There is an interesting piece up at Salon by Andrew O’Hehir, “Welcome to the new Civil War,” where he discusses the neo-Confederacy elements in our culture that are trying to turn back the clock on women, gays, God and guns, drawing parallels to the Lincoln administration (through the eyes of the film “Lincoln”).
We’ve just emerged from a presidential campaign that exposed how hardened our political and cultural divide has become, and how poorly the two sides understand each other. Part of the Republican problem, in an election that party thought it would win easily, was that those who felt a visceral disgust toward both the idea and the reality of President Barack Obama simply could not believe that they didn’t represent a majority. As many Republicans are now aware, the party now faces an existential crisis. It’s all very well to go on TV and talk about attracting Latinos and downplaying cultural wedge issues. But the activist core of the Republican Party is neo-Confederate, whether it thinks of itself that way or not. It isn’t interested in common cause with Mexicans or turning down the moral thermostat. Just ask Rick Santorum: What it wants is war.
In the recent “fiscal cliff” negotiations, which ended (of course) in yet another short-term stopgap measure, most congressional Republicans, having sworn a blood oath never to raise taxes on their millionaire patrons, were content to let the nation slide into chaos and catastrophe rather than reach a compromise with the president they have consistently depicted as a socialist renegade or alien interloper. It was like a third-rate farcical reprise of the great congressional struggle depicted by Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner in “Lincoln,” when the defeated and embittered Democrats of 1864 fought a rear-guard action to defend slavery, in defiance of not just history, morality and basic human decency but also tactical judgment and common sense.
And as we’ve seen with the war on women (womb-controlling legislative efforts around the country, rape apologists, and media blowhards like Rush Limbaugh), the desperate gay-bashing by professional anti-LGBTs even as losses mount as civil equality advances — the Right’s efforts are nearly bunker-mentality, and the neo-Confederacy has leaned heavily on misogyny and racism (and guns) as its teddy bear, a security blanket. They are in full emotional meltdown, and that is when these movements are probably the most toxic — and dangerous. They are not just Joe Blow crazies down the street. They populate school boards and legislatures, and aren’t going away any time soon, because those scared of losing their culture to homos, uppity women and fast-breeding people of color can and will vote to preserve what they have. And as we’ve seen, do everything in their power to suppress the votes of those groups threatening that culture.
Small gains and challenges are meaningful
My friend Rep. Patricia Todd (D), the first (and only) out gay member of the Alabama state legislature, has managed to carve out a successful, groundbreaking career there, breaking down barriers in a state that has a long way to go. We need to remember and support folks doing the tough sledding in the Red states where the neo-Confederacy is trying to hold fast to its cultural norms. The fact is even here, they are being continuously challenged.
In this session Rep. Todd is introducing a bill to repeal the state’s 1992 sex education law. This retrograde bit of business requires schools to teach that homosexuality is illegal (it is, nominally, on the books there) and that “abstinence from sexual intercourse outside of lawful marriage is the expected social standard.”
“The Department of Education needs to be making those guidelines, not the Legislature,” Todd said. “We need to make sure there is evidence-based education being done in the schools, and all the evidence shows that abstinence-only is not effective.” The bill would have no effect on the state’s sexual-misconduct law, which makes homosexual acts a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year imprisonment. But it would strike requirements that teachers emphasize “homosexuality is not a lifestyle acceptable to the general public and that homosexual conduct is a criminal offense.”
That’s a big challenge in a culture war where sex is something in the minds of the neo-Confederates only occurs within the sanctity of one-man, one-woman marriage and apparently STDs and premarital sex that results in unintended pregnancies doesn’t exist. Even though the data is clear that abstinence-only education doesn’t work. The heads are hard — otherwise why would Alabama want to teach about its sodomy laws and illegality of homosexuality when sodomy laws have been invalid ever since Lawrence v. Texas?
Then again, we have a billionaire boosting the presidential aspirations of one Rick Santorum suggest the answer lies with a women putting an aspirin between her knees. The neo-Confederacy is bold, proud of its ignorance of science and the modern world. We ignore that at our peril.
Unable to face the fact that blacks and browns are full citizens
The fact that blunt, honest conversations about race even among progressives is rare and fraught with tension, allows these neo-Confederates to continue with its bold revolt. If we cannot admit we all hold racial misconceptions and obstinant laziness when it comes to seeking out and understanding difference because those discussions uncover it — hey, we’re all raised in the same general culture steeped in racial conflict so deep and invasive that we don’t recognize it consciously for good or ill, then it’s hard to call it out when it’s not blatant — cross burnings, obvious hate crimes. The neo-Confederates count on the fear of progressives being perceived as “racist” in any way to try to ignore the history that got us to the present day. O’Hehir at Salon:
I’m not sure America ever paid that debt, in blood or money or any other currency. The lingering effects of our racist history – from the resegregation of our public schools to the enduring and astonishing “wealth gap” between whites and blacks – are national problems, not just Southern problems. Our new Civil War is infused with the undead spirit of the old one and waged by a rebellious neo-Confederacy rooted in the states of the Old South, but its influence can be felt, as with the pro-slavery forces of the 1860s, in every part of the country. (Fernando Wood, the fiery pro-slavery Democrat played by Lee Pace in “Lincoln,” was a former mayor of New York.)
The new Civil War is not entirely or even principally about race, although there’s no mistaking its pernicious racial component. Even making allowances for Bobby Jindal and Allen West, the neo-Confederate forces are perhaps 99 percent white, in a nation whose fastest-growing demographic groups are neither white nor black. While the issues of the new Civil War are contemporary, its rhetoric is ancient and all too familiar, from states’ rights and resistance to Washington to claims of a special relationship with the Almighty and vague appeals to distinctive “cultural traditions,” employed as a justification for bigotry and oppression.
The fact is these attitudes exist on a continuum of racism (or sexism or homophobia), some of the commentary and actions just ignorant, some violent in their expression (through legislation or criminal activity), but the neo-Confederates work overtime to move the bar of what is defined as “racism” to the most extreme margins so as not to draw attention to its active vitriol used to forward its preservation of the cultural norms that are slipping from its grasp.
UPDATE: The town of Milford, Delaware (in conservative Sussex County) give us a fresh display of neo-Confederacy BS at a playground located at LuLu Ross Elementary School, 310 Lovers Lane, Milford, DE:
Well, you can read what it says in English. In Spanish it says (paraphrasing) “You have to have a permit to play here or you will be arrested.” The English version contains no information about needing a permit or else you will be subject to police action. It is an obvious intimidation tactic and a not so subtle “Whites Only” sign.
So if you are a white English speaking “American,” you can play here at your own risk so long as you have a parent or guardian watching. If you are brown, if you dare play here without a permit we will arrest your immigrant ass. That is the fucking height of racism, and I will see to it that who ever is responsible for this sign will have their public careers ended immediately.