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Advice to Southerners from the New Yorker

"Now, let me tell you, son..."

Don’t you just have to love this? A post for the New Yorker about how people like, well, you know, people like George Packer, people who write for the New Yorker, have for several decades been culturally dominated by Southerners.

At the same time, the Southern way of life began to be embraced around the country until, in a sense, it came to stand for the “real America”: country music and Lynyrd Skynyrd, barbecue and NASCAR, political conservatism, God and guns, the code of masculinity, militarization, hostility to unions, and suspicion of government authority, especially in Washington, D.C. (despite its largesse). In 1978, the Dallas Cowboys laid claim to the title of “America’s team” — something the San Francisco 49ers never would have attempted. In Palo Alto, of all places, the cool way to express rebellion in your high-school yearbook was with a Confederate flag. That same year, the tax revolt began, in California.

The Southernization of American life was an expression of the great turn away from the centralized liberalism that had governed the country from the Presidencies of F.D.R. to Nixon.

Ah yes, the long insidious reach of the Confederacy! Let them Palo Alto young ‘uns flash the Stars and Bars and the next thing you know you got a tax revolt on your hands! All us crackers over here are snickerin’ behind our beards. We bided our time and got our revenge on them damn Yankees!

But, Packer says, our dominance has ended. Now, after their long absence, their agonizing exclusion from the leadership of our nation, their forcible exile from cultural influence, Northern liberals have returned to the forefront. (As their exemplar Mr. Burns says in the Simpsons movie, “For once, the rich white man is in control!”) And here’s the great thing about Northern liberals: they do not rejoice immoderately in their victory, no, they are willing to give us sage advice:

Southern political passions have always been rooted in sometimes extreme ideas of morality, which has meant, in recent years, abortion and school prayer. But there is a largely forgotten Southern history, beyond the well-known heroics of the civil-rights movement, of struggle against poverty and injustice, led by writers, preachers, farmers, rabble-rousers, and even politicians, speaking a rich language of indignation. The region is not entirely defined by Jim DeMint, Sam Walton, and the Tide’s A J McCarron. It would be better for America as well as for the South if Southerners rediscovered their hidden past and took up the painful task of refashioning an identity that no longer inspires their countrymen.

So the generous recommendation of the Northern liberal is that Southerners can make up for their decades of cruel domination of American life by becoming . . . Southern liberals. Well, slap my grandmammy down!

about the author

Alan Jacobs is a Distinguished Professor of the Humanities in the Honors Program at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, and the author most recently of The Book of Common Prayer: A Biography.

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