Beginnings of a long piece

[Originally published in 2017 except for the last paragraph]

The arc of history sounds a bit pompous, but an ignorance of it is far-reaching in its consequences. When the Scotch-Irish hit the American shore, they did not cluster in the cities but rather bowled through the Cumberland Gap on their way to Appalachia. Colin Woodard labels Greater Appalachia a swath of American extending from upper New York state to East Texas. It is among these folks that Trump gets a huge amount of support.
How have these people been characterized? Fiercely independent is one common epithet. I would say a “screw you” attitude. A good deal of internecine violence occurs, distinguishing them from the culture of the Deep South. The two cultures must be differentiated, though it is a bit hard to do so. Both cultures have spread into the rest of American culture, the latter culture acquiring the tag, “The Southernization of American Culture”. The culture of Appalachia, trucks and NASCAR, pervades entertainment. I think that sometimes, when writers refer to the Southernization of American culture, they really mean this Appalachian culture they associate with Tennessee and Kentucky, West Virginia, the Ozarks, etc.
Black culture derives more from Southern culture; Appalachians/Scotch-Irish were not big-time slave holders. Their little plots and cabins were not conducive to slave labor. They were poor, too, and slaves were expensive.  Most slave lived in small groups of 4-10 and the huge plantations with 50-100 slaves were few though influential. The overlap between Appalachian and Southern culture is extensive and is reflected in Black culture as well. Only in the 20th century did a significant number of Blacks leave the South. Neither the Blacks nor the Whites are anxious to admit this admixture, but it’s obvious. For one thing, it created one of the world’s greatest musical traditions.
So when Trump supporters gripe about immigrants, it is ironic since they were not well received and are still looked down on in so many ways. It must rankle, and it does. Their speech, dress, music, dancing, humor, pastimes, literature, family life, food and drink(ing) are all routinely parodied in the media. Southern culture is, too. But Black culture is celebrated and parodied only by other Blacks. Can you imagine some of the skits on In Living Color being performed on a show directed by Whites? Holy Hell would break loose. In many ways, the Scotch-Irish, in their subsequent reflex as Appalachians, still incur the opprobrium heaped on them at their initial appearance in America as refugees from the Border Lands wars and feuds. Nevertheless, so much of their culture has seeped into American life that we are tempted to portray the typical American as manifesting a tone of that culture. The book, Hillbilly Elegy, portrays the current state of that culture and the hard times it has fallen on. All we need now is self-driving trucks to destroy its subsistence base.

CNN will put on a program about Trump voters Aug. 14. We’ll see how that turns out. The arguments rage: is it economic, lost jobs? Is it cultural, fly-over country striking back? Is it nostalgia, a longing for the fifties? Is it a racist backlash against a two-term president who put the folks in the trailer parks in debt to a Black guy? Is it the decline of a great nation as depicted in Francis Fukuyama’s two-volume work on the inevitable cycles (or nearly inevitable) all civilizations go through? England isn’t what it was in the 18th century, France what it was in the 1600s, Germany what it…… well, it wasn’t even a nation until 1871; but these nations aren’t too shabby now; even Portugal, Spain, Italy, Greece have their charms. There is no shame in decline, but we are in no mood for it just now.

Feb. 19, 2020 A quote from Before the Storm by Rick Perlstein paraphrased: after the Republican National Convention in 1964 shouted down resolutions condemning extremism and supporting civil rights, a Texas delegate said that the South had just shoved the Mason-Dixon Line all the way to Canada.


  1. 伟思礼 says:

    I have little expectation that anything about Trump voters will be objective, no matter which side it comes from.

    I just downloaded a 233-page document claiming to describe citizenship requirements for 206 countries. Unfortunately, it’s nineteen years old.

  2. Pat Barrett says:

    Why not? Not all academics and journalists leave their biases at their front door when they leave for work but a lot do. What do you think is biased about me? You have plenty of my writing to go by. There are facts and interpretation of facts along with the selection of facts. :You get the facts as best you can from peer reviewed sources, whether the peers be academics or journalists or experts in the field. Interpretations have to be judged on how they are received by thoughtful, informed people. It doesn’t matter the slant of the receiver; if he is thoughtful and as objective as he can be, he may make some qualified and serious judgments about the interpretation.
    I read the Bulwark, a blog of prominent anti-Trump conservatives. I don’t agree with most of their interpretations but I take them seriously. In some case, as in their interpretation of Bernie Sanders, I have to agree with them despite my approval of his eventual goals and vision for the country. Sanders is a disruptor. Lots of people in this country are ready for disruption but I hope they have a chance to try to run things. It ain’t easy.
    I just don’t think a constant skepticism about everybody is warranted. You have to judge speakers/writers on their product as well as their honesty, agree with them or not.

  3. 伟思礼 says:

    It’s not always possible to judge the honesty of someone I don’t know. Long experience in finding disingenuity, half-truths, exaggerations, and even outright lies from politicians, journalists, and others has generated a high degree of cynicism and skepticism in me. And the time I’ve spent trying to verify things has weakened my motivation to continue doing so.

  4. Pat Barrett says:

    It sounds like you are relying on individuals as opposed to spheres of knowledge. A bridge builder may be a cheat and incompetent but we don’t give up on building bridges, we just go and find a better bridge builder, an honest, competent one.
    Also, you use two words, half-truths and exaggerations, which refer to the short-comings of presenting opinions, ideas, facts. etc. When I present my ideas, I am clearly selecting what to present and that is where my biases come in. An obvious example is when people blather on about American progress. All well and good but I usually have to ask if that includes African-Americans. I find that to be a blind spot for a lot of people and so I find that to be a bias in them and they might well see my harping on including African-Americans in the view of America as a bias on my part. I would defend myself by citing the harm done to our society by continually excluding them, what Jefferson called the fireball in the night, referring to slavery. They might reply that overall America has done well by most people and then I would reply to that by pointing out the pattern – Black people, not just people randomly who get left out. And so on.
    So there are half-truths there and exaggerations in both sets of eyes but neither pov should generate anything more than a healthy skepticism. IMHO.

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