Now that MLB’s decision to pull the All-Star Game out of Georgia has inextricably linked baseball and voting rights, the Toteboard has something to say about both of them. What a surprise, right?
But first, voting rights (baseball next time).
Georgia’s new voter restrictions took effect yesterday, but not without a fight. The US department of Justice, led by Merrick Garland, himself an erstwhile victim of Republican abuses of power, recently announced that it is, well, suing the great state of Georgia: “Our complaint alleges that recent changes to Georgia's election laws were enacted with the purpose of denying or abridging the right of Black Georgians to vote on account of their race or color, in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act."
And of course, the indignant, morally indigent republican leadership of Georgia is unwilling to accept this humiliating public chastisement without a fight. Georgia’s beleaguered governor Brian Kemp, who since the election has been caught between Trump’s rock and his own party’s hard place, wrote the whole thing off as a partisan stunt and announced just what is at stake in the coming Manichean conflagration between the respective forces of light and dark: “They are coming for you next. They’re coming for your state, your ballgame, your election laws, your business, and your way of life.”
It was this reference to his audience’s “way of life” that pricked up the Toteboard’s ears, as we must all surely be wondering what that “way of life” looks like, and exactly whose “way of life” it is that is so threatened by something as dangerous as the protection of the public’s right to vote. It’s probably safe to assume that the family and friends of the Toteboard are not the ones that Kemp is warning have so much to lose.
But enough beating around the bush. You’d have to be pretty fucking deaf to miss what a Southern republican politician is dog-whistling when he starts invoking “our way of life,” and it’s frankly kind of astonishing that the press hasn’t picked up on a battle-cry with such deep and malevolent historical roots.
So what are those roots? Well, the whole sordid affair can really be traced back to that pathetic ideology first articulated in Edward Pollard’s 1866 revisionist screed, The Lost Cause: A New Southern History of the War of the Confederates. And though Pollard did not employ the specific terminology, his work quickly came to be associated with the idea that the Civil War represented a vindictive assault on the “Southern way of life.” As for what that way of life was, how it was established and perpetuated, and why it was under siege, Pollard offered the following in his section on “The North Jealous of Southern Superiority:”
Slavery established in the South a peculiar and noble type of civilization. It was not without attendant vices; but the virtues which followed in its train were numerous and peculiar, and asserted the general good effect of the institution on the ideas and manners of the South. If habits of command sometimes degenerated into cruelty and insolence; yet in the greater number of instances, they inculcated notions of chivalry, polished the manners and produced many noble and generous virtues. If the relief of a large class of whites from the demands of physical labour gave occasion in some instances for idle and dissolute lives, yet at the same time it afforded opportunity for extraordinary culture, elevated the standards of scholarship in the South, enlarged and emancipated social intercourse, and established schools of individual refinement. The South had an element in its society – a landed gentry – which the North envied, and for which its substitute was a coarse ostentatious aristocracy that smelt of the trade, and that, however it cleansed itself and aped the elegance of the South, and packed its houses with fine furniture, could never entirely subdue a sneaking sense of its inferiority. There is a singularly bitter hate which is inseparable from a sense of inferiority; and every close observer of Northern society has discovered how there lurked in every form of hostility to the South the conviction that the Northern man, however disguised with ostentation, was coarse and inferior in comparison with the aristocracy and chivalry of the South.
If you find it astonishing that someone would write such an apologetic in the aftermath of near-universal moral condemnation and a humiliating military defeat, it is certainly more astonishing that this fiction (“myth” would be far too gentle a term) would catch on with and permeate so many corners of southern consciousness for the next century and a half. It’s this idea of a noble southern culture which had been envied, plundered, and unfairly maligned, and the concomitant blasé indifference to the sufferings of the forced, uncompensated generations-long labor force that enabled their imagined nobility, that propelled the South through each subsequent phase of delusional resistance to social progress and the forces of history itself. It’s the defense of the “southern way of life” that undergirded the resistance to Reconstruction, that gave birth to the Ku Klux Klan and justified Jim Crow, that perpetuated fantasies of “separate but equal,” and that fed the venomous (and violent) opposition to the Civil Rights Movement. By the middle of the twentieth century, it was pretty clear to anyone paying attention that the “southern way of life” catchphrase referred not to mint juleps and boiled peanuts, but to white supremacy and “states’ rights” (which are actually pretty much the same thing).
Take, for example, a fascinating 24-page smoking-gun entitled “Accomplishments and Record of Strom Thurmond,” the brochure that announced his first Senate bid in 1950. Thurmond, of course, had run for president two years earlier as the Dixiecrat (technically, the States’ Rights Democratic Party) nominee, proclaiming to cheering crowds that “there's not enough troops in the army to force the Southern people to break down segregation and admit the Nigra (sic) race into our theaters, into our swimming pools, into our homes, and into our churches.” In his campaign pamphlet, Thurmond lambastes Harry Truman for having stabbed the South in the back with his “civil rights message” and seethes with disdain for the “turncoat federal judges” who sided with the NAACP and “forced into our primary thousands of voters who do not believe in the principles of the Democratic Party of South Carolina.” He concludes by warning against the “outside influence that hates and seeks to destroy our way of life” (emphasis added), and identifies what’s at stake in near Apocalyptic terms: “There will be no middle ground in this campaign. The time has come when our people must take sides and stand up and be counted if we are going to retain home rule, block the trend toward socialism, and preserve our way of life” (emphasis added again).
And it’s not just politicians, and not just syphilitic dinosaurs, who invoke “our way of life” like a secessionist fraternity handshake. Consider, for example, the mission statement from Dixie Outfitters, a purveyor of “Southern Heritage Clothing” and other juvenile fripperies (since 1861): “Dixie Outfitters is proud to be Southern and proud of our ancestors who fought and died in the War for Southern Independence (sic). We believe various groups have distorted the real meaning of the Confederate Flag for their own purposes. We strive to feature the Confederate Flag in the context of history, heritage, and pride in the Southern way of life” (emphasis added, of course). Once your ears are attuned, you begin to notice such paeans to white supremacy in a lot of places.
And so, when our unreconstructed governor starts warning against the Department of Justice coming after “your” way of life, it’s should be pretty clear exactly what he is dog-whistling to the worst elements of his constituency. He is sending the not-so-coded message that certain people – through some perverse combination of race, geography, and history – are entitled to their political and cultural dominance, and that Black people having the unmitigated temerity to demand fair and equal access to the vote threatens that dominance. In the end, as he tries to perpetuate and legitimate the indefensible, Kemp is asserting kinship with a thoroughly despicable lineage. And it’s high time that someone, or several someones, start to call him out on that.
Go get him, Merrick. And don’t take any prisoners.