The South shall rise again. Oh they hope. But, like yeast in dough, a punch here and a stomp there and poof goes the best-kneaded plans of a neophyte chef.
I have this picture of the stereotypical southern sheriff pulling me over on a two-lane highway and saying with a gruff drawl. “You in a heap o’ trouble.” And then I am thrown into a dark corner of a roach-infested jail and forced to stay there for the entire weekend — undergoing physical threats from each Bubba with a billy club.
Obviously, the bully boys of the South are products of a regional lifestyle that rewards power and greed. It’s a disease carried throughout the country, not just the South, by the Republicans. It’s just that the South provides such a well-defined poster for laying the blame on the haves in their subjugation of the have-nots.
The South rise again? The question might be which South — the plutocrats or the oppressed? Right now, the bully boys are on top with some making noise that sounds a lot like a separatist movement. To me, the have-nots wallow in apathy, unlike those that rose against segregation and exploitation.
Them that’s got do well in the land of cotton, oil, bourbon and lumber. Those good ol’ boys have taken the one percent philosophy and run like a Bama backfield.
However you look at an economic graph, you see the haves of the South enjoying the cocktails on Saturday and the sermons on Sunday.
Unfortunately, the have-nots in the South suffer, from salaries to funding education. The bully boys say hell no to any progressive policy, as evidenced by their disdain for the Affordable Care Act. And guess who needs that health? Right, all those southern folks who don’t have Big Daddy to fund their lives and good times.
The Great Recession and Not-So-Great Recovery have been bad news for most Americans, but some folks have suffered more than others. As one pundit put it, “We call those people ‘Southerners.’”
The southern states showed the biggest increases in the number of people living in what are known as “poverty areas” between 2000 and 2010, according to a Census Bureau report. For a family of four, the poverty line in most states is an annual income of $23,850.
Today, 25.7 percent of all Americans live in such areas, up from 18.1 percent in 2000, according to the report. Having a quarter of the nation living this way results in higher crime rates, poor housing conditions and fewer job opportunities, the report pointed out.
Southern states were five of the six biggest gainers. This shouldn’t be cause for a shock face because southern states consistently lag the rest of the country in good things like wages, economic mobility and access to health care, while leading it in bad things like poverty, obesity and general unhappiness.
Just as an aside, Mississippi has more internet hits on porno sites than any other state.
Another thing Southern states have in common is Republican leaders who have spent their political lives shrinking the social safety net.
Why does the South remain so poor?
David Kaiser, an historian of international and domestic politics, provides part of the rationale: the de-industrialization of the South, thanks to NAFTA, and the general movement of industry overseas. Regions that live by cheap labor, it turns out, die by cheap labor, because there is always somewhere where labor will be cheaper still.
The South remains strong for Republicans, who reflect the tenets of the old Dixiecrats. The election of 2008 drew a clear line around the deep South. Virginia and North Carolina, both of whom include substantial new urban and educated areas, voted narrowly for Obama, as did Florida, which is only partly a southern state at all. But the rest of the old Confederacy voted overwhelmingly for Republican candidate James McCain, based on the same sad resentments that have controlled much of the poor white vote for most of the last 150 years.
Ask someone from the Deep South if Obama was born in the U.S. and you shouldn’t be surprised that the answer oftentimes is no.
The South has no corner on power and greed, but they live true to their beliefs.
Awhile back, Daisy Grewal, a social psychiatrist, wrote: “Who is more likely to lie, cheat, and steal—the poor person or the rich one? It’s tempting to think that the wealthier you are, the more likely you are to act fairly. After all, if you already have enough for yourself, it’s easier to think about what others may need. But research suggests the opposite is true: as people climb the social ladder, their compassionate feelings towards other people decline.”
She said research showed how upper class individuals were worse at recognizing the emotions of others and less likely to pay attention to people they were interacting with.
“But why would wealth and status decrease our feelings of compassion for others?” she asked rhetorically. “After all, it seems more likely that having few resources would lead to selfishness.”
The answer is that wealth and abundance give people a sense of freedom and independence from others. The less we have to rely on others, the less we may care about their feelings, Grewal said, adding, “This leads us towards being more self-focused.”
Given the growing income inequality in the United States, the relationship between wealth and compassion has important implications, she wrote. Those who hold most of the power in this country, political and otherwise, tend to come from privileged backgrounds. If social class influences how much we care about others, then the most powerful among us may be the least likely to make decisions that help the needy and the poor.
What can be the consequences of all this? In an essay published in Politico magazine, venture capitalist Nick Hanauer warned that the widening income gap in the U.S. would eventually spark a violent revolution. He didn’t say so, but maybe something along the lines of the infamous Watts uprising.
“No society can sustain this kind of rising inequality,” Hanauer wrote. “In fact, there is no example in human history where wealth accumulated like this and the pitchforks didn’t eventually come out.”
Hanauer, who lives in Washington, suggested raising the minimum wage to $15 and the Seattle city council obliged recently, passing an an ordinance including that figure.
Oh, but detractors certainly remain. Andy Puzder, the head of CKE restaurants, the parent company of Hardees and Carl’s Jr., said the consequences of raising the minimum wage included more youth unemployment, higher prices and increased automation.
“If government gets out of the way, businesses will create jobs and wages will go up,” he told Yahoo!.
Many economists say his statements are bull. By the way, Puzder made $4.4 million in 2012, according to Forbes.
Will the South rise again? So goes the South so goes the country — a lot of focus on power and greed.
(The Sands Blog Is Scheduled To Return July 24).