What if the South really were a different country?
Think about it. What if Abraham Lincoln and the US Congress had decided that the Constitution actually permits states to secede? What if, therefore, there had been no Civil War? What if the South had become a permanent country on the southern border of the United States? How would it have developed? What would its political culture have been?
It was the Cracker Barrel restaurant that sent me around this particular bend. Besides offering some awfully good meat loaf and chicken, Cracker Barrel markets small-town and country southern culture. And it does it well enough that small town and country southern people really like to eat there.
So there I was recently at a Cracker Barrel in north Georgia, listening to old Gospel hymns on the loudspeaker while thumbing through Andy Griffith videos and enjoying some really thick local accents. And that was when I thought, you know, the South really is a different country. You wouldn’t have this experience in, say, Boston, or Seattle.
This was not the judgment of some Yankee tourist making a rare trip down South, but instead someone who became a Southern Baptist as a teenager, married into a southern family, and has spent most of his adult life in the South.
So this is a considered judgment. The South is just different. It is religiously different. It is culturally different. It is politically different. And if it had its druthers the South would be different in many of its policies as well. (Hold on a second while I get me some more biscuit. Thanks.)
I think my Cracker Barrel Revelation opens a window on much that is vexatious and confusing about contemporary US politics. The Christian Right makes sense. Post-1960s Republicanism makes sense. Judge Roy Moore makes sense. The Tea Party makes sense. Mike Huckabee writing a book called God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy makes sense. Even Kim Davis makes sense!
If the South were its own country, its church/state arrangements would be much different from what has developed in the US. A majority of southerners would be happy with the (un)official establishment of evangelical Protestant faith in the public square. The Ten Commandments would be posted in any courthouse where the folks wanted them. The preacher would lead prayers at the Friday night football game at the public high school. The principal would offer the Lord’s Prayer to start the school day. (Basically, all the stuff that happens now, until the ACLU sues.)
If the South were its own country, many conservative Christian values would remain enshrined in law. Abortion would be banned or tightly restricted. Sex education would be abstinence-only. Gay marriage would be illegal. Kim Davis would do her job without any conscience problems.
If the South were its own country, politicians like Mike Huckabee, Ted Cruz, Bobby Jindal, and Rick Perry would run for president and have a real chance to win. After all, each held state-wide office in a southern state.
If the South were its own country, no one really knows what would have happened with regard to slavery and race. The question remains so explosive as to be almost beyond discussion. Certainly that great evil, slavery, would have survived far longer. Racism would not magically have gone away. If the issue had not gotten mixed up with southern resentment of the US government or northerners, that might have changed the later course of events. Who knows.
My overall point: if the South were its own country, its political culture would probably look an awful lot like today’s southern Republicanism — minus the resentment of the United States government and the very different culture it often represents. There would be greater cultural cohesion in both South and North. The countries would be very different. But maybe each would be governable.
Now back to our regularly scheduled culture wars.