rural South. The problem with this is that the Southern states have used the social and political wishes of a group of highly uneducated and unprofessional “preachers” to influence laws that actually require far more understanding that that required for parroting words from ancient myth.

We are approaching the middle of the 21st Century and most societies are progressing to advanced levels of social interaction. The United States itself is making great strides in social behavior, moving toward new policies in education, social welfare, technology, social interaction and–soon–artificial Intelligence. Other countries have long since passed us in every factor by which societies are measured,  education, medicine, science, infrastructure, transportation, and public safety. In all these categories, we are held back by the ignorance, gullibility and religious childishness or outright hypocrisy and hysteria of the citizens of one section of the county–the  old Confederate states.

The South has made the United States the laughing stock of the rest of he world. If we judge others by their intelligence rather than the number of garages they have on their houses, we should be concerned that people who now move here from abroad quickly pass through universities while many rich Americans have apparently been paying up to hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy entrance to college for their children.

The South leads the way in worship of a kind of meaningless higher education practiced in this country. Colleges across the South hire semi-professional football players to attend their universities and pretend that these “scholar-athletes” actually receive an education. The fact is that they spend much of their time playing football or basketball and only about half ever receive a diploma.

The same thing happens elsewhere  but graduation rates are higher. And because the Southern states win the largest number of national and regional titles, they also are the leaders in expanding the “semi-professionalizing” of college sports further diluted the  educational standards at other universities.  In other states there is a constant agitation against this bastardization of higher education for profit, whereas in those same old Confederate states the process is glorified, not vilified, which makes it harder to abandon everywhere.

Since the days of Ronald Reagan, the South has been caught up in one big lie after another. The first lie was that lower taxes, abandonment of job protections  and lower wages would bring more prosperity. This meant that the less educated workers of the South could now have more  job opportunities because they had been persuaded by Republicans that working cheaper gave them job security.  They were made to believe that their standards of living would be similar to those in Massachusetts or Connecticut, even though their paychecks were lower by as much as 20 percent.

It wasn’t true. The fifteen-dollar-an-hour manufacturing wages for working at the auto assembly plant were of less value in a state where there was no Medicaid, no government assistance to gifted students, no health clinics for pregnant mothers and schools ranked variously from 41st worst to 50th worst. So the first lie–sell yourself at the cheapest hourly rate possible to the first person who will hire you–was wrong. Lower wages and lower taxes meant lower pay and less of everything.

Oh yes, there was good weather. At least there was when global climate change was not bringing down tornadoes or floods or wildfires on neighborhoods and homes and businesses and trailer parks. But lower wages eventually meant that the large global corporations, sponsored by the Republicans like George Bush and Dick Cheney Mitch McConnell would want their share. From you. They wanted higher car prices, and health care premiums, and tuition and food and gas prices. You weren’t saving any money down South. You were simply earning less.

Most Southerners didn’t “fall” for the Republican line about lower wages making Southerners more employable. The fact is that most Southerners thought of themselves as being employed because they would work cheaper than Northerners, and they were glad to stick it to their fellow citizens. So they really had nothing to complain about when they suddenly realized that thy did not have wages that they could live on.Or when the corporate management that moved the plant from Michigan to Arkansas suddenly decided to move it on to Mexico.

But they did complain. In 2016, when probably the most qualified person ever to run for President won 3 million more votes than the next best candidate. But–we now know–several state legislatures that we know of, and perhaps others that we don’t–decided to reduce Democratic voting rolls (not illegally but unfairly and arbitrarily.) They disqualified ten times the number of Democratic voters than the number of votes by which Donald Trump won in those states. Trump was right. The election was rigged. But it was stolen by his own political party and Russian Internet activists. The question remains. Did Trump know in advance that the election was being rigged in his favor?

In 2016, Trump came claimed that he, not the 79 straight months of effort by Barack Obama and the effort of a bi-partisan group of brilliant macro-economists, had lead to unemployment under 5 percent and the greatest productivity since the 1950s, even surpassing the Clinton years. Trump simply showed up and claimed credit for an economy he had nothing to do with at all.

But, by now,  years of Right Wing radio and Fox News had taken their toll on the citizens of the South. A large segment of the population simply ignored Trump’s immorality, his crudeness, his racism and his clear identification with the worst elements of society…big oil, coal, polluting energy corporations,  and health insurance. While Hillary Clinton proved herself to average and poor American citizens over and over again, Trump, the liar, adulterer, deadbeat, racist and Right Wing billionaire was voted in by huge majorities in Southern states.

Trump came into office, cut taxes on his super-rich pals, and  in the next year’s budget, planned an $800 billion cut to Medicare. Plainly and simply–if the South votes for Trump and the Republicans they will have gone beyond stupidity into complete imbecility. Southerners are about 3 times as likely to need Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security,  as Northerners. Trump makes no bones about his plans. His plan for American citizens is to continue to lie to them about making the rich richer while making the average family poorer and removing the entire social safety net…health care, retirement income, unemployment insurance, and any aid whatsoever to the poor from the public sphere.

If the South needs a hero, they should look beyond the liar and fake Populist Donald Trump. Trump is not complicated. He is, like so many before him, a Fascist. Today we can say “Neo-Fascist” or new Fascist. But he is not a true tough guy, like Mussolini, or Franco or a Communist Dictator like Stalin or Pol Pot. He’s a weak, lying, self-absorbed narcissist, a man who grew up rich, and has pampered himself every day of his life, discarding wives and friends and business associates and investors as soon has he ceases to want or need them around. He’s a coward who faked an injury to avoid serving his country when poor and Black kids were being hauled off to war to die in some swamp in Asia. He has absolute zero concern for the American people and on several occasions has said the South is made up of “slugs” and “morons.”

The South has at least one far, far better alternative. Senator Bernie Sanders has been saying–and proposing in Congress–the same things that Trump has proposed but has never done. In fact, Trump has put billionaires and corporate executives into his Cabinet to insure that policies benefiting the People do NOT get done.

The difference is that Sanders has not lied, but actually tried to pass legislation to help the Middle Class and the poor. For decades, he has fought against powerful corporations and their Republican allies in the House and Senate. Trump said that he would cut taxes on the Middle Class but he merely gave the Middle Class a token tax cut that will be discontinued, while he gave the rich and corporations a huge ongoing permanent tax cut that enriched them even further.Then he joined the Republicans in the House and Senate in a budget that cuts Medicare by $800 billion. Your Medicare is being cut. You should by out in the streets demonstrating. You paid for it with your payroll taxes. Trump basically turned your money over to billionaires.

If the South is ever going to make something of itself other than the last stop for cheap manufacturing before it heads to Mexico or China, then it must help the rest of the country elect a real Populist. In other words, the South must join the rest of the country in the 21st Century. First and foremost the South must end its attitude that Southern states are “Christian.” Trump is no model of any Christian man. And any television preacher who  supports him is no Christian. Hate groups don’t grow in Christian areas. Hate groups find themselves up against tough and fair and honest citizens in states that are truly “Christian.”

A man like Trump, who would separate immigrant children from their parents, or would would deprive children of food and medical are to give tax breaks to the rich is no “Christian.” Remember this. Christ was a Jew. It may be time finally to elect a Jew as President, if only in return for the thousands of Jewish names on the walls of  hospitals and libraries and schools where well-known Jewish philanthropy has donated to the rest of society.

So, I maintain that it is not only time for the South to end its deplorable racism and bigotry, but to help elect a Jew as President. Not just any Jew…but Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. It is time to realize that the Super rich in this country have bought up the Republican Party. Senator Mitch McConnell, long a mouthpiece for the Billionaires, has insured that no Republican candidate would veer from the message of lies carefully prepared by the paid propagandists who target the ignorant and the biased and the racists with messages that only increase their biases.

The Sanders message is meant for the South. Millions of citizens who need government, who need public services, including education, that taxpayers fund every day. Here, for example, are the poorest states in the country (beginning with the poorest.) Number 1 (50th or lowest income): West Virginia. Next poorest is (49th in income): Mississippi.  3rd poorest: Arkansas, 4th poorest: Louisiana, 5th poorest: New Mexico, 6th poorest: Alabama, 7th poorest: Kentucky, 8th poorest:Oklahoma, 9th poorest: South Carolina, 10th ;poorest: Tennessee, 11th poorest: Idaho, 12th poorest: Florida, 13th poorest: North Carolina, 14th poorest: Montana, 15th poorest: Missouri, 16th poorest: Ohio, 17th poorest:  Indiana, 18th poorest: Michigan, 19th poorest: Georgia, 20th poorest: Maine. Actually, Kansas and Maine are in a virtual tie for 20th, and while we find he governor of Maine disgusting, we cannot forget what the Koch brothers have done in their home state, Kansas, to bring it to the brink of bankruptcy.

All the poorest states have Republican governors and Republican legislatures, largely purchased by corporate and multi-billionaire campaign Pacs, that are often organized and funded in secret in accordance with the rules laid down by the corporate lawyers who now run the Supreme Court. Only since 2018 has the state of Michigan been freed of the Republican governor and the Republican state legislature that contributed to the very low income ranking of that state. Companies like Whirlpool and General Motors have been sending their jobs abroad , with the quiet encouragement of Governor Snyder, while he poisoned the water in Flint.

Of course, the difference between the people of Michigan, or Wisconsin or Pennsylvania for that matter, is that once they discovered that the governor of Michigan (and also in Wisconsin) the voters elected a Democrat. Did the former governor get off scot-free, without going to prison, after deliberately poisoning the citizens of Flint? Yes he did. But at least Michigan voters removed him from office and many of those in the state legislature who supported him.

But the voters of he South seem never to learn their lesson. Now the state legislatures in many southern states have created situations in which no woman, no matter how ill, or no matter how many children she already has, nor how violent her husband may have been, nor even in some cases no matter whether she became pregnant because of rape can get an abortion. This is a piece of legislation that is definitely against the best interests of women. Remember…legislation in favor of limited  abortion does not tell women, especially young women, to have abortions. It merely enables women to have an abortion if it is the only option.

The point, however, is not that abortion should be legal. The point is that women in the South are allowing men–often very chauvinist, highly anti-feminist men–to make their life decisions for them. It may seem socially easier or more traditional or even some distortion of Fundamentalist religion. But the reality is far simpler. Southern women are less educated, especially non-college-educated women. They fall into the trap set for them by Southern men…the idea that men are the stronger, the more dominant. They are the leaders, of the household, financially and otherwise. This is clear from southern politics, where there are far fewer women in state legislatures and even where they have some numbers, cannot stop overwhelmingly anti-feminine legislation.

Fake religion has devastated the South. The idea that some high school drop out who attended a few bible classes referred to as a seminary or a divinity school  can be referred to as a minister or a pastor is laughable. It takes about 72 hours to completely  analyze the entire New and Old Testament. Some very well-meaning people do not realize that they are following amateurs who are interpreting Christian principles merely through their own personal viewpoint. one of the ancient myths of a deity ..an offspring of a myth, Christianity. Christianity, let’s be honest, is only popular today because it was made official by a ruling of a Roman emperor in  Like most things declared official by Roman Emperors, it permeated life at all levels of the Roman Empire. Otherwise, it is no greater or lesser than any of the other myths of the world 2000 to 2500 years ago.

I’m not going to push hard for Bernie Sanders, although I know his policies and, despite what you hear from the billionaire-pandering Republicans, all his programs are very sound politically and fiscally. For example, here is how to think of his plan to provide free education. We are going to pay for it by asking the billionaires on Wall Street called ‘hedge fund managers” not to stop making billions but to now pay about 20-25% tax on those billions–on which they now pay no taxes at all.

The second way we can cover the costs of qualifying students–and remember, not every high school student qualifies automatically for universities–is to make all corporations pay some taxes. We can insure that all major corporations  pay  a minimum tax. Many corporations today have so many tax breaks that they pay no taxes at all, or worse, actually get money from the government.

Health care will be funded differently. We all have health care costs. Because is is a private, for-profit system, we now pay about $12,000 per year for health care. Under a new system, we will all pay about $7,000 per year. It will be paid for by taxes, but because it is a non-profit, government run system, a real health system, we will continue with our current doctors, hospitals, etc, but without the interference of private health insurers. That layer of cost–with no added value whatsoever–will be eliminated and those lobbyists sent home to take real jobs. The CEOs, now making an average of $15 million a year on the backs of the poor and middle class, will find jobs in real industries, not parasitic businesses, preying on American citizens.

The new, lower, 7,000 per year cost for health care will be paid in taxes spread across the entire spectrum of citizens in taxes. You will pay your taxes, just as you do now, but tax rates may go up by 5 percent. So if you now pay 20 percent, you will eventually pay 25 percent and so on. You won’t have a deduction from your payroll for health care and  corporations will not have tax deductions for health insurance. Taxes will go up slightly, as we said, about 5 percent, but you will have your doctor, your hospital and care beyond anything you would have imagined before Wherever you are in the country, whatever your financial situation, whatever your illness, you will have immediate access to health care. T

So, why do we discuss these things with reference to the Southern states? It is because the old Confederate states have elected politicians who reflect a bygone era, and while they are a slight minority across the country, they hold back progress. Education and health care are only two key issues. The South needs much more than help with improving SAT scores and the rates of infant mortality. The South needs re-education in science and advanced civilization. Southerners must learn that they are being bombarded with Right Wing misinformation from lobbyists and paid radio propaganda from corporations and independent Wall Street billionaires. They have combined with special interest groups like the NRA to perpetuate and use Southern ignorance of the truth to keep control of our federal government.

America will never move forward but will continue to move farther back in international rankings on all important aspects of daily life until the South accepts its responsibility to fight against intolerance and ignorance. Fox News, where the most popular evening television host is not an impartial person but actually appears in political rallies for one individual, one candidate, who is the current President, is not a reliable source. Worse, this television host supports a President and relays his messages exactly as the President delivers them. Innumerable sources have demonstrated without any ambiguity that the current President of the United States lies to the public on an almost daily basis. The South seems to accept these lies without question.

Southerners must become much more aggressive and discerning news analysts. They must read the headlines in the evening newspapers, especially major newspapers in major cities throughout the South where governments have enough people to tell newspaper editors that they must be relevant. Life in the United States is no longer what you hear your government telling you that it is. And state and local governments bear the runt of the problems on a daily basis. They can’t force Fox News or Sinclair media to tell the truth. But they can put pressure on city newspapers.

Thus, one can rely on the news in the NEW YORK TIMES or WASHINGTON POST or the NEW ORLEANS TIMES PICAYUNE or the MIAMI HERALD or DALLAS HERALD or the DENVER POST. Newspapers, plus the major news networks, like CBS, NBC and ABC ( and of course PBS) still report the truth, even though the President calls them “fake news” for reporting the truth and occasionally pointing out some of his more egregious lies.

Life will improve in the United States only when the Southern states join the rest of the country. For all the jokes in the South about life on the coasts, that life is coming to the south. And the South is not ready for it. If the South joins the rest of the world in science and technology and human interaction, it will thrive. If not, the South will sink further and further into a backwater of prejudice, ignorance, poverty and..eventually…despair. And when that happens, the rest of this glorious country will sink forever into a second-rate status while Europe and Asia make enormous strides at our expense.