Paul Rosenberg, The South won the Civil War: White men, racial resentment, and how the Bitter Minority came to rule us all

Why did the Democrats Lose the South? Bringing New Data to an Old Debate,” by Ilyana Kuziemko and Ebonya Washington, does three key things: First, it uses previously overlooked data — matching presidential approval against media coverage linking President Kennedy to civil rights — to shed light on a key transition period — broadly, from 1961–1963, narrowly, the spring of 1963 — when the Democratic Party clearly emerged as the party of civil rights. Second, it uses another new source of data — responses to the “black president question” (first asked by Gallup in 1958), whether someone would support a black (originally “negro”) candidate for president, if nominated by their party — as a measure of “racial conservatism” to analyze the contrast between the pre- and post-transition periods.

As McElwee reported, the paper “find[s] that racism can explain almost all of the decline of Southern white support for Democrats between 1958 and 2000.” Indeed, it explains all of the decline from 1958 to 1980, and 77% of the decline through 2000. (The authors prefer the 1958–1980 time-frame, since Jesse Jackson’s candidacy in 1984 and 1988 “may have transformed the black president item from a hypothetical question to a referendum on a particular individual.”) Third, the paper looks at the other explanations — the cover stories — and finds they have only a marginal impact, at best. (Although its focus is Southern realignment away from the Democratic Party, the GOP has obviously been gaining strength at the same time as a direct result.) It also sheds light on an early phase of dealignment, starting when Truman first came out for civil rights in 1948, leading to the Dixiecrat revolt.

Before turning to the paper itself, I want to recall a point I made last year: so-called “principled conservatism” is itself heavily determined by anti-black attitudes. Southern racial conservatives had been closely tied to the Democratic Party for generations before Truman came out for civil rights in 1948, but the 1960s stand out as a decisive turning point. Among other things, I pointed out (a) that George Wallace himself had disavowed explicit racism by the end of 1963, turning to a classic articulation of anti-government/anti-“elite” conservative themes, (b) that there are both international and U.S. data showing that welfare state support declines as minority populations increase, and © that even attitudes related to spending to fight global warming are strongly influenced by anti-black stereotypes.

With all that in mind, there’s no reason at all to assume that any form of conservatism in America can be separated from white supremacism. We can pretend otherwise for the sake of running thought experiments, data-analysis, etc. and there can be some value is doing this — or I wouldn’t find this paper so important. But we should never forget the larger reality: we are not operating in blank-slate situation, where all hypothesis may be considered equally, in abstract purity. White supremacy is the default condition for everything in America, only the strength and salience of its impact varies from situation to situation.

White identity politics is the foundation of GOP conservatism, even when we are apparently talking about the climate, or raising gas taxes to rebuild our infrastructure, or how to deal with Iran.

Paul Rosenberg, The South won the Civil War: White men, racial resentment, and how the Bitter Minority came to rule us all

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Founder, Work Futures. Editor, GigaOm. My obsession is the ecology of work, and the anthropology of the future.

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