By Rudy Barnes, Jr.
The title of Heather Cox Richardson’s book, How the South Won the Civil War, was too tempting for me to resist. Reading it helped me understand why Trump is so popular in America’s red states. Trump tapped into a legacy of white supremacy in the old South and West that exploited free and cheap labor to gain wealth and power.
Richardson cited James Henry Hammond as a powerful racist politician in South Carolina (Governor 1842-1844; U.S. Senator 1857-1860), who not only promoted slavery but also sexually abused his teen-aged nieces. Hammond was followed by a more vulgar and racist tyrant, “Pitchfork Ben” Tillman (Governor 1890-1894, U.S. Senator 1895-1918).
South Carolina was a one-party (Democratic) state from before the Civil War until after the 1950s. Partisan divisions have since reversed, but politics remain polarized by race and party. Most White voters now vote Republican and support individual rights and oppose social welfare; most Black voters now vote Democratic and emphasize social welfare priorities.
The end of slavery did not end exploitation by America’s oligarchy. Today an oligarchy of crony capitalists controls the means of production in America and promotes politics that further their wealth and control of the economy. They condemn any regulations of big business, even though they are necessary to keep capitalism compatible with freedom and democracy.
Religion has always played a part in the strategy of American oligarchies. Slavery was considered the will of God before the Civil War; and except during the Great Depression, white supremacy continued to provide political and economic dynasties of white men who considered economic regulations an attack by the evils of socialism on the holy grail of capitalism.
Richardson’s account of the evolution of America’s political culture describes how a demagogue like Donald Trump can gain the support of red state voters in the South and the West; but it’s no excuse for their misguided politics. If American voters don’t support more altruistic politics that provide for the common good, American democracy will fail.
Richardson has stereotyped an oligarchy of wealthy racist White men like Hammond and Tillman who left a legacy of shame in South Carolina during the 19th century. Donald Trump’s immorality may make him seem like a 21st century reincarnation of Hammond and Tillman, even though America’s political culture today is far more diverse than it was 200 years ago.
Minorities and women have assumed leadership roles in America’s political oligarchies. The greatest threat to freedom and democracy today is from economic oligarchies on Wall Street and Silicon Valley that have created dangerous disparities in wealth with the support of the Federal Reserve. Congress must end crony capitalism and regulate megacorporations and their monopolistic practices to provide economic justice and restore healthy competition.
For a book review on How the South Won the Civil War: Oligarchy, Democracy, and the Continuing Fight for the Soul of America by Heather Cox Richardson, see https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/southern-elites-western-libertarians-and-the-conservative-coalition/2020/04/17/f4352c1c-6d4d-11ea-b148-e4ce3fbd85b5_story.html..
James Henry Hammond (November 15, 1807-November 13, 1856) was an attorney, politician, and planter from South Carolina. He served as a United States Representative from 1835–36, the 60th Governor of South Carolina from 1842–44, and United States Senator from 1857 to 1860. He was considered one of the major spokesmen in favor of slavery in the years before the American Civil War. Acquiring property through marriage, he ultimately owned 22 square miles, several plantations and houses, and more than 300 slaves. Through his wife's family, he was a brother-in-law of Wade Hampton II and uncle to his children, including Wade Hampton III. When the senior Hampton learned that Hammond had raped his four Hampton nieces as teenagers, he made the scandal public. It initially was thought to have derailed Hammond's career, but he later was elected as a U.S. senator. A Democrat, Hammond was perhaps best known during his lifetime as an outspoken defender of slavery and states' rights. He popularized the phrase that "Cotton is King" in his March 4, 1858, speech to the US Senate. In his writings, he consistently compared the South's "well compensated" slaves to the free labor of the North, describing the latter as "scantily compensated" slaves (as he termed the hired skilled laborers and operatives).[2 ] See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Henry_Hammond.
Benjamin Ryan “Pitchfork Ben” Tillman (August 11, 1847 – July 3, 1918) was a Democratic Governor of South Carolina from 1890 to 1894, and served as a United States Senator from 1895 until his death in 1918. A white supremacist who opposed civil rights for black Americans, Tillman led a paramilitary group of Red Shirts during South Carolina's violent 1876 election. On the floor of the U.S. Senate, he defended lynching, and frequently ridiculed black Americans in his speeches, boasting of having helped kill them during that campaign.
For more information on Tillman, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benjamin_Tillman.
Max Boot has described how too many people still underestimate the Trump threat. See https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/06/07/too-many-people-are-still-underestimating-trump/?utm.
On crony capitalism, see Exposing the Corruption of Crony Capitalism (May 9, 2020), posted at http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2020/05/exposing-corruption-of-crony-capitalism.html.