Additionally, he will be joining us live here in comments today to discuss his ideas—and Daily Kos user reactions and questions—further, so dive into comments and read (and ask!) away.
But before we get started on the give and take, back and forth, Thompson has a few things to say ....
Chuck Thompson (hereinafter CT): Before addressing the questions below, a few prefatory remarks to lend a bit of perspective.
1. There’s nothing punitive behind my call for southern secession. Certainly nothing like an attack on Fort Sumter.
A large part of my book is intended to show how North and South have historically and still are operating as fundamentally different societies, with sharply contrasting agendas and values. My primary position is simply that a union based on such diametrically opposed approaches to societal organization is like a bad marriage that needs to end in order to save the children from turning into the same dysfunctional assholes as the parents.
2. Many if not most of the questions below are handled in more detailed and specific fashion in the book. I’ll keep answers here relatively brief.
3. The official theme song for this interview is Phosphorescent’s “It’s Hard To Be Humble (When You’re From Alabama).” I’m cueing it up right now and suggest you do the same.
Okay, let’s do this ...
(Continue reading below the fold)
CT: The U.S.A./C.S.A. (Confederate States of America) Treaty of Secession has many provisions. A few highlights:
- A series of U.S.A./C.S.A. Mutual Defense Treaties will provide for cooperative defense and co-ownership titles into perpetuity on major military bases currently located in southern states, especially at Norfolk, Pensacola, and all NASA facilities. Lease agreements on other bases around the C.S.A. would sunset at increments of twenty-five, fifty, seventy-five, and a hundred years.
- The U.S.A./C.S.A Economic Separation Agreement makes the United States the guaranteed consumer of no less than 75 percent of all C.S.A. energy exports. This figure ensures northern energy needs will be met, while leaving the South with enough product to allow the new nation to nurture a healthy export economy.
- The Beltway Partition Agreement will cede that section of Virginia to the United States. Sorry, Virginians, it’s a lot of money and educated people to lose, but most of y’all don’t consider that part of the state “southern” anyway, and neither do the rest of us.
- Ten-year open border and automatic citizenship in either country for those left on the wrong side of the divide.
- The Annual Coca-Cola/Starbucks Blood Bowl ™ will determine the true college football champion and produce what would become football’s grandest extravaganza, an annual North-South gridiron border war between each country’s champions that would dwarf even the Super Bowl for drama, spectacle, Miller Lite consumption, and thirty-second ad buys.
CT: Wow, you’re tougher on the South than I am. I’m not advocating “giving” the independent South anything. Like all successful treaty provisions, the ones I suggest in the book are derived from interest-based needs on both sides and provide mutually beneficial arrangements.
To soothe your fears, I believe that let loose from the enabling northern teat, the South would be forced to address and fix a number of the problems that have bedeviled the region for centuries. I may disagree with virtually everything they believe about governance, but the South is blessed with an extremely intelligent and gifted political class. Forced to swim in the new world economy or become a North Korean-style pariah state, an independent southern republic might just surprise everyone with its ability to at last overcome. Or, at least, to at last come over to my side of the argument with the realization that they, too, might be better off without ’em.
Anyway, as even a number of southern academics told me, one of the first things an independent South is going to do is arm itself. This is inevitable—trying to keep southerners away from guns and tanks is like trying to keep fourteen-old-boys away from their peckers.
CT: Knee-jerk anger and rigidity of thought are phrases that come to mind.
By and large, people see that slave-days flag on the cover and leap to one of two general conclusions: a. Oh, boy, here’s yet another supercilious Yankee bigot trafficking in the same old stereotypes of a mouth-breathing South so fuck him and anything he has to say I will rage against this book without reading it because I don’t need to open the cover to know what kind of utter assaholic bullshit inside. b. Yeah, boy, about time someone told it like it is about the hillbilly horror show that exists down in that blighted possum kingdom of limb-chewing Dixie fucktards.
I’d say 75 percent of the reader response and published reviews have roughly followed this script. When people take the time to read the book and actually see the research and analysis I’ve done, they tend to be more open-minded about it. The review on Daily Kos falls into that latter 25 percent category and I appreciate it.
CT: Not at all. I’ve been hearing the "Fuck the South" ranting for years here in socialist (or are we commies now?) Cascadia. In some ways this book started as a simple attempt to articulate and add facts and stats to the issues that my angry liberal friends have been voicing about the South for years.
As for the "Hell, no" reaction (and what a polite way of putting it), I still have relatives in Georgia, used to have some in Virginia, have been traveling in the South since I was a kid and was well aware before doing this book how hyper-sensitive southerners are to criticism, especially when it comes from a pissant northern liberal who thinks he has all the answers. Many “reviews” of my book haven’t reviewed the book at all—they’ve reviewed a pathological fantasy of Yankee persecution that has taken hold of a certain kind of southern mind (not all) since the days of Reconstruction.
I’m not blind to the difficult issues this book attempts to address. Splitting the country apart feels unnatural; at the very least, a crime against manifest destiny. Americans have become so accustomed to their hard divisions—conservative-liberal, black-white, Roe-Wade, red-blue, call them what you like—that the chasm separating North and South feels ordained, an organic, even integral part of the national tradition. Just because spiritual, political, racial, and commercial divides have always been with us, however, doesn’t mean they have to continue to define us.
Here we go, on to commenters' views, questions, observations, objections, etc., and your answers or reaction to them:
Several users pointed out that the problem is less geographic than cultural. After all, there are inarguably pockets of bigotry and backwardness in every state. Why single out the South? Isn't that just Northern hypocrisy?
Typical comments include these:
- From user SueDe: "This may boil down to a measure of constituencies in rural vs. urban areas rather than a North/South dichotomy."
- Many users made a variation of this observation, made by David54: "I was going to say...'the South' is not a geographical distinction anymore."
- Unduna says: "50% of the red on the electoral map is the South. The rest is, well, NOT the South. The intellectual fail in this bigoted idea that the South dominates the republican party, now being promulgated on the front page of a 'progressive' blog, is fucking astounding."
- angry marmot: "Thompson is just yet another sanctimonious jagoff who mistakes geography ("the South") for sociology ("southernization"). The problem isn't "the South," the problem is the less geographically circumscribed cultural conservatism, predicated on issues of religion, race and an abiding distrust of and disdain for the Federal Government, intellectuals and other secular authorities, all of which appeals to a naïve, disaffected and reactionary element in American society which extends far beyond the physical geography of the Old South."
CT: There are a number of ways to try to explain the cultural/political/moral schism that currently defines this country. Red state/blue state. Urban/rural. Christian/Non-Christian. Tea Party/Sane. I have examined them all and as arguments they’re all reasonable and all have their merits.
However, I think when you look at it analytically, the preponderance of the evidence lines up with the notion that the divide we’re dealing with today is the same one that has been with this country since the Continental Congress. That is to say, a North-South divide. All other formulations are no more than offshoots of this profound and historic divide at the nation’s heart.
The primary social building blocks that separate North and South are approaches to religion, public education, economic policy, politics (this last one gets into significant differences in state constitutions). I examine and try to quantify all of these (and lesser but still important distinctions) in separate chapters.
Of course, there are good counter-arguments to be made, but I think in the end the North/South reading of the nations’ troubles makes the most sense and it’s pretty easy to prove.
As for finding racism and evangelical Christian fanaticism and ultra-conservative dogma and paranoid rubes in the North as well as the South, well, yeah, no shit, that’s obvious. People act like I didn’t think of this. Jesus, I grew up in Alaska. David Cross has a funny bit about finding the redneck accent in all fifty states and specifically includes Juneau (my hometown) in that bit. There’s this thing called the southern Diaspora and transient populations in this country. I’m aware.
But establishing a moral or cultural equivalency between South and North by pointing out this obvious fact is misleading. You can find barbecue joints, Walmart fatties, and crooked elementary school football teams in the North, too, but that doesn’t make the North the South, any more than the presence of Levi’s, KFC, and Spider-man makes China the United States.
- Dale encapsulates in this comment an objection of many commenters—what about the progressives, the minorities, the dispossessed marooned in the South? His comment in full:
"Thing is, Thompson's thesis Would have us jettison the baby with the backwater -- er, bath water.
Every time the electoral college vote is held, I think about how many African American, immigrant, and progressive voters are effectively disenfranchised by the winner-take-all, first past the post system, which ensures that the South is treated as a solid block of re state, no matter how many progressives live in places like Atlanta or North Carolina or northern Virginia.
The "write 'em off" thesis does nothing but make permanent the state of affairs that those marooned progressive Southern voters face every time they go into the voting booth for federal races.
- LihTox: "This is what makes me pause. 'In 2010, 55 percent of the black population lived in the South, and 105 Southern counties had a black population of 50 percent or higher.' Should we abandon them?"
- And probably the most impassioned, deeply felt reaction on the part of proud progressive southerners, was written by Ms Johnson:
What a bunch of shit. And how it dishonors the noble work of progressives in the South who struggle daily to effect incremental change in their communities. And what a slap in the face to Martin Luther King, Jr., the Southern Poverty Law Center, and other Southern warriors who have waged battle against the forces of intolerance and ignorance.
It's easy being a progressive in California or New York. Try being one in Northern Alabama. So to this author and anyone who agrees with his thesis, I say a hearty "fuck you." How about instead of writing off Southern people, you take out your check book and write a check to any of the inumerable progressive groups working down here?
We have a lot of challenges in the South. But the voices that will lead that change will arise from here and certainly not from Chuck Thompson, who, incidentally hails from Alaska, off all fucked up places.
CT: Ha ha. I wasn’t aware of how much people hate Alaska till I did this book. So many shit comments about the greatest state in the Union! I guess that’s what having Palin around does for us.
You know what’s sad? I travel around the country and world a lot and it used to be that when you’d tell people you were from Alaska the first thing they’d ask you about was the northern lights or maybe the dark winters. Now the first thing they ask you about is Sarah Pailn. Fucking Palin is now more famous than the northern lights. Life is horrible.
As for the main question, this one is the trickiest of all (I hear it a lot) because I have so many mixed feelings about it. Let me share just a few of my reactions:
- The amount of people who speak of me “abandoning” or “writing off” or “marooning” or “leaving behind” all those millions of southern liberals and African Americans, as though these people were soldiers trapped behind enemy lines, underscores for me how real the North/South dichotomy is.
- It also puts me in mind of the famous LBJ quote: “We are not going to send American boys nine or ten thousand miles away from home to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves.” I mean, how long are we expected to fight these battles on behalf of a liberalism that the majority of the people down South clearly do not want? My secession treaty offers open citizenship to anyone in Dixie who wants to relocate to the North.
- As I mentioned in my response to a previous question, I’m not so sure that an independent South wouldn’t surprise the world by reforming itself and becoming a much better place for all people to live (though not to work).
- I’m tired of “incremental change.” The stakes in the 21st century global world are too high. We need results, we need a difference, and that means "dramatic change."
- I visited the Southern Poverty Law Center (my interviews and experiences there are detailed in the book) as well as the Civil Rights Memorial and MLK’s Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, all in Montgomery, Alabama. Or, as I was informed there, what the truckers refer to as “Monkeytown.” Yes, I know all about those places and people you say I slap in the face.
- Relax, I’ve been on the right side of a lot of arguments in my life and so have you but that doesn’t mean I’m gonna win this one. Secession might be a good idea—at the very least it is a worthwhile frame through which to examine many of the problems in this country—but that doesn't mean it’s going to happen anytime soon.
I’m serious about my book, but I’m also a realist and if you can’t see that there is a bit of a Swiftian proposition at work here, then you obviously haven’t bothered to read the book.
- noexit argues: "There is nothin wrong with the south that can't be fixed by improving the form and structure of our government. If expelling the south were easier, I might be convinced that the immediate short term gain was worth it, but, ultimately it doesn't address the root of the problem which is a structure of government too vulnerable to capture by the 1%."
- cacamp asserts: "The book is wrong about blaming the "south" because its more about race than region. It should actually be named "Whats the Matter With White People" but that name has already been taken. Whereever the white power structure is solidly in control the rabid right is doing its damage be it north or south. But wherever that white powerstructure is being changed and challenged by a growing diversity, sanity is returning. Texas and Arizona will soon be blue states. When that change takes place the onslaught of stupid laws will cease."
The South is a colonized land. The sort of economic despoliations and social degradations that one sees currently in places like Mexico were first inflicted by the North (the US industrial plutocracy) on the newly colonized post-bellum South. The descriptors: "uneducated, morbidly obese, racist, indigent, xenophobic, socially stunted"--and, I would add, bellicose--could easily and similarly be applied to a large part of the population of present-day Mexico (the racists, in their case, would be the lighter-skinned segments). The gypsification, to put it colloquially, of whole swathes of a country's population does not, of course, come about by accident: it is the result of decades (if not centuries) of colonialism/neocolonialism and the fundamentally extractive and subordinate position of a nation in a nexus of imperial and internationalized economies, in which a hegemonic power (the US) safeguards and promotes, at great cost to itself and the world, a fundamentally dangerous and damaging socioeconomic system, i.e. the neoliberal Washington Consensus. These are the same policies both Obama and Romney stand for (with minor social policy differences) and, as can be ascertained by the examples of both Mexico and US (North and South, but especially South) the results aren't pretty, the degradation of human beings and human societies never is.
CT: I agree with the notion that fixing a lot of our problems requires amending the basic structure of our federal government, likely starting with shuttering the electoral college. And, by the way, as an earlier questioner noted, that damn winner-take-all format does really perpetuate the notion that the “whole South is conservative” and clearly that is not the case.
But, look, when guys like South Carolina Rep. Jim DeMint promise to make a sitting president’s major policy initiative (Obama, Healthcare) his “Waterloo”; when Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell says his party’s singular goal is to turn Obama into a one-term president; when the first lady launches a pretty harmless program meant to curb childhood obesity and half the South screams “Socialism!” (Georgia Rep. Paul Broun among them); then do you really think restructuring government is even a remote possibility?
The white power structure is very much in control in New Hampshire and Montana and Oregon and Canada and many other perfectly nice places to live, so I don’t buy into the "all whities are evil" argument.
Incidentally, my issue here isn’t with Republicans. It’s with southern obstructionists and often with usually southern fanatics who want to conflate Biblical law with U.S. law. When they’re doing their fiscally responsible, missionary-hump-values routine, the Republicans are fine.
As for the poor victimized South, Jesus Christ, give me a break. The South’s most destructive evangelical mission is this whole “right to work” lie whose ultimate goal is, in the grand Dixie tradition, to turn the entire economy into a master/serf equation. The economic race to the bottom being led by southern states is doing far more harm to everyday Americans (North and South) than those billions of dollars of federal charity northern states are handing over to the southern states every year.
Have northern and international industrialists raped portions of the South as part of the rapacious capitalist profit motive? Duh. But painting the South as helpless victims of this sort of thing just shows the epic hypocrisy and misunderstanding of history that underscore these arguments. (There’s much more on this in the economics chapter of the book.)
WhamBam asks: "What about the debt? Does the North keep the federal debt?" He also asks: What happens to federal lands/parks in the South?Your response, and to any other questions of a practical nature about how it would work?
CT: A portion of the federal debt will be assumed by the new C.S.A. I didn’t do the calculations on that, nor do I provide a firm figure. But I’d guess the C.S.A. would carry away about 35 percent of the national debt.
The South takes control of its national parks and most of the federal land currently within its borders. Treaty provisions take care of the gray areas.
All I'd love to see in this political fantasy is a serious discussion with tons of media coverage and the threat of passage: The idea that each state should get the same per-capita proportion of federal revenues as they contribute. Then maybe some of these anti-government "self-reliant" Red Staters might understand who exactly is and is not benefitting from federal largesse.
CT: Jesus, finally, someone gets it. Thank you.
Look, whether or not you consider the meta argument absurd (which most normal people will), secession is still a fitting or at least useful and interesting umbrella beneath which to examine the primary source of the dysfunction that's hogtying this country on political, social and moral levels. "Thought experiment" is a phrase I used often when describing the book during research.
Above all, I'm a realist and I understand secession isn't going to happen and that I'm unlikely to win many converts to my side of the argument. But it’s an argument worth having because I do think it exposes the prevailing source of much of our federal dysfunction.
- southdem: "don't forget a lot of our 'Southern' politicians are imports from up North, like Gingrich (PA.)"
- Timmethy: "Our last 3 Democratic Presidents before Obama came from the South and were elected by the South (Clinton, Carter, LBJ) and were pretty good. California and Texas seem to supply the bad GOP Presidents of late (Nixon, Reagan and the Bushes). Texas = 1 for 3, California = 0 for 2."
CT: Sorry, we’ll take the blame for Bachmann and Santorum, but Gingrich is all on you guys who voted him in and made him a national celebrity. Lindsey Graham and a few thousand others also come to mind.
Until Obama, if a southerner wasn’t on the Democratic ticket, the liberals had very little chance of winning a presidential election, which is why there almost always seemed to be a southerner on it. I expect Obama to be an anomaly in this regard and for the “gotta have a southerner to have a chance” mantra to return to the Dems. I hope I’m wrong on this and I might well be.
By the way, easiest path to the White House in 2016? Any southern Republican willing either to switch to the Democratic side or simply seize the Republican brand name from the Tea Party Dollar Store gentry and run on a platform that promotes the kind of fiscal conservatism and small government generally associated with the Republicans (both GOP lies, of course, but the rhetoric still fools lots of people) and the kind of social liberalism generally associated with the Dems. That candidate would win 80 percent of the vote in this country. Obvious guy to do it is Marco Rubio, even though I’m not a fan of his.
Maybe I'm just engaged in wishful thinking but it looks to me like the South is poised on the edge of a tremendous historical shift, as economic growth and diversification coupled with demographic change fundamentally alter the region's long-standing social formation.CT: Sounds great but this "the South is changing, no, seriously it’s really changing" nonsense has been with us since the 1800s.
When I see latino shopkeepers in North Carolina and Georgia, industrial workers in South Carolina and Alabama, and an honest-to-god financial services sector in Florida and North Carolina, I simply have to wonder if the old structures of power can remain in place.
With a black man running a competitive race for president in places like Virginia and North Carolina, and performing surprisingly well even in racist bastions like Georgia and South Carolina, it looks like the day is not far off when the stranglehold Thompson complains of will be broken.
The New York Times has run some iteration of this hopeful story every single year since at least 1974. I cite numerous other examples in the book, but here’s one from W.J. Cash’s totemic “Mind of the South” published in 1941:
"Articles in the chief magazines hopefully announcing that the South was beginning to generate a wholly new attitude toward the Negro, were common even before 1910; commoner in the 1920’s. And in 1929 so astute a social critic as Oswald Garrison Villard, writing in Harper’s, could actually see the whole color line in the South as in the process of fairly rapid disintegration!"
Here’s another bit from the book, from an interview with white, 73-year-old, Mississippi-based Civil Rights legend and activist Rims Barber:
Many southerners had made the point to me that the N-word is rarely used in the South, anymore. Over the course of my travels, I heard it in casual conversation only a handful of times, far fewer times, for example, than one might hear it on a New York subway during the morning commute.
"Does the fact that ‘nigger’ is almost never used in public, and not much even in private, mean that things are improving in the South?" I asked.
Barber thought for a moment, then tapped his forefinger on his desk.
"What that means is that the veneer on this wood is quite good," he said.
Sizing up my bemused expression, Barber spread out his hand and ran it across the desktop.
"This desk looks nice, doesn’t it?" he continued. "Like walnut or oak or something. I put a lot of coats of dark stain on it to make it look this nice. But, you know, it’s still just plywood underneath."
- toddsmitts: "you can't be disgusted at present-day southerners who are nostalgic about the idea of secession if you're sympathetic to the idea yourself."
- North CountryNY: My question for those who advocate writing off the South. How are your views any different than this: Romney writes off 47% of Americans? Looks pretty much like the same kind of mind-set to me. A very poisonous one."
CT: To respond to a critique of the South by shouting, "You’re just as bad as they are!" is to employ the classic schoolyard bully misdirection, "Oh, yeah, I'm stupid? Well, guess what, you're ugly." It’s a baseless argument that’d get laughed out of any freshman rhetoric class.
These type of comments often come from the type of mamby-pamby liberals that drive me absolutely bonkers, the kind of who disdain the blowtorch rhetoric of the Limbaugh-Hannity crowd but don’t have the stomach to stand up to it. I’m sick of the left cowering to morally bankrupt hypocrites. I’m willing to match that bullshit line for line and then some.
As for being as bad as a Confederate secessionist, look, I’m not advocating launching a war meant to preserve slavery or the legal construct of white supremacy. Big difference.
And if there is some overlap in interest between me and the reactionary South, well, that just goes to show you that the title of the book is meant to cut both ways. Divorces are tragic but sometimes they're inevitable and sometimes both parties ultimately benefit after the initial shock.
You say I can’t be disgusted with present-day southerners who want secession if I am sympathetic to the idea myself: well, I’m not disgusted with them. We both want the same thing, and we both think we’d be better off without the other. Fine, let 'em go their way, let us go our way. You know what? We both might win in the end. We sure ain't getting to where we want to go together.
So, let me get this straight: Romney wants to write off 47 percent of Americans and his party has been proving that they have the will and means to do this very thing for decades and decades and I’m supposed to sit here and say, "Oh, that’s OK, we still love you and want to be with you"? Look, I want nothing to do with Romney’s hatefulness—that’s why I want him and his southron power base out of my country. If half (or, God forbid, more than half) of the people in this country agree with him, I’d just as soon show them the door than invite them in to raid my refrigerator, not offer to clean the mess, and then bitch about what a shitty person I am.
I’m so tired of the nonstop talk of fear and judgment and "America is doomed" from these people. It’s pathetic the way briar patch prophets and their followers give up so easily. I find that sort of pessimism completely at odds with the traditional American character of optimism. If they can’t behave like real Americans, I’d prefer they start their own Lost Cause country and do their bitching and blaming gays and abortion clinics for all the world’s ill somewhere else.
CT: Lighter note, my ass. This is as serious as the book gets.
You know, not a single published southern critique has even attempted to mount a fact-based counter-argument to my book. All they can do is scream about me being yet another Yankee who hates on them poor old southerners who no one will give a break to and gripe about me coming down South to shoot fish in barrels and use the mouth-breathers to dishonestly paint the whole region. (Total bullshit, by the way. Far and away the southerners presented in this book are professionals, mainstreamers, business owners, elected officials, university profs, public administrators, demographers, statisticians, pastors, entrepreneurs, etc. In other words, community leaders.) I mean, for God’s sake, I draw a direct line from the 1960s Klan subsuming themselves into the evangelical political movement that now dominates the southern GOP and not one single published review or hostile email I’ve received has bothered to even try to refute that.
The one exception is the sports fans, who reliably fortify their arguments with statistics and facts. Now, I can’t say I totally agree with those arguments—and I anticipated and addressed most of them in the book—but I will say they are legitimate arguments and deserve consideration and thank God for football fans, who are apparently among the last ones in the South who still know how to bring logic and facts to an intellectual debate.
Anyway, never fear, northern football fans, the U.S.A./C.S.A. Treaty of Secession provides us access to NFL-caliber wide receivers and incentives for the equitable redistribution of cheerleaders. (By the way, whenever people talk about jazz as America’s only original art form and singular gift to world culture, I hasten to remind them of the cheerleader outfit.)
As for music, that Phosphorescent CD I put on at the start of this interview is about done, so I guess I’ll pop on some Kanye or Los Lobos or Red Fang or Paul Simon or reach back for some Mudhoney or Stevie Wonder or Steely Dan or Charlie Parker or Duke Ellington …
C’mon, I love Skynyrd and lots of southern and country music. Zac Brown and Eric Church were practically the soundtrack for my two years of southern research. But this has got to be the most legless argument of all.
It ain’t a Berlin Wall I’m advocating. It’s a solution to a very real problem that might leave both sides better off.
Thanks for the questions.