Why Do So Many Southerners Think They're the Only Real Americans?
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Editor's note: Portions of this article are reproduced or adapted from Better Off Without ’Em: A Northern Manifesto for Southern Secession.
For large chunks of the last two years I traveled through Dixie doing research for a book called Better Off Without ’Em: A Northern Manifesto for Southern Secession (published this month by Simon & Schuster).
Wherever I went in the South I was called a socialist.
I was branded anti-American.
For supporting the administration of a sitting U.S. president, I was told that I was in league with the Muslim vanguard of a secret plot to destroy the United States.
Although otherwise respectable reviewers, bloggers and emailers have accused me of seeking out only the opinions of slack-jawed hayfoots slurping moonshine from ceramic jugs during my travels, the truth is that in the South this sort of ugly invective is mainstream orthodoxy.
It’s the same mainframe groupthink that’s going to allow a millionaire corporate flunky with a track record of destroying jobs to carry and very possibly sweep the South in November.
I dealt with the same reactionary slander everywhere I went.
I heard it from small business owners in South Carolina. From working professionals in Alabama. From college-educated football fans in Tennessee.
Southerners love trashing the rest of the country (when did you last hear a kind Rebel word for New York, Detroit or San Francisco?), but when their blood is really up the go-to move down South is to dismiss their fellow citizens as un-American.
“If we secede, the U.S.A. would become Canada South,” an otherwise likable history major at the University of Georgia told me. “We are the real U.S.A.”
By “we,” of course, he meant the South.
In no other region of the country is the need to define one’s moral and patriotic superiority such a fixation. Spend 30 minutes in a Southern church or listening to country radio and the self-congratulatory “we’re the salt of the earth” pathos is impossible to miss.
Can’t Take the Heat, Still in Kitchen
I knew when writing Better Off Without ’Em that the biggest gamble I’d be taking was counting on Southerners to appreciate the sense of humor of an aggrieved Northern liberal; I’m nothing if not a sucker for a well-placed Snuffy Smith rejoinder.
Yet while all of us are capable of laughing at our own crazy aunts and uncles, it takes a certain thickness of hide to be able to accept with grace the criticism of those outside the family. And to take a step back and consider that an analysis that comes with the benefit of external perspective might be worth considering.
The Dixie blowtorch that greeted publication of my book was immediate and intense, a collective meltdown of Limbaughnian proportions.
With few exceptions, from mainstream reviews to blogs posts to personal emails, Southerners were ready to hit the “fuck you” button as soon as they so much as caught wind of a Northern critique of the South.
“I’m not going to read your piece of shit, worthless book that is full of lies and false stereotypes,” wrote one of hundreds of knee-jerk non-readers in a typical email. “Go rot in the heat of the South.”
“I haven’t read the book, nor do I plan to,” wrote a chip-on-the-shoulder blogger before going on to lambaste the book anyway, roughly following the script set forth in published reviews by Southerners that misrepresented my argument and then summarily excoriated the presumed wickedness.
The bully smokescreen in the face of criticism is a traditional Southern defense mechanism. The counterblast of moral reprobation from the South that followed the 1852 publication of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, for example, produced the publication of no fewer than 14 pro-slavery novels in three years in an effort to debunk the unflattering portrait of slavery presented by Harriet Beecher Stowe.