Blue donkey in red bubble, blue house in blue bubble
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In the wake of the 2016 election, journalists and political commentators have been falling all over themselves to report on the plight of the so-called “white working class.” I hate to use the scare quotes, but the term is much less distinctive than it once was. We are all proletarians now: economic instability is keenly felt all over the country, at all levels of society, and not just among white people, either. Recent bestsellers like Arlie Hochschild’s Strangers in Their Own Land and J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy prove that there is a considerable market for books addressing the economic, political, and cultural gaps between city and country, between left and right. The latest of these is Ken Stern’s Republican Like Me: How I Left the Liberal Bubble and Learned to Love the Right.

Stern, the former CEO of NPR and a lifelong Democrat, was inspired to write the book after realizing that while his posh Washington D.C. neighborhood celebrated diversity of all kinds, he didn’t personally know any conservatives or even know anybody who did. He decided to take a year-long trip through red states to better understand the ways of the right. Stern’s approach is well-intentioned but essentially flawed — just because he happens to live in a liberal neighborhood doesn’t mean that he’s the only one living in a bubble. More… “Republican Like Who?”

Matt Hanson lives in Western Mass and writes for The Arts Fuse,  Boston’s online independent arts and culture magazine.  His work has also appeared in The Baffler, The Millions, and 3 Quarks Daily, and other places.  He can usually be found in the nearest available used bookstore.

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Would the United States be better off today, if the South had been allowed to secede, as many white Northern progressives wonder, sometimes as a joke, but sometimes in earnest?

Counterfactual history is a game, but it can be an instructive game. In my previous essay for this magazine, I argued that the secession of the South might well have set off a chain reaction of events in global politics, including the Balkanization of North America and an ominously different outcome to continental European power struggles like the world wars and the Cold War. In most of these scenarios, the Rump USA would have been worse off without the South than the actual USA has been since Lee’s surrender at Appomattox.

What about domestic politics? At least without Southern reactionaries in Congress, the Rump USA would have been a far more progressive place. Or would it have been?
More… “Without the South, Part II”

Michael Lind is a contributing writer of The Smart Set, a fellow at New America in Washington, D.C., and author of Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States.

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I made a kite once for an oversized Australian sound engineer. White paper on crossed dowels, with a painting of a kangaroo and a raccoon dancing under the Big Dipper (Northern hemisphere) and the Southern Cross (Southern hemisphere). Inter-hemispherical friendship and harmony! That was the message of the kite.

I still miss that kite.

The Southern Cross is a very subtle constellation. It’s only 4 stars in a diamond shape. Still, it is beautiful. And for Northern hemisphere dwellers like me, it’s rare and far away, so I treasure the memory of seeing those stars, the Southern Cross, so far away from home.

Except that in the US the Southern Cross also means the Confederate Flag, which to this overeducated Northern Jew whitey race-traitor means KKK and white supremacy, organized or more casual. It’s a stereotype, and it’s also simultaneously a social fact. The Confederate flag has meaning because of how the symbol is used: the social life of an object, if you will.
More… “Southern Cross”

Carolyn Chernoff is a sociologist and cultural worker. She is the co-founder of the Girls’ DJ Collective, and rose to brief infamy last year as “The sociologist of Miley Cyrus.” Her work examines the ways that everyday culture reproduces social inequality. Chernoff sporadically blogs on culture and meaning at popwithpolitics.tumblr.com.

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Driving south from the North, we tried to spot exactly where the real South begins. We looked for the South in hand-scrawled signs on the roadside advertising ‘Boil Peanut’, in one-room corrugated tin Baptist churches that are little more than holy sheds, in the crumbling plantation homes with their rose gardens and secrets. In the real South, we thought, ships ought to turn to riverboats, cold Puritanism to swampy hellfire, coarse industrialists with a passion for hotels and steel to the genteel ease of the cotton planter.

Most of what we believe about the South, wrote W.J. Cash in the 1930s, exists in our imagination. But, he wrote, we shouldn’t take this to mean that the South is therefore unreal. The real South, wrote Cash in The Mind of the South, exists in unreality. It is the tendency toward unreality, toward romanticism, toward escape, that defines the mind of the… More…

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When I learned that Harper Lee’s second novel is to be published, the first thought that came to my mind was: Will it be as biased against the white poor as To Kill a Mockingbird?

Like millions of other American schoolchildren, I was forced in public elementary school to endure a reading of this best-selling, Pulitzer Prize-winning classic of American literature, as though being traumatized by Charlotte’s Web in an earlier grade had not been punishment enough. My classmates and I were too young to understand what was going on and I thought the novel was tedious, confusing and creepy.

As an adult, I read the novel and watched the celebrated movie and found myself appalled for a different reason. A member, on one side of my family, of the Southern white gentry class to which Harper Lee belongs, I recognized that she was providing, in Atticus Finch, an absurdly idealized version of that class, in a melodrama that combines uplifting anti-racist sentiment with the most snobbish kind of “classism.” Unlike truly great 20th-century white Southern writers, like William Faulkner, Robert Penn Warren, Tennessee Williams and Flannery O’Connor, Harper Lee was unable to transcend the class biases of the Southern gentry. Black Americans who object to the novel and movie for infantilizing blacks have a point — but it must be added that the book and film do so, by demonizing poor whites.
More… “White Trash Gothic”

Michael Lind is a contributing writer of The Smart Set, a fellow at New America in Washington, D.C., and author of Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States.

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For both believers and nonbelievers, the pageantry of religion can sometimes feel like a whole lot of extraneous fuss. The stained glass, the snakes, the evocation of languages long dead — up, down, up, down, up again, down again. Shouldn’t you just be able to close your eyes and stand alone on a mountaintop wearing a simple shift to commune with the spirits? Even that, though, is a kind of ritual. The externalization of faith, whatever form it takes, is unavoidable. But it is also meaningful to and necessary for religion. All religions share a common attempt to communicate something that is, by all accounts, inexpressible: belief. Religion itself isn’t belief but razzamattazz, and all the glorious rituals and songs and handicrafts are in the service of communication, and thus, community. Years ago, during my youthful days in theater school, a teacher summed up this process quite nicely. “But Stefany,”… More…