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Is It Finally Time to Let the South Secede?

The author of a new book challenges Northerners and Southerners to consider the possibility of a friendly divorce.

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Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised that cultural friction between the North and South persists to this day. After all, we fought an incredibly brutal, ugly Civil War. The battlelines that were drawn then continued to divide us through the Reconstruction period and well into the middle of the 20th century, as federal troops were once again deployed to enforce the civil rights acts.

According to Chuck Thompson, a veteran travel writer who toured the American South, a degree of mutual enmity between Northerners and Southerners continues to be a source of cultural tension and political gridlock. We remain divided even as we have grown to become the world's superpower. In his new book, Better Off Without 'Em: A Northern Manifesto For Southern Secession, Thompson argues that it may be time for a divorce – to shake hands and go our separate ways.

Thompson appeared on last week's AlterNet Radio Hour to discuss his book. A lightly edited transcript of our discussion is below (you can listen to the whole show here).

Joshua Holland: Chuck, you seem to be channeling the frustration of a lot of Northern liberals. I may have even said myself that we should have let the Confederacy walk in 1860. But I haven’t heard a lot of people calling to break up the Union today. You’re known as a comedic travel writer. So my first question is to what degree are you being tongue-in-cheek here? To what degree are you being serious?

Chuck Thompson: I am being serious. I understand that the meta arguments here that call for secession can be received as somewhat absurd in some corners. I acknowledge that it is probably a remote possibility. Within the framework of that argument I think there is a lot of room to highlight a lot of these problems and a lot of these frustrations that you refer to. One of the goals of this book really was to more or less articulate – to put some facts, figures and research behind a lot of this frustration of Northern and Southern liberals, of which there are many. I encountered many Southern liberals while conducting my research.

There’s this seething frustration people have. There’s this kneejerk reaction to blame the South. The sort of Northern media strafing of the South for a lot of the nation’s ills is a longstanding tradition. What I wanted to do was to get away from the traditional stereotypes of the dim-witted, mouth-breathing, Southern racist redneck and really look at what’s going on today. Find out why people are still having these issues with the South, and put some hard research and some facts and figures behind this general unease with the influence that the South has on the rest of the country.

JH: So we know we have an overtly religious political culture down South, and a culture today that is pretty hostile toward organized labor. What is it in your travels or in your research that prompted you to call for Southern secession?

CT: I get tired of everybody bitching about the problem. It’s like what Mark Twain said about the weather. Everybody complains about it, but nobody does anything about it. People have been having this problem with the South for my entire lifetime, and as my research pointed out to me, since even before there was a United States of America. Even in the Continental Congress, before the Declaration of Independence was signed, there were a lot of Southerners from South Carolina – particularly a family called the Rutledge family – sort of running the show back then and didn’t want any part of the United States. So a lot of the problems that have arisen between North and South have been around for a long time.