Should the South just be its own country?
Maybe it’s because I spent the 1990s covering eastern Europe and the Balkans, but I feel far less assured that Thompson’s Second Confederacy would have a peaceful birth. We have most of the ingredients here for a nasty bloodbath: long-suppressed national grievances, religious extremists in positions of power, a militant culture (in Appalachia), an armed and poorly educated populace, a formal ethnically based caste system in place within living memory, and a history of conflict with the federation it would be leaving. Call me crazy to suggest things could spin out of control during the fractious effort to undo the federation, but remember that in 1990 alarmists in Sarajevo laughed at that concept too. My assessment of the human condition prevents me from endorsing or advocating a breakup of the United States, as convenient a solution as it might seem on paper. If anything, Thompson’s work heightens rather than allays these concerns.
Apparently I’m not alone in feeling this way. As the book barrels toward its conclusion, Thompson describes trying to get various figures to engage with his secession plan. James Carville, Paul Krugman, and Lindsey Graham wouldn’t return his repeated interview requests. Lind, a native Texan and author of Made in Texas, wrote back that he disapproved of the project. “The last thing we need at this moment is one group of Americans suggesting others belong in another country,” Lind’s e-mail read. “Even as a joke, it is not funny.” Even the three University of Georgia professors who agreed to chat with Thompson at a pub slipped away when, as he writes, they saw “the slushy, truth-serum effects of beer and political talk with a loudmouthed Yankee [sic] descending upon the evening.”
Many of our federation’s problems are indeed due to profound, historically based differences in the ideals, values, religious attitudes, and political behavior of its component regional cultures. Perhaps, decades or centuries down the line, we will break up, but it’s not something we should wish for. Things might turn out as Thompson imagines, but we might also find ourselves in a far darker scenario, wishing we were still with ’em after all.
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