After The Yankee North destroyed the South in the Civil War and assumed the dominant position in America, the first President following Lincoln was a Southerner named Andrew Johnson. He was born in the Tidewater, but raised in Appalachia so you could say he was not really from the Deep South, but he was certainly not a Yankee.
Regardless, the ruling majority hated him and never trusted him so they did everything to scuttle his presidency, even trying to remove him from office. When you hear Progressives talk about the worst presidents, they always include Johnson on the list, either by the transitive property through Nixon (Impeachment) or as a benchmark.
Johnson left office in 1869 and the next time a man of the South dominated the political culture of the nation was never. Benjamin Harrison was from Indiana, a state settled mostly by red necks from Appalachia, but Harrison was a proto-Progressive. Wilson, of course, was a man from the South, but no one in their right mind would consider him a man of the South. Most consider Wilson the model for modern Progressive politicians.
Wilson is an interesting topic for a lot of reasons, but for my purposes here his participation in the founding of The Presbyterian Church in the United States is instructive. Wilson went from being a Private Protestant to a Public Protestant, from a Cavalier to a Roundhead. His accent to the top of Progressive America was arguably the result of his conversion. Wilson was an inscrutable man and that is mostly due to him being a Yankee convert from the South.
Anyway, the point here is that American political and cultural life has been dominated by the northern regions, particularly the old Yankee region. The political culture that developed was explicitly exclusive of the defeated regions of the country. Instead, it was a battle between the more conservative midland culture on one side and the more activist Yankee culture on the other. German Protestants on the one hand and English Protestants on the other.
As the defeated parts of the country we brought back into the fold, the two warring halves of the political elite fought over the new constituencies. Similarly, as the frontier populations of the West emerged as states, the ruling elite battled to bring these cultures into their coalition. These coalitions have never been fixed as we saw with Grover Cleveland, Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson.
As times changed, the coalitions changed, but the organizing ethos has remained the same ever since the Reconstruction. One side is the Grover Cleveland wing and the other is the Teddy Roosevelt wing. They assemble electoral majorities from the scraps of the other regions of America. At one point the South was formally in the Democrat camp, but had no voice. Now they are in the Republican camp and have no voice.
From Reconstruction through the World War II, one wing used moral crusades to force the other side into going along with their proposals. Prohibition, for example, was mostly about the old Yankee scolds trying to reign in the Catholic immigrants. Women’s suffrage was a tool to expand the voter base of one side at the expense of the other. This dynamic has been with us for over 100 years. One side starts a revival and the other cleans up after it runs its course.
In mid-century, what we now call the Left landed on the ultimate moral cause – race. Instead of hustling votes with promises to give the Negroes free stuff, Progressives figured out how to make race a moral issue that can pry open other areas of American life to their meddling. More important, as a moral issue, it forced the other side of the ruling coalition into a partnership.
The most obvious example to see this is with public education. From the founding, this was a local issue. The race angle allowed Progressives to make it a national issue on moral grounds. Blacks were not getting a proper education because of racism so that meant a Federal takeover of the schools. Those who opposed them were immoral racists and therefore excluded from the debate.
This new weapon had the immediate effect of gutting American conservatism by taking freedom of association off the table. At its core, American conservatism has always been based on the idea that you have the right to be left alone. That can only be possible if you have the absolute right to associate or disassociate with whomever you please. Once racism became a mortal sin, freedom of association was lost.
The secondary impact was to permanently make “the south” morally inferior and therefore prohibited from joining the ruling elite. The sin of slavery and then segregation has forever stained the soul of every southerner and every conservative. In order for a man of the right to gain acceptance he has to grovel endlessly and abandon most of what it means to be a conservative. Racism as the highest sin made certain that The South could never rise again. At least that’s the theory.
The denouement of this historical cycle is coinciding with the unraveling of the ruling coalition. Part of it is the collision of the prevailing orthodoxy with biological reality. It turns out that all men are not equal after all. More importantly, diversity and proximity do not mix. Another part is demographics. The number of people without representation in the ruling elite outnumber the number of people with representation in it. There’s no avoiding mathematics.
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