US Conservatism, the South and Denialism

In 1964, the passage of the Civil Rights Act, lost, as President Johnson predicted, the Southern Democrats to the Democrat Party and set the stage for the ‘Southern Strategy’ that won Nixon the Presidency in 1968 and gave the Republicans the chance to sometimes win elections thereafter. The price of this was, however, high. At the core of Southern identity is the fiction that the Civil War was not about slavery. This despite the fact that each of the Articles of Succession by the succeeding states explicitly says they are leaving the Union over the issue of slavery. Here is part of South Carolina’s:

We affirm that these ends for which this Government was instituted have been defeated, and the Government itself has been made destructive of them by the action of the non-slaveholding States. Those States have assume the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property established in fifteen of the States and recognized by the Constitution; they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to eloign the property of the citizens of other States. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection.

Now of course, once you embed denial of fundamental historical reality into your belief system, it is likely to spread. If you claim the Civil War was about ‘state’s rights‘ or ‘economics‘ and not about slavery, you have lost the ability to think clearly about a whole range of issues. Now of course, the Civil War was about state’s rights: the right to hold slaves and it was about economics: the right to have an economy based on slavery.

Unfortunately, the Republican Party has inherited the virus of denialism, and is currently in  its search for a credible candidate in the hands of a political base that has inhaled the following pieces of denialism:

  • Climate change is not happening because if it is, then the free market doesn’t always produce good results and government needs to intervene
  • The recent financial crisis was not caused by banking recklessness, or Phil Gram’s de-regulation, but by the Community Relations Act of 1977 forcing banks to lend to poor Black people. The worst victims of predatory lending are the cause of the problem, even though less than a quarter of sub-prime loans were under the CRA and they were often the stronger of the loans in that category.
  • The financial deficit can be solved without raising taxes, or reversing the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, and without cutting Defense spending, Medicare (the ‘non-socialist program’!) or Social Security.
  • There are no problems with the top 1% of the US population more or less monopolizing much of the gain in economic production of the last 30 years
  • Outsourcing manufacturing to China has no implications for US Military security
  • A wealthy country like the US having a quarter of its population without health care insurance is perfectly fine, and for Switzerland to have a state health scheme means it is communist.
  • The US could expel the 11 million illegal immigrants and suffer no economic consequences, even though Georgia’s recent actions has caused half its agricultural output to rot in the fields.

You get my drift. I am not saying that the Democrats are always realistic. It is just they are not locked into systematic denial of reality on so many fronts. They don’t have to distort fundamentals of US history like the causes of the Civil War. And indeed neither did the Republicans until they took on board the denialist Trojan Horse of Southern Democrats. And of course, the South is also the bastion of fundamentalist Christianity, with a whole range of denialism of its own such as denial of evolution. We are all paying the price of this delusional perspective and it explains the impossibility of moderate Republicanism, so essential to moving forward. To quote the founder of modern conservative Republicanism, Barry Goldwater in 1994:

About creativeconflictwisdom

I spent 32 years in a Fortune Five company working on conflict: organizational, labor relations and senior management. I have consulted in a dozen different business sectors and the US Military. I work with a local environmental non profit. I have written a book on the neuroscience of conflict, and its implications for conflict handling called Creative Conflict Wisdom (forthcoming).
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