. . . why redneck culture matters.
In 2004 Jim Webb wrote Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America. Though the 2016 presidential election was well over the horizon, Mr. Webb's book is a useful primer on what kept Hillary Diane Rodham Clinton out of the White House and what put Donald John Trump in.
Rednecks, says Mr. Webb, "are . . .
Rednecks certainly turned against Ms. Clinton. She called one-half of Trump voters "a basket of deplorables." This impolitic expression of contempt delighted many of her supporters, but it hardened the spirit of Trump nation, led by an honorary redneck in a red truck-stop cap. Ms. Clinton dodged the industrial Midwest; Mr. Trump flooded that zone.
Here are excerpts from Born Fighting. Read'em. You'll learn something. The first are from page 12 of my paperback edition. The boldfaced and italicized emphases are mine.
Paradoxically, the Scots–Irish are also a culture of isolation, hard luck, and infinite stubbornness that has always shunned formal education and mistrusted—even hated— any form of aristocracy. In this sense they have given us the truest American of all, the man the elites secretly love to hate (except in Hollywood, where he is openly reviled to the point of caricature), the unreconstructed redneck.
From pages 18–20:
Because "sophisticated" America tends to avert its eyes from the bellicose and often warlike nature of [the Scots–Irish] journey, it also is inclined to ignore or misunderstand this culture, even though the Scots–Irish continue to hold enormous social and political sway. Other than the occasional student that they are usually able to tame through the educational process of their high-end universities, or the Southern politician that they can indoctrinate and mold into their version of a respectable presidential candidate, America’s elites have had very little contact with this culture. As with African–Americans fifty years ago, they rest comfortably with the false notion that the "redneck world" does not comprise a social or political force outside of the narrow and often invented social issues that are necessary to get its vote. The elites do not have to deal with people from this culture on a daily basis in their classrooms or their neighborhoods or at work. They do not see them in their clubs or go to the same parties. They do not need their goodwill in order to advance professionally. But they ignore them at their peril. Because in this culture’s heart beats the soul of working-class America.
These are loyal Americans, sometimes to the point of mawkishness. They show up for our wars. Indeed, we cannot go to war without them. They haul our goods. They grow our food. They sweat in our factories. And if they turn against you, you are going to be in a fight.
Indeed. Ms. Clinton learned too late that she was in this fight, and she lost.
Mr. Webb's next paragraph quotes Walter Russell Mead on "the Jacksonian Tradition." Here is the text of that paragraph, beginning about halfway through.
The Jacksonians, [Mead] indicated, are "instinctively democratic and populist." They believe "that the government should do everything in its power to promote the well-being—political, moral, economic—of the folk community. . . ."
Mead asserts that this political movement takes its views from the Scots–Irish definitions of personal honor, equality, and individualism, and then makes two vitally significant observations. The first is that despite this reality, the Jacksonians are virtually invisible to America’s elites. "Jacksonianism is less an intellectual or political movement than an expression of the social, cultural and religious values of a large portion of the American public. And it is doubly obscure because it happens in one of the portions of the public least represented in the media and the professoriate."
The second is that the tenets of Jacksonianism have expanded beyond the Scots–Irish to become the dominant political mode of America’s working class, including the more recent immigrant communities in the North. . . .
On pages 181–182, Mr. Webb sets up a cultural contrast between the Scots–Irish, who refuse "to recognize human worth in terms of personal income and assets," and the larger culture, which measures "power and influence through the ownership of property."
This formula [referring to the larger culture’s view] would also mutate rather harshly where it combined with the false aristocracy that evolved out of the eastern Virginia plantation system in the so-called Black Belt of lower Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, western Tennessee, and eastern Arkansas. In this sense . . . the South writ large would continue to perpetuate a widely misunderstood but pervasive three-tiered class structure that in many ways still exists to this day. Suffice it to say that from the outset, "poor but proud" was an unapologetic and uncomplaining way of life. Nor, on the other side, did modern liberals invent the term "redneck," although it is only in recent decades that the term has been uttered by American elitists with such an arrogant, condescending sneer. In truth, "redneck" is an ethnic slur, however ignorant those who use it may be of that reality. The moniker was used to earmark the rough-hewn Scots-Irish Presbyterians as early as 1830 in North Carolina and had its roots in the north of Britain long before that. Similarly, the term "cracker" was used pejoratively by the English upper classes even before the Revolution in referring to the "lawless set of rascals on the frontiers of Virginia, Maryland, the Carolinas and Georgia."
The difference between this culture and most others is that its members don’t particularly care what others think of them. To them, the joke has always been on those who utter the insult. As a country song [by Alan Jackson, dude] happily puts it, "It’s alright to be a redneck." In recent years, comedian Jeff Foxworthy has made a prosperous career out of inventing insulting "redneck" jokes aimed at an audience of his own people. Not long ago, during a debate in which Native Americans were denouncing the Washington Redskins for the supposedly demeaning nature of their team name, a listener from West Virginia call into a local radio station. "Screw this," he said. "Let’s call them the Washington Rednecks and we’ll ALL come to the games."
It was indeed [all right] to be a redneck, even from the beginning. A tremendous energy percolated inside these remote and fiercely independent communities. A hypnotic and emotionally powerful musical style evolved from its Celtic origins until "country music" became a uniquely American phenomenon. . . .
Mr. Webb then catalogues the "inventiveness and adaptability" of the Scots-Irish redneck culture, which produced the reaper (Cyrus McCormick), the sewing machine (James Gibbs), and other inventions.
The power—and ultimately the attractiveness—of the Scots-Irish culture stemmed from its insistence on the dignity of the individual in the face of power, regardless of one’s place or rank in society. . . .
Mr. Webb's final thoughts on redneck culture appear on pages 294–296.
As the civil rights movement progressed, and even as it was memorialized, the Southern redneck became the enemy, the veritable poster child of liberal hatred and disgust, even today celebrated in film after film, book after book, speech after speech (along with his literary godson, the skinhead), as the emblem of everything that had kept the black man down. No matter that the country club whites had always held the keys to the Big House, or that many of them had done well at the expense of the disadvantaged whites and blacks alike. No matter that the biggest race riots took place outside the South, in that Promised Land where blacks were still being held down by policies, many of them unwritten, which precluded them from assimilating into the American mainstream. Harlem and Bedford Stuyvesant erupted in 1964. Malcolm X was killed in New York a year later. The Watts section of Los Angeles blew up in 1965, in large-scale violence that left 34 dead and more than 1,000 injured. Chicago rioted in 1966, as did Cleveland. Newark and Detroit followed in 1967. Many of these same cities as well as others saw renewed rioting in 1968.
No matter, actually, that except in his fierce resistance, both to forces from the outside and to a misreading of his own history, the redressing of wrongs to African-Americans was not a Southern redneck phenomenon at all. It was an American phenomenon, for which the Southern redneck has been held up as a whipping boy.
Why was he singled out? Partly because the Southern redneck was such an easy target, with his intrinsic stubbornness, his capacity for violence, and his curious social ways. And partly because something else was going on, something deeper and more fundamental to the social and political makeup of the country: a feeling that the culture so dramatically symbolized by the Southern redneck was the greatest inhibitor of the plans of the activist Left and cultural Marxists for a new kind of society altogether.
From the perspective of the activist Left, Jacksonian populists are the greatest obstacles to what might be called the collectivist taming of America, symbolized by the edicts of political correctness. And for the last fifty years the Left has been doing everything in its power to sue them, legislate against their interests, mock them in the media, isolate them as idiosyncratic, and publicly humiliate their traditions in order to make them, at best, irrelevant to America’s future growth.
In the classic film Cool Hand Luke, the warden of the Arkansas [Wikipedia says Florida] work camp [read prison] was fond of saying over and over to the irascible, unbreakable title character, "Luke, we got to get your mind right. Is your mind right, Luke?" But the warden never got Luke’s mind right. . . . . [Luke] kept running and kept resisting, because he would rather die than have the warden make his mind right.
Luke was nothing more than an unpretentious wild man, a good old, unreconstructed, unredeemable redneck. And whatever these societal manipulators may want to do with their lawsuits and their movies and their constant mockeries, they must understand that they are dealing with a whole lot of Lukes, millions of them, who are only now beginning to comprehend the depth of cynicism and unfairness that has attended so many national policies over the past generation, to their disadvantage.
Change the fabric of their culture? It hasn’t happened yet, not in two thousand years. And it won’t happen now.
Unca D, declinist, is not so sure about that.
Evidence of the collapse of redneck culture is abundant. The opiod epidemic. A poor work ethic and, with it, high unemployment. The decline of religious faith, traditional source of meaning and purpose. And the atrophy of marriage, incubator of stable families and well-reared children. The things to read are Coming Apart by Charles Murray and Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and a Culture in Crisis.