Within the context of the American historical and cultural imagination, any mention of the pre-Civil War South conjures up romantic images of plenty, images of stately elegant mansions, dashingly gallant men, and genteelly demure women.
However, this image purposely glosses over the other realities of the pre-Civil War South. First of all, it does not include the innumerable exploited and abused black bodies, on the backs of whom this idyllic, overly romanticized image rests, financed by the enormous profit gained by virtue of their coerced labor. In addition, and most importantly for this piece, this image excludes that vast pre-Civil War population of whites that did not profit and grow rich from the institution.
In fact, for most of this vast population, slavery actually proved detrimental to their economic well-being. The very presence this institution, supported by the free, unpaid labor force of enslaved men and women, severely limited the avenues of economic and educational opportunity and upward mobility, leaving them painfully ignorant, poor as church mice, and raggedy as mango seeds.
However, slavery functioned as much more than an economic system. It also functioned as a social system. And within this social system, slavery acted as a mechanism of control, keeping at bay any threat of revolt by its discontents, that economic class of poor whites it produced.
In what might have been the one of the earliest precursors to the modern Jedi mind trick, within the caste-like social system of slavery in which race served as a sign determining inclusion or exclusion, free man or slave, their whiteness offered them a somewhat timorous place of status and privilege vis-à-vis the enslaved blacks.
In other words, in their minds they figured that though they may have indeed been painfully ignorant, poor as church mice, and raggedy as mango seeds, their whiteness excluded them from the basement, the very rock bottom tier, of that social system, slavery, and guaranteed them a certain measure of access to and inclusion in that system, so they embraced and supported that system, even against their own interests.
This fact alone kept them content, and in this way, whiteness became invested with a certain exaggerated value, transforming it into a currency of sorts.
However, the pre-Civil War Southern leadership class, those dashingly gallant men who owned the stately elegant mansions built from the profits of coerced black labor, bet it all on succession and promptly lost, and the institution of slavery, along with its built-in social system, fell, threatening the value of whiteness as currency and its usefulness as a mechanism of control.
The members of that Southern leadership class, realizing that social system to be key to them retaining their power and reassuming their place of wealth and prominence, devised and instituted the Jim Crow system to replace it, returning value to the currency of whiteness.
Then, in the 1960’s, the Democratic Party, the political party of the new leadership class in the South, began to champion the Civil Rights Movement, which tore down the system of Jim Crow, thereby undermining and devaluing the currency of whiteness, and enraged Southerners, the Dixiecrats, fled the Democratic Party for Republican Party in droves, attracted by the openly racial rhetoric of presidential candidate Richard Nixon’s Southern Strategy and its implicit promise to return value to the currency of whiteness.
And there they have remained until this very day, supporting the party and faithfully voting for republican candidates year after year, election cycle after election cycle, even against their own interests.
Yet, after all this time, it seems to seem to them, the Republican Party has failed to deliver its implicit promise to return value to the currency of whiteness. In fact, it seems to seem to them, not only has the Republican Party failed to deliver its promise, it has haplessly allowed itself to become inextricably ensnared in a tar pit of political correctness and no longer possesses the will or the courage to even call a spade a spade, so to speak.
So, a sense of indignant race and discontent, repressed since the 1960’s, returns to the fore, where it has simmered, barely contained, just beneath the surface.
Then, along comes one arrogantly ignorant, ignorantly arrogant, attention-seeking, self-serving billionaire businessman Mr. Donald J. Trump, who in his pseudo presidential campaign/publicity tour evinces a certain willingness to say absolutely anything and leave no stone of crass racial indignation unturned.
And though Trump grows steadily and increasingly more insultingly, viciously outrageous, spewing nothing other than self-serving gibberish without offering even one coherent or viable policy proposal or solution to the issues facing this nation, his popularity and number of supporters grows accordingly, eclipsing the other republican candidates, much to the consternation, chagrin, and dismay of political pundits, experts, and, most of all, mainstream republicans.
But they—we all—fail to hear, to discern, in his offensive, racially-charged rhetoric his implicit promise to finally honor the Republican Party’s debt and return value to the currency of whiteness his followers perceive as having been lost in the civil rights negotiations of the 1960’s. He promises a return to a caste-like social system in which race acts as an open and acknowledged sign determining access, inclusion, and privilege and no longer has to be couched in coded language or disguised within any of the new structured systems of oppression as it now does.
For his supporters, then, it matters not that they would probably gain very little from a Trump presidency, that a vote for Trump would be a vote against their own interests. For them Donald Trump represents the South’s very last and best chance to rise again, and his candidacy presents an opportunity that they cannot pass up.