By Joshua Holland | Alternet
The author of a new book challenges Northerners and Southerners to consider the possibility of a friendly divorce.
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.
So, as I’ve said, I’ve spent a lot of my life hearing from everybody from Seattle to Savannah. Almost every American, at one time or another, has said that it’s too bad the country didn’t just split when we had the chance. We didn’t let the South go when we had the chance. We would have avoided a lot of problems. We – meaning this group in the north as we might identify ourselves – could take the country we want into a direction that we think is befitting of America without this push and pull that comes from the Southern states. At the same time the South could do the same thing.
What really led to this call for secession was understanding that a lot of people from the South are just as sick and tired of people like Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid having an impact on their country as I am sick of people like Newt Gingrich and Jeff Sessions, Eric Cantor, Haley Barbour having an impact on my country.
So why shouldn’t each of these societies that are really very different from each other in the way they approach the fundamental building blocks of society – education, religion, commerce, politics – both sides of the country really approach their problems in the way they want to put their societies together in very diametrically opposed ways. Why shouldn’t people be allowed to live in a pseudo-theocracy if they want to? If the majority of the people in a very large part of the country wants to have the Ten Commandments emblazoned in front of their legislative houses, why shouldn’t they be allowed to do so?
My call here for secession isn’t really a punitive thing towards the South, though I admit to a lot of these Northern frustrations. It’s an effort to identify these differences; to acknowledge that they’re very striking and very strong, and to say each one of these sides might be better of without the other.
JH: So we could have a divorce without an excessive amount of acrimony.
CT: I would hope so. Why not?
JH: How are you defining the South? Are we losing the research triangle in North Carolina? Are we losing Texas in this deal? And is there any chance we could give them some of the duller states. We’re not using South Dakota, are we?
CT: There are some noncontiguous pockets of what would be left of the North that I think would be culturally more comfortable in the South. It’s the first question I started off with in doing the research. It’s a lot trickier than we might imagine. As for the research triangle in North Carolina? Yes, we’re going to lose it. Texas is really interesting to me. The best line I heard about Texas during the research was from a student at the University of Georgia who said the Texas state flag is a perfect representation of Texas, in that it looks just like the American flag without all the other states.
Even though Texas was part of the original Confederacy, it’s always been an all-around pain in the neck to categorize. They’ve never really been much of a team player, let’s face it. In my breakdown of the South I did not include Texas as a Southern state. I completely acknowledge there’s a lot of room for argument there, and that’s probably the easiest point in my book to argue against. I could argue both sides of it myself. In the end I decided that Texas would stay with the North in large part for economic reason. Texas is really one of the economic anchors of this country.
JH: So it wasn’t just for the barbeque?
CT: Barbeque, cheerleaders and Dr. Pepper.
JH: What about the people who live in those states? It’s easy to say they vote for the crappy government they deserve, but consider that in Utah – the reddest state in the country – 30 percent of the population vote Democratic. I’m not saying that voting Democratic is a perfect proxy for one’s ideology, but there’s a good chunk of people down there who we would be consigning to basically English-speaking Mexico. In Alabama, it’s 40 percent. Do you just say, ‘here you go you have to live in a third-world country with crappy education systems, no healthcare, and a government of snake handlers?’