A Prayer for Alabama

Today the people of Alabama decide whether to send a person to the Senate who places himself above the U.S. Constitution, a multiply-alleged pedophile, and a proud racial bigot, or to send a Democrat. I want to post this before the results are in. What I have to say will hold regardless of the outcome.

There is a side to this story that is constantly overlooked. People from outside the South have great difficulty understanding the “mind of the South,” as W. J. Cash once called it. I am from the South (Memphis) and my mother’s family is of the Alabama/Georgia portion of the region. I have spent a good deal of time in that region, including living there for four years in my twenties. Maybe I can help.

The Northern US was transformed by wave after wave of European emigration through the 19th century. Germans, Scandinavians, Italians, Russians, Poles, Eastern Europeans, and, in the twentieth century, Southeast Asians and emigrants from Muslim nations from around the world. These peoples came to the South only in smatterings.

Only the Irish came in numbers significant enough to alter the culture, and they took up the very roles they played while Ireland was part of the British Empire –overseers, laborers, police, and later, low-end managers. The professionals and land-owners are all of English and Scottish descent. I never met a Jewish person until I was in high school and even then did not understand that the handful I met were Jewish.

The mind of the South is the English-Scottish mind of the 17th-18th century. It is agrarian, landed, rural; the privileged are the landed, the working people are the unwashed mass upon whom Dickens took such pity because they were horribly mistreated by their elites. As the privileged class has declined, it has left behind a people deeply suspicious of elites, and resentful of being treated as inferior. These are, after all, Americans. They are defiant and many, and indeed most would rather die than submit.

Whether they elect Roy Moore or not, this country -–the  North, the Midwest, the West-- must shed its now entrenched habit of speaking down its nose to the South. (This does not include Texas, which can take care of itself and will be defiant no matter how it is thought of and spoken to.) The people below the Mason-Dixon are just as smart as any group anywhere. They have insular ways inherited from their Island and maintained in their rural habits. The purpose of cities, in their minds, is to trade crops and livestock. When cities do anything more than that, problems arise.

Roy Moore will not carry Tuscaloosa or Auburn or Huntsville or Montevallo or Mobile, where the universities are. But he may well carry the rest and will certainly carry every rural county. His behavior matches both the defiance these people feel in their hearts and their rejection of domination by outsiders. You don’t conquer England (at least not since 1066). You won’t “conquer” Alabama either. But it might be possible to talk, so long as we don’t do it down our noses.

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