The Confederate Mind

Victor Davis Hanson // National Review

Progressives such as Elizabeth Warren resurrect the race-based thinking of the antebellum South: ‘One drop’ and you’re a bona fide minority.

Senator Elizabeth Warren has doubled down on her insistence that she is Native American.


In her past incarnations, she probably used that yarn in hopes of helping her win a law professorship at Harvard, which touted her as the law school’s first indigenous-American professor (and others apparently referenced her as Harvard Law’s “first woman of color”). She has refused to back down (and also refused to take a DNA test), even after Native American genealogists disputed her claim.

But what if indeed the pink and blond Warren were found to have 1/32nd or even 1/16th Native American “blood”? Why would that artifact magically make her “Indian,” much less a victim of something or someone, or at least outfitted with a minority cachet?

Does she have an idea of the absurdity of current progressive race obsessions and their creepy pedigrees? In wartime Western Europe, one of the justifications for making Jews wear yellow stars was that it was otherwise impossible to determine whether they were Jews at all, which of course made the entire Nazi edifice of supposed overt racial inferiority a nightmarish joke.

The Fascist and anti-Semitic French novelist Lucien Rebatet explained why the stars were needed for hard-to-identify Jewish citizens: “The yellow star rectifies this strange situation in which one human group that is radically opposed to the people of white blood, and which for eternity is unassimilable to this blood, cannot be identified at first glance.”

What is the moral of this sad reversion to the failed racist systems of the past? Warren is harkening back to the old South’s “one drop rule” of “invisible blackness.” Supposedly any proof of sub-Saharan ancestry, even one drop of “black blood,” made one black and therefore subject to second-class citizenship.

Films such as Pinky (1949) and Band of Angels (1957) dealt with the bizarre notion in a racist society of “passing” as white — people supposedly suspected of having black ancestry who nonetheless passed as white. Warren and other whites such as Ward Churchill, Rachel Dolezal, and Shaun King — who have all tried to enhance their careers by claiming minority status — apparently understood the implications of the new progressive racial obsessions and made the necessary pedigree adjustments. They apparently reasoned that in a world where everything is a supposed “construct,” race could be as well.

In the racist South, some minorities sought to pass to claim white status; in racialist 21st-century America, some whites seek to pass to claim minority status. The common denominator in both cases is the contemporary society’s racial fixations — and the absurdity of needing to claim a particular racial status to gain advantages.

But there is one difference between  Cambridge, Mass., in 2018 and Richmond, Va., in 1861. We of the present have had almost 160 years of hindsight to transcend race, and we should understand, especially from the history of the Civil War and World War II, the terrible wages of race-based chauvinism. In a state like California, where 40 million check all sorts of ethnic boxes to identify by race (for many, unapparent from their appearance or language), and where no one group is a majority, progressive racial umpires are trumping their prior Confederate genealogists many times over.


Progressives, in fact, seem to like the protocols of the old Confederacy in lots of ways. Southern antebellum chauvinists once claimed that the culture south of the Mason-Dixon line was innately superior to the grubby, industrial wasteland of the north. A two-class system of masters and slaves allowed an elite the leisure and capital to pursue culture without the rat-race competition of a striving middle class. So blinkered was southern arrogance that its pre-war youth insisted that southern manhood, with its innate moral superiority, could defeat a much larger, richer, and more industrial North — a myth dispelled early on at Shiloh.

Now the new cultural divide is not North vs. South, but the blue-state coasts versus the red-state interior. The map has changed, but the new mindset of the chauvinist, mutatis mutandis, is eerily the same. In blue-state doctrine, a sinking middle class in the interior deserves to fail. But an upscale hip and cool professional elite is properly thriving on the East and West Coasts as never before — itself often supported by legions of poorly paid and mostly minority gardeners, housekeepers, and nannies who free up their supposed betters to pursue higher things without tending to the drudgery of diapers, cooking, and mowing.

Pyramidal California has some of the wealthiest people in the world living within the coastal corridor of Hollywood, Malibu, Stanford, Silicon Valley, and San Francisco — even as one-fifth of the population lives below the poverty line, along with a third of the nation’s welfare recipients and half its homeless population.

No matter. Recently Hillary Clinton, in John C. Calhoun fashion, doubled down on her earlier condemnation of the “deplorables” and “irredeemables” by tying them to the red-state interior’s purportedly inferior cultural landscape:

If you look at the map of the United States, there is all that red in the middle, places where Trump won. I win the coasts. I win Illinois, Minnesota, places like that. What that map doesn’t show you is that I won the places that represent two-thirds of America’s Gross Domestic product. I won the places that are optimistic, diverse, dynamic, moving forward.

Hillary was channeling the rants of northern California entrepreneur Melinda Byerley, an obscure founder of the Silicon Valley company Timeshare CMO. After the Trump victory, she became infamous for 15 minutes for her candid, embittered tweet that soon was enshrined as a credo of why coastal elites hated those unlike them. “One thing middle America could do is to realize that no educated person wants to live in a sh**hole with stupid people. Especially violent, racist, and/or misogynistic ones.” Speaking of “middle America,” Byerley wrote:

When corporations think about where to locate call centers, factories, development centers, etc., they also have to deal with the fact that those towns have nothing going for them. No infrastructure, just a few bars and a terrible school system.

Like the old Southern typecasting of Northern brutishness, Byerley’s stereotypes were delusional. The infrastructure of Menlo Park and Palo Alto — roads especially — is substandard. California’s roads and freeways rank almost dead last in many comparative surveys of state infrastructure. Silicon Valley’s private academies are rapidly expanding to serve a high-tech elite that refuses to put their children in the area’s increasingly diverse but challenged public schools. High-crime areas of Redwood City and East Palo Alto are within biking distance of Apple, Facebook, and Google headquarters.

At ground zero of Silicon Valley are SUVs and recreation vehicles jammed overnight along the streets, serving as de facto homes for third-tier workers who cannot afford apartment rents. San Francisco’s sidewalks are littered with feces and needles in a way that Salt Lake City’s are not. Compare apartment dwellers in gentrified San Francisco to the legions living on sidewalks and in tent cities, and there seems about as much disequilibrium as there was in Atlanta or Charleston circa 1860.


Progressives are not just trumpeting regional and cultural chauvinism in the manner of the old plantation South. They also echo the antebellum talk of secession and boast about state nullification of federal law — again, based on the premise that a superior coastal culture should not be dragged down by the rest of the morally inferior United States.

California has announced that it is no longer entirely subject to federal law enforcement, much as South Carolina proclaimed before the Civil War. As an attorney and advocate, California has hired former attorney general Eric Holder, who is no longer the steward of federal law. Holder is eager to defend the state’s various nullification efforts. California has become an entire “sanctuary state,” where the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents supposedly have no jurisdiction over illegal aliens currently held in state and local jails.

Governor Jerry Brown, in 1850s southern evangelical style, has justified defiance of the U.S. government by evoking God to impugn President Trump’s religiosity: “I don’t think — President Trump has a fear of the Lord, the fear of the wrath of God, which leads one to more humility.” Indeed, Brown has toured abroad as a quasi commander in chief, urging foreign leaders to deal with California as though it were essentially an autonomous, sovereign country.  Who knows, maybe Brown can cut trade deals that circumvent U.S. laws in the way that the cotton-exporting South once believed that foreign nations would favor its eventual autonomy.

Instead of the antebellum arrogance of “King Cotton,” think “King Tech,” as our new plantation class assumes that the world needs their search engines and mobile devices more than they need the rest of the U.S.

The Confederate parallels are often eerily racist as well. The onetime so-called Calexit leader Shankar Singam, in a television appearance, promoted the secession of California from the union. He celebrated the mostly white flight of the middle class from California. Their welcomed departure would make room, he suggested, for an improved wave of immigrants. Singam boasted that, in fact, the United States “should be grateful for us”:

If everyone in the middle class is leaving, that’s actually a good thing. We need these spots opened up for the new wave of immigrants to come up. It’s what we do.

Singam’s idea of California is ultimately, like the South’s, race-based.

Minnesota is one a few blue states that cluster around the Great Lakes and claim an affinity with coastal culture. In 2015, its governor, Mark Dayton, in the fashion of southern governors in 1861 who wanted Yankee critics gone, dared the unsophisticated to leave his state if they did not meet his moral (and apparent intelligence standards):

If you are that intolerant, if you are that much of a racist or a bigot, then find another state. Find a state where the minority population is 1 percent or whatever.

Then Dayton zeroed in with contempt for the white working class: “Our economy cannot expand based on white, B+, Minnesota-born citizens. We don’t have enough.”

By what yardstick does Dayton classify racial categories from F to A? And what exactly does Dayton think “B+” people should do?

Progressives — who in the past championed everything from eugenics to race-based abortion — would scoff at comparisons between Confederate racism and their own claims of racial affirmation. But history does not split such hairs and makes no exception for the supposed liberal fides of Elizabeth Warren or Hillary Clinton. A century from now, our successors are likely to be as bewildered by the classifications of affirmative action and designated safe spaces as we are by segregation and “separate but equal” schools. A century after the Civil War, in reaction to the legacy of the Confederacy, progressives fought for integration; a century and a half after the Civil War, progressives are channeling the one-drop rule and advocating race-based dorms, safe spaces, and race-themed houses.

Once a region, a state, or a group of people becomes racially obsessed and prefers the culture of two rather than three classes, they turn absurd. Soon they stop listening to reason and fall into predictable mythologies of cultural superiority, regional chauvinism, and ultimately secession as proof of their moral supremacy.

What follows next never ends well.

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