Short form: Wherein I go on a trip to South Carolina and ponder how socialism is just ruining everything... except for all the ways it's doing the Palmetto State a solid. A validating experience, all around. Thus the title. :)
We're just back from a short day trip to see my mother in South Carolina. Every time I make this sojourn back to the homeland (from way north in North Carolina) it's part time travel, because I'm returning to a place that's had more impact on my political and personal development than I can ever consciously understand. Aside from my childhood 18 years, I spent another six years there between returning home to work and then a second two-year stint of graduate school and then a year of working life after as we started our new family. So that's 24 years total. More than half my life (still).
Returning to the Palmetto State is also a kind of culture shock. North Carolinians, native and newcomers like me (despite both my parents hailing from Charlotte, I am a furriner), recognize the immediate change in the landscape, even the atmosphere, once you cross the border. It's not as stark a change as, say, crossing from SD to Tijuana but it's manifest - the look of the trees, the grass, the pavement. The relative care of yards visible from I-85 and the cars parked in same, sometimes in good repair, sometimes not. The accumulation of what can only be described as junk. The abundance of clutter and billboards and signs advertising that WE BUY GOLD.
Oh, we have these and other pawn-like shops in North Carolina too (and perhaps Virginians make these observations about North Carolina) but nothing quite sums up the change more than the word: clutter. Then there's the fireworks stores. Anyone who schlepps down I-95 has seen South of the Border, iconic representation of a strange kind of contemptuous tackiness that has become bedrock culture norm for so many in my beloved native state. For finer-production versions of same, just take a turn east and go visit Myrtle Beach.
My native South Carolina is everything proudly wrong about the South, new and old versions alike. It's crass, it's cruel, it's crude and it's got Christ with a Kalashnikov to make it all okay. South Carolina doesn't want compassion. It doesn't want compromise. It doesn't want culture, or coolness or a weak-tea version of Christianity that second-guesses kickin' ass and taking names and doing so capriciously. And South Carolina takes offense at anyone so much as looking like their judging what it does, favorably or unfavorably.
And yet...there's something magical about this place from which I come, something buried in the willfully ignorant dark that shrouds hearts and minds alike in my homeland. Perhaps it is nothing more than ingrained familiarity. Hailing as a white southern male of some talent and means, I am despite my heretical leanings in all things cultural, political and conversational one of the chosen class. When I go, tall and decked out in the one raiment that matters most in South Carolina - fair skin - I have at least for a few moments cachet. Perhaps, borne of the epicenter of so much suffering and tragedy in American history, part of me rejoices: I am home. I am part, albeit peripherally, of the privileged, and for the weakest of reasons: what I am wearing. My skin.
There is more, of course. The deeper substance of class, of entitlement, of elite membership. The schools. The addresses, The clothes, the other trappings of wealth and name-dropping that I as an expatriate in low stead cannot fake and won't bother trying. Some, left and right alike, would make all disparities of right and good living a function of wealth disparity. That's a house of iniquity that, when built in South Carolina at least, rests on a loud and proud foundation of racism.
But it is that lash of class - that most Southern whites feel the sting of most often and most deeply, and complain loudly about. The issues of race are a foundation as elemental as the humid air and the red river water and sand-and-clay soil and the too-dry pine trees. It's noted in passing, nothing more, at least in the circles I grew up in.
What's discussed openly, close to the surface and often, is the change in how those who own South Carolina relate to those who rent occupancy there. By own I mean the rich: the factory and land owners. Those who get to be highway commissioners, and decide where the off-ramps go and don't go, because they knew a former governor. And now they have highways named after them. Men who decide if the new by-pass goes through land they own or goes elsewhere. Gee, how did they decide? A level of influence that would be called corrupt, if it weren't so transparent and matter-of-fact and its works long since completed.
And once, white South Carolinians liked it just fine. The social contract was simple: Elites, rule as you will. Enrich yourself, as you will. Just leave me to make a comfortable living for me and mine. The entire un-democratic nature of the arrangement was impoverishment by definition but given the awful baseline conditions for all in the pre-Great Society South, any policy movement at all tended upward.
Yep. Take a pause there. The Great Society paved the way for the revival of the South as the epicenter of American politics. And look at what havoc that transformation played out on the national stage from the late 1960s on. I look around in South Carolina and I see highways being upgraded right now with stimulus package funds. How many people are still in their homes in SC, thanks to the bailouts and other interventions? How many of these almost-all white folk at the sidewalk tables taking lunch break in downtown Greenville are just seething at how much socialism is ruining America... even as (a) socialism of a kind is why the entire South does not still look like Appalachia today and (b) willfully tacky as it may be, that South Carolina's roads look darn nice in places and a lot of people feeling their lives ruined by 'tyranny' sure were looking nice in their business suits this afternoon.
So, I wonder where is the oppression, this awful gnawing fear so many espouse that they've got to gin up, arm up and stand up against...what? Something, without which, their lives would have fallen completely apart in 2008-09? Something, without which, the South would have stayed an impoverished political backwater?
Note: I actually believe blowing off boosting up the South to developed nation status would have been to the lasting shame and detriment of the United States, so I am glad Democrats and LBJ did what they did back in the day.
But that's not the point. The point is all that darn socialism. I saw it working with my own eyes today. Lots of new churches too by the way. Nice ones. Lots of new commercial construction and open factories too. In case anyone's curious BMW is boosting production this year at its Greer plant. Yep, recovery on the way in the Deep Deep South.
But it's all that socialism's fault, I guess.
Except for the parts that work.
Which means I'm feeling pretty validated in my heresies about now. :)