The Great Redemption, Part II

Michael F., Adrastos, and Cassandra have all done a wonderful job of relitigating the mess that was this week’s election results. Scroll on down for more. Although I will add that the media is seemingly all-in on all sorts of misinformation, as shown by this CNN report:

Around 50 gallons of milk a month probably sounds insane, but that is a family with two biological kids, and bless ’em, five adopted kiddos, so maybe. But the big issue here is in a country where the average family size is 3.15, is a family that is nearly three times that really a representation of the “middle-class?”

We’re really losing our minds here.

Anyway, what I wanted to write about today is the rather eerie parallels I’m seeing now to a terrible time in our history, a time that will probably not get a mention in Virginia public schools now. And that is the Redemption.

For those who don’t know (that’s okay, probably weren’t taught much about it in school), the Redemption was a period in America during and after the Reconstruction that featured a massive backlash to the newfound freedoms and rights offered to former slaves. The Reconstruction featured a lot of American progress on race. Around 2,000 Black men were elected or appointed to positions ranging from local ones such as county sheriff on up to U.S. Senator. Education for freedpersons resulted in the opening of institutions such as Howard University and the Hampton Institute.

What happened next was a white Southern uprising. The Ku Klux Klan came on the scene, unleashing a campaign of terrorism so extreme that President Ulysses S. Grant declared martial law in parts of the South in 1871-1872. But at the same time, Grant’s actions received criticism even in the North, and here Southern conservatives, then Democrats, saw their opportunity.

Less violent but no less deviant actions began in the form of voting rights abuses such as poll taxes and hiding ballot boxes. Pride parades, the bad kind, started up in Southern towns, and Blacks were run out of office (see the Wilmington Insurrection of 1898 for an especially awful example). From the late 1800s into the 20th Century, those infamous statues of Confederates were put up in a campaign to intimidate Black Americans.

At the same time, a propaganda campaign like no other in American history was ongoing. Pop culture produced movies such as “Birth of a Nation,” “Gone with the Wind,” and “Song of the South” that furthered the idea of Reconstruction as a horrible time, and downplayed the cruelty of slavery. Think I’m exaggerating? See the horrifying scenes in “Birth of a Nation” of Black Congressmen acting like children, and Uncle Remus singing about how he misses the “good old days” (“Song of the South” took place right after the Civil War, so think about it).

The end result was basically the rise of a de facto Confederate dictatorship in the South right up into the 1960s, as nearly all offices were held by Southern Dixiecrats. This held Black Americans back not only in the South, but in the North as well, because Democrats like Franklin D. Roosevelt needed southern Dems to play ball so he could pass the New Deal. Since compromise in America is often done on the backs of Black Americans, things like anti-lynching laws never had a chance.

The echoes of these times reverberate through our current debates, so much so that the writer Te-Nehisi Coates, in his book “We Were Eight Years in Power,” finds deep parallels in the election of Obama and the immediate election of Donald Trump. The book’s title was the lament of Reconstruction-era Black politicians uttered as the American experiment in multiracial democracy ended with the return of a quasi-Confederacy.

The election of Trump is a clear parallel to the first Redemption, and it’s clear we’re not done with that. Last year, in June, the death of George Floyd led to widespread protests. Polls showed support for the protests. Then the narrative turned its focus on the violent incidents, despite the fact that most were peaceful. Support eroded. Then, critical race theory (CRT), a term that most Americans never heard of at this time last year, reared its head.

CRT was perfect for a Redemption 2.0. It is vague, something that people could argue what it means. It involved an important subject, education. It also played well into something we don’t talk enough about…it’s not just white conservatives who are easy targets for this stuff. As Cassandra pointed out, CRT quite possibly flipped a lot of white women who voted for Biden to Trump. Like “Gone with the Wind” and “Birth of a Nation,” CRT is propaganda that is not really based on fact. It’s not taught in schools and arguments that it is sound suspiciously like attempts to ban anything about slavery and race in our nation from the schools (pundits like Bari Weiss, for example). Another thing is these days, this is not something limited to the American South (Northerners need to check their bias at the door as it’s not like say rural Wisconsin is enlightened these days). Very authoritarian, and very suspicious to a lot of decent Americans who are fine with learning about how racism has shaped our nation and how understanding this can help us move towards a truly multi-racial and multi-cultural society.

But of course, there are all sorts of roadblocks put up now to us reaching that. And unfortunately, it sounds very familiar.

The last word goes to the Drive-By Truckers, who put out a remarkable concept album about being liberals from the South, and this song hits hard on what that’s like.

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