Donald Trump and the Lost Cause (Angie Maxwell, March 30, 2016, VQR)

Southern whiteness is not just about race. Yes, that is how it started. But as Southern whites faced the changing twentieth century, they became the “other” or foil to American identity. Each time the criticism poured in, they defined themselves in opposition to a growing pantheon of enemies. Southern whiteness expands beyond racial identity and supremacy, encapsulating rigid stances on religion, education, the role of government, the view of art, an opposition to science and expertise and immigrants and feminism, and any other topic that comes under attack. This ideological web of inseparable strands envelops a community and covers everything, and it is easily (and intentionally by Donald Trump) snagged.

The key environmental conditions (if we learn from Adler’s pattern again) that made it more likely, in the wake of such criticism, for an individual to develop an inferiority complex were poverty, lack of education, and authoritarian religion. The Southern white triptych or trap. For those of us who were born here or have spent our lives in the South, other than the sheer distinctive levels of violence, the trap remains the most painful dynamic to witness. The need to maintain white supremacy and patriarchy at all costs has, indeed, cost us almost everything. The price to maintain segregation, both legal and cultural, is limited access to and the denouncement of education. The price to maintain white economic power is the proliferation of pay-day lenders and right-to-work laws and the vilification of the “undeserving” on welfare and food stamps. The price to maintain male authority is the failure of almost all Southern states to ratify women’s suffrage in the 1920s (though they did so symbolically decades later, including Mississippi finally in 1984) or the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s and 1980s (renewed efforts failed in both Virginia and Arkansas just last year) and the wholesale demonization of feminism. The price to maintain fundamentalist Christian values includes the banning of textbooks, the denigration of non-Christians and of science in general. The price is so high that Southern states rank forty-eighth and forty-ninth and fiftieth time and again on almost every measure that matters to quality of life. And those rankings serve as alarms as well, and the whole thing becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy, an inescapable trap laid by the very folks it ensnares.

So public criticism for many white Southerners is constant and damaging and creates a defensive and extreme response that only causes more damage. In-migration to the South has diluted this community, but for many whites who self-identify as Southern, the inferiority complex is alive and well. We know from our own academic polling that whites who claim a Southern identity score significantly higher than those who do not on scales measuring racism, sexism, and fundamentalism. Whites who claim a Southern identity prove to be more decisive on public-policy issues, with significantly fewer respondents choosing a neutral or independent stance on health-care reform or gay marriage or abortion or affirmative action. In his letter to Life magazine in 1956, William Faulkner warned of this Southern white penchant for polarization. In the battle over integration, Faulkner questioned, “Where will we go, if the middle becomes untenable? If we have to vacate it in order to keep from being trampled?” They run to the right.

So George Wallace’s mantra of “You’re either for it or you’re against it” vibrates on a frequency that white Southerners recognize. It’s a team rally cry, sport-like with signs and tailgates. Even the pushed-up primary in the South was given a sports-conference moniker—SEC. Trump is the brashy, defiant, absolutist celebrity coach. The more he and his supporters are criticized, the more entrenched they become. And his fans want nothing less than a national championship.

They, of course, are not the only Americans who hear that dog whistle. Perhaps there is something to the “southernization of America” described by both Peter Applebome and John Egerton several years ago. NASCAR and country music and the spread of the Southern Baptist denomination across the country follow the American defeat of its own war in Vietnam. Whatever the reason, politicians learned over the last four decades that it is acceptable, even welcomed, to blow the dog whistles of racism and sexism and fundamentalism harder and louder in the South, and when they do the sound reverberates throughout the country. For white Southerners, the sounds are hard to distinguish; the battle for whiteness and patriarchy and church over state are compounded so fully that few can untie the knots in their own hearts and minds.

But outside of the region, in the other states that Trump has won—Illinois and Michigan and Nevada and New Hampshire—he need only strike one of these chords among voters. Maybe immigration is fueling nativism in one community, maybe the legalization of gay marriage has deeply upset another. Maybe some don’t want a female president. After all, white Southerners aren’t the only people who feel down and out or who feel discriminated against, which is clear in the simultaneous, yet separate, national rise of men’s rights movements (mostly notably in the online “Manosphere”), EEOC claims of reverse discrimination, and the belief (among 56 percent of Republicans) in a “war on Christmas.” Trump’s Southern strategy turns out to be less about geography and more about identity. And many want to go back to an America in which people like them run the show.

MAGA is just Identitarianism for white men. The Right is theb Left.


Violent crime is dropping fast in the U.S. — even if Americans don’t believe it (Karen Zamora, Ari Shapiro, Courtney Dorning, 2/12/24, NPR)

“At some point in 2022 — at the end of 2022 or through 2023 — there was just a tipping point where violence started to fall and it just continued to fall,” said Jeff Asher, a crime analyst and co-founder of AH Datalytics.

In cities big and small, from both coasts, violence has dropped.

“The national picture shows that murder is falling. We have data from over 200 cities showing a 12.2% decline … in 2023 relative to 2022,” Asher said, citing his own analysis of public data. He found instances of rape, robbery and aggravated assault were all down too.

It’s just back to racial hysteria now.


Trump suggests he’d disregard NATO treaty, urge Russian attacks on allies (Marianne LeVine, February 10, 2024, Washington Post)

“One of the presidents of a big country stood up and said, ‘Well, sir, if we don’t pay and we’re attacked by Russia, will you protect us?,’” Trump said during a rally at Coastal Carolina University. “I said, ‘You didn’t pay. You’re delinquent.’ He said, ‘Yes, let’s say that happened.’ No, I would not protect you. In fact, I would encourage them to do whatever the hell they want.”


The Last of the Menckenians: Struggling with an American Iconoclast (Michael Downs, February 2, 2024, LA Review of Books)

The publication of his diaries in December 1989 showed him writing in disparaging, cruel, and vile ways about Black and Jewish people. Ever since, most conversations about Mencken and his cultural value require reckoning with his racism. That September day, such a reckoning came during the Mencken Memorial Lecture. The library invited DeWayne Wickham, a renowned journalist who hails from Baltimore, to offer the talk. When he took the stage, attendance in the auditorium had grown to about 50. About a third of them, like Wickham, were Black.

Wickham told us that he grew up only about two miles as the bird flies from Mencken’s longtime residence, though separated by decades and by “power and privilege.” Since the diaries, he noted, some defenders have pointed to writings in which Mencken seems to champion Black America, especially Black writers. Wickham rejected those arguments, finding racist language and attitudes amid Mencken’s praise. In one of his several examples, Mencken’s positive review of Alain Locke’s literary anthology The New Negro: An Interpretation (1925), Mencken ended by noting that, despite their talent, Black writers and poets would create little improvement in Black America’s culture because “[t]he vast majority of the people of their race are but two or three inches removed from gorillas: it will be a sheer impossibility, for a long, long while, to interest them in anything above pork-chops or bootleg gin.”

“So,” Wickham concluded, “was H. L. Mencken a racist? I’ll leave it to you to decide.”

During the post-talk Q and A, a white man (I would later learn that his middle name is Mencken) suggested that people might consider Mencken an elitist rather than a racist because Mencken hated everybody. Mencken’s writings famously attack a wide range of characters, including Southerners, evangelical tub-thumpers, idealists, Calvin Coolidge, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Palestinians, jazz fans, university professors, and countless others.

A Black man then rose and asked the central question: given Mencken’s self-damning racism and hatred of nearly everyone he saw, why do we even have a day recognizing this man?

“This is one of the things we’re going to forever struggle with,” replied Wickham, making a statement that could apply to most things Mencken. To read him is to struggle. He allows for no easy agreement on any topic, ever. Wise in one moment, foolish in another. Kind here, cruel there. His literary salvos, often breathtaking in their brio and audacity, can make you forget your quarrel with their substance.

Mencken Society people read HLM, I learned that Saturday, in large part for that struggle. They are readers who want to think and feel complicated things about a complicated writer. To read Mencken, Hart told me, you have to say to yourself, “I’m going to get skewered. Part of the pleasure of reading someone like that—you really have to stay on your toes.”

Aficionados don’t read Mencken because they expect to agree with him. They read him for the adrenaline jolt. That jolt hits because Mencken delivers scorn with wit and reason. He vivifies his 21st-century fans just as he did for readers in the previous century. “He calls you a swine, and an imbecile,” wrote critic Walter Lippmann in 1926, “and he increases your will to live.”

Visit the Pratt’s special collections and you can find a copy of The Great Gatsby with a note inscribed from Fitzgerald to Mencken asking for a positive review. You can also find a lock of hair from Edgar Allan Poe and another from his wife, Virginia.

Baltimore loves Poe, whose visage you see on T-shirts and tattoos. A festival dedicated to him less than a month after Mencken Day filled a weekend with musical acts, performers reciting his work, a film debut, and a parade with a costume contest. Poe is recognized even by the city’s NFL team, the Ravens, and its mascots Edgar and Allan. Nevertheless, Poe, like Mencken, is an intellectual figure whose legacy is complicated by a sordid personal life: he met his first cousin Virginia in Baltimore and married her when she was 13 and he was 27; he died a mysterious death and is buried at the city’s Westminster Hall next to his child bride.

Poe gave much more to literature than Mencken did. The detective and horror genres owe him everything, and through his criticism, he helped define the short story. But he never loved Baltimore as Mencken did.

Yet Baltimore’s love for Mencken used to be stronger and more complicated. In 1965, the mayor gave a speech at the city’s German Day celebration lauding Mencken: “Because he was an extremely bold and forthright critic,” said Mayor Theodore R. McKeldin, “he made enemies […] Thus, to this day, one finds honest and otherwise intelligent people who are unable to understand why so much of Baltimore delighted in Mencken while he lived and still cherishes his memory.”

These days, not quite. Consider the Pratt’s own treatment of Mencken Day. In 2012, the library’s much-loved director, Carla Hayden (now librarian of Congress), introduced the Mencken Memorial speaker. For Wickham’s lecture, the highest-ranking library employee in the room was the head of special collections. Mencken’s following took a blow with the diary’s publication, but also the city has changed: Baltimore’s population has shrunk to about 60 percent of its previous size, and six of every 10 residents are now Black. As Wickham’s lecture showed, Mencken is a harder sell to those who most keenly feel his racism. Why have a day for this man when the city’s populace can look instead to Ta-Nehisi Coates or Lucille Clifton?

“Do you teach Mencken?” I asked a local journalism professor whom I recognized at the Mencken Society meeting. No, she said. You can’t teach a column or two of Mencken in a survey course without glossing over his history. And to gloss over the history, I said, means you could be criticized for glossing over his history.

The longer I pay attention to Mencken, the more one thing becomes clear: to wrestle with Mencken is also to wrestle with the United States and American culture—and not just as it was in his time. To wrestle with Mencken is to wrestle with the country and the culture as it is now.


THE BLOODY RIVALRY THAT LED TO THE FALL OF DEMOCRACY IN ATHENS: The clash of two Athenian leaders with ties to Socrates (MATT GATTON, 2/07/24, CrimeReads)

There is no word on Socrates’s feelings about the chatter of Alcibiades being named tyrant, but Socrates’s perspective on tyrants in general is well recorded by Plato. To Socrates, the flaw of democracy is its vulnerability to tyrants. The populace—the mob, as he calls them—are gullible and can easily fall under the spell of a charismatic leader. Alcibiades certainly fits the bill. In Socrates’s estimation, the tyrant first appears as a protector. The people have something they fear, either inside or outside of the state, either real or imagined, from which the tyrant claims he can guard them. He will make them the “victors.” The people flock to him of their own accord, for he pays them in lies, lies they want to hear, lies they want to believe. They are “superior”; they are “true patriots.” His favorite tools are false accusations and unleashing his mob against the “threat.” In time, the tyrant erases any and all opposition, “with unholy tongue and lips tasting the blood of his fellow citizens.” He and his supporters are empowered by the purge, “and the more detestable his actions . . . the greater devotion he requires from his followers.” These words are as true in the modern world as they were in ancient Athens.


Goofy ‘God’s Army’ convoy on Texas border shows Trump’s MAGA movement is just one long con (Rex Huppke, 2/05/24, USA TODAY)

In Texas, the MAGA movement again reveals its impotence
So God’s Army’s foot soldiers came, in underwhelming numbers, and accomplished little beyond showing everyone how tragically gullible they are and making the locals twitchy. That’s MAGA in a nutshell: loud, threatening and, in the end, impotent.

…they lack manhood.


Texas border showdown is far-right magnet, hate trackers warn (Arelis R. Hernández and Hannah Allam, February 2, 2024, Washington Post)

EAGLE PASS, Tex. — A motley crew is gathering here this weekend: militia-style groups invoking 1776 and the Civil War. Christian nationalists praying for the chance to confront evil. Racists stoking fear about the “replacement” of White people. Election deniers, anti-vaccination crusaders, conspiracy theorists.

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And, at the center, a prominent Republican figure whose fiery rhetoric acts as a magnet.

Right-wing extremists are dusting off the blueprint for the Jan. 6, 2021, storming of the U.S. Capitol and using it to rally support for their cause du jour: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s showdown with the federal government over border enforcement. Monitoring groups warn that Abbott’s posturing, like Trump’s “Stop the Steal” effort, heightens the risk of political violence as supporters converge on Eagle Pass, a frontier outpost of 28,000.

Where’s Janet Reno when we need her? The hard part of fighting insurgencies is getting them to cluster and these guys are making target-acquisition easy.


‘Senator, I’m Singaporean’: TikTok CEO Faces Off Against Tom Cotton (Oscar Gonzalez, 1/31/23, Gizmodo)

Wednesday’s hearing in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee got a little spicy as senators took turns bashing the CEOs of the biggest social media platforms. While well-deserved for the most part, it was Sen. Tom Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas, who decided to go down a weird path with TikTok CEO Shou Chew.

“Have you ever been a member of the Chinese Communist Party,” Sen. Cotton asked Chew after taking a dramatic pause from asking the CEO multiple questions about what country he was a citizen of.

“Senator, I’m Singaporean. No,” Chew replied with a smirk as if maybe this was a joke told by the gentlemen from Arkansas.

“Have you ever been associated or affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party,” Cotton asked seriously, clearly showing he was not joking.

“No, Senator. Again, I’m Singaporean,” Chew answered giving a quick glance forward as if to say, “Oh, he was serious about this.”


Is Argentina’s new president, Javier Milei, a far-right leader? (Federico Chaves Correa, 1/25/24, The Conversation)

In an article summarizing the far-right political parties in Europe, Matt Golder, professor of political science at Pennsylvania State University, analyzes the scientific literature on them. He finds three elements that are increasingly characteristic of this movement: “nationalism,” “populism,” and “radicalism.”

The nationalism expounded by far-right parties can be described as “nativism.” According to Cas Mudde, professor of political science at the University of Georgia, “nativism” is understood as “nationalism plus xenophobia.” It is based on the idea of the existence of an imaginary “native” population built on cultural or ethnic features, whose homogeneity must be protected from any element that is foreign and external to it.

With its conception of a homogeneous community, nativism is then added to nationalism, which is articulated as the congruence between state and nation. This contributes the element of xenophobia mentioned by Mudde. In so doing, extreme right-wing movements put forward a radicalized preference for anything that can be defined as belonging to the “national community.”

This version of nationalism is well known, and it is easy to find European and American examples of it: Éric Zemmour’s calls against the “Great Replacement,” Trump’s warnings about the danger of immigration, or the Islamophobia of the Alternative for Germany party, are some examples.

This nativism on the part of far-right parties is becoming the foundation of their political projects, including their economic policies.

It is on this basis that the contemporary far right is putting forward clear protectionist projects. A large proportion of far-right movements share Euro-scepticism, nationalization and anti-globalization rhetoric. The root of their projects is a belief in a national community, defined either in ethnic or cultural terms, which must be protected from the influence of outside elements.


Texas’ Border Stunt Is Based on the Same Legal Theory Confederate States Used to Secede (Rotimi Adeoye, Updated Jan. 28, 2024, Daily Beast)

Furthermore, Abbott’s letter espouses the fringe theory of constitutional law known as “compact theory,” popularized by Confederate states during the Civil War era and supported by Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

This theory posits that the United States was formed through a compact agreed upon by the states, with the federal government being a creation of the states. However, this view conflicts with the widely accepted social contract theory, which asserts that the federal government derives its authority from the consent of the people, not the states. The Supreme Court has consistently rejected compact theory, deeming it illegitimate and incompatible with constitutional law.

At the crux of what’s happening at the southern border lies the question: Does the federal government have the authority to regulate access to Texas’ borders? The answer is unequivocally, yes.

Texas’ embrace of compact theory and its assertion that state government can supersede federal authority directly contradict the landmark Supreme Court case of McCulloch v. Maryland (1819).