How the Democrats paid dearly for doing what was right while the GOP profited from evil

Richard Nixon is as well known for his Southern Strategy as he is
for Watergate, the secret bombing of Cambodia, and the burglary of
Democratic Headquarters at Watergate. Nixon's Southern Strategy turned
a solid Democratic South into GOP occupied territory. It was not,
however, a simple appeal to bigotry that did it. It required the
Democrats do what was right while Nixon strategists plotted what was
wrong. They succeeded. GOP appeals to hatred and prejudice are
well-practiced by now.

Nevertheless, I am less appalled than surprised to find in the US a level of hatefulness that we dared hope had been laid to rest in the battlefields of the Civil War. In Monroe,
LA, for example, I found in the only large bookstore in town, a huge
section devoted to various Civil War books, most of which dealt with
how the South had been betrayed. Across town, just a stone's throw by
big city standards is the Civil War Cemetary, a more sobering reminder
of tragedy. Farther afield, down the road is Vicksburg, MS

where the forces of U. S. Grant had approached from the Mississippi River from Memphis only to learn that Vicksburg could never be taken by a direct assault. Grant's Vickburg seige came to symbolize the
ideological stand-off as well. Having grown up in the far reaches of Commanche country, I was not prepared to learn that, in the South, to this day, there is still found a lingering resentment that can only be felt by those who are occupied by a foreign power.

It was among the disaffected descendants of the Civil War south that the GOP found
manna, a strategy often falsely attributed to Kevin Phillips who was nevetheless its most articulate voice.

From now on, the Republicans are never going to get more than 10 to 20 percent of
the Negro vote and they don't need any more than that... but Republicans would be shortsighted if they weakened enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans. That's where the votes are. Without that prodding from the blacks, the whites will backslide into their old comfortable arrangement with the local Democrats. --Kevin Phillips
It must be remembered that this "Negro vote" had been the GOP's to lose. They were, after all, the party of Lincoln. To be fair to the South, it was the "Radical Republicans" --not Lincoln --who had imposed the harsh reconstruction that turned the South into occupied territory faring
little better than Iraq. The era of "reconstruction" is best known for the terrorist organization it spawned: the Ku Klux Klan.

It would be a mistake to ascribe to the North some mythical moral superiority although it is true that the economies of 11 states making up the Confederacy were dependent upon slavery to produce and harvest the crops, most famously, cotton. Slavery, to be sure, was illegal in the north but only a handful actively opposed it. Martin Scorsese probably got it right; Lincoln was probably as despised in New York as he had been in the deep south.

Not every division in America is traced directly to the civil war, though you will find, to this day,
many who will defend the institution of slavery. Others still resent
the harsh reconstruction. It was Nixon's evil genius that his campaign was able to overcome the natural resentment of his party's role in "reconstructing" the South. That the Democrats would pay dearly for having done the right thing may explain the party's timidity today.
Democrats have historically paid high prices for being or doing right. LBJ famously said that he was, in fact, forever ceding the South to the GOP.

A long story is, of necessity made short. The legacy of Nixon is that the GOP was able to benefit from George Wallace's politics of hate as well as from LBJ's signature on the Voting Rights
Act. How Nixon perfected the cynical, cold-blooded politics of division and prejudice is the story of how the the GOP would find votes wherever there was resentment or prejudice. The GOP would foment distrust when our various peoples might have put the Civil War behind them and moved forward. The GOP would wage war on labor as well as "the nattering
nabobs of negativity", Spiro Agnew's code word for academics and free thinkers.

The Civil War looms like a ghost upon the body politic. It was only a few years ago that, in Jaspar, Texas bigots dragged a black man at high speeds over back country roads until very
nearly nothing was left of his body. A bit longer ago, the lynchings and public burnings of black people was not merely tolerated, they were celebrated like county fairs. Photographs of the events were mailed as post cards. It made of civic murder a macabre celebration, literally, a

American History is of two chapters --pre Civil War and post Civil war. American History cannot be understood without understanding the economics of the Antebellum South and the institution of slavery upon which it depended. The "rise of the South" cannot be understood without understanding how the south that hated Lincoln became Nixon's "Solid South". It is one of the great ironies of convoluted history that as the GOP represents a threat to our freedom, our future as a nation cannot be ensured unless we, at last, effect the words of a Republican.

It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they
gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

--Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, November 19, 1863

I fell in love with Ashokan Farewell during Ken Burns' famous "Civil War" series on PBS. Hearing Jay Unger's story of its creation helps me appreciate it the more. I like his description of it as a "Scottish Lament".

Ken Burns was wise to allow this piece to set the mood for what has been --until now --America's most profound tragedy --the loss, perhaps forever, of our freedoms. And, again, as then, that tragic loss has come not from abroad but from the cancer within.

Via the Existentialist Cowboy


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