I cannot help but think that, in a way, the surrender of Lee to Grant at Appomattox Court House never really happened. The South has decided, instead of surrendering, to fight to the death for a set of beliefs that are irreconcilable to those of most Americans. And they are becoming increasingly more irreconcilable. Now, although “irreconcilable differences” is frequently used as grounds for divorce, in this case I think something else will happen in this course of time.
The biggest enemy that Republican Conservatives from the South will face in the decades to come is demographic change. The Bible-thumping old white people will gradually die out, to be replaced by some fewer young people with the same values, but still more African-Americans, Hispanics, and Asians. This is a trend that is happening in most parts of the country, but I expect that its results will be most strongly felt in the South.
I think Faux News pundit Bill O’Reilly had it right when he said: “Obama wins because it’s not a traditional America anymore. The white establishment is the minority.” He concluded by adding that “people want things.” Of course they do. We all do. And what Tea Party Southerners (“the white establishment”) want is very different from what the new emerging demographic majorities want.
There is something pathetic about these old Confederates still acting as if they were the only game in town, when in fact they are not. And they will grow even fewer, but not before fighting to the last man for their principles.
In Ted Turner’s film Gettysburg, there is a scene in which a Union officer interrogates three Southern prisoners captured during the early fighting skirmishes. The Yankee asks the prisoners why they are fighting. The answer comes back, “for their rights.” Except, the young officer mishears them because of their drawl and thinks they said, “for their rats.” Even when this misunderstanding is cleared up, it is clear that that was not the answer their captors expected. The North thought that the South was fighting for slavery, whereas the South was fighting for the right to do what they believed in, irrespective of what those beliefs were. If those beliefs included slavery, then so be it!
It is somewhat unnerving to think that issues we thought had been decided back in 1865 are still affecting the American political scene. They are, and will continue to do so until a whole lot more water has flown under the bridge.