First time in a long time that I've enjoyed me some Fire and Brimstone.
Sure wish there were more pastors like this one around.
|Photo via US Uncut|
|From the Southern Poverty Law Center|
Every year the Fourth of July is marked by ringing affirmations of American exceptionalism. We are a special nation, uniquely founded on high ideals like freedom and equality. In practice, however, much of what sets the United States apart from other countries today is actually Southern exceptionalism. The United States would be much less exceptional in general, and in particular more like other English-speaking democracies such as Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand were it not for the effects on U.S. politics and culture of the American South.
I don’t mean this in a good way. A lot of the traits that make the United States exceptional these days are undesirable, like higher violence and less social mobility. Many of these differences can be attributed largely to the South.
But even by the standards of the English-speaking world, the U.S. appears as an extreme outlier, in areas ranging from religiosity to violence to anti-government attitudes. As we learned after the slaughter last month in Charleston, S.C., some deluded Southerners still pine for secession from the Union. Yet no doubt there are also more than a few liberal Northerners who would be happy to see them go.
Minus the South, the rest of the U.S. probably would be more like Canada or Australia or Britain or New Zealand—more secular, more socially liberal, more moderate in the tone of its politics and somewhat more generous in social policy. And it would not be as centralized as France or as social democratic as Sweden.
Religiosity is one example of American exceptionalism among English-speaking countries that is largely the result of Southern exceptionalism within the United States. “We don’t do God,” Tony Blair’s aide Alastair Campbell famously remarked, emphasizing that religion is kept out of the public sphere in modern-day Britain. In most modern English-speaking countries, voters find ostentatious piety on the part of political candidates troubling, not reassuring. But in the U.S., born-again Southern evangelical politicians like Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush who troll for votes with piety have given U.S. presidential politics a flavor more reminiscent of Tehran than of London or Ottawa or Canberra. According to Gallup, in 2014 the most religious Americans were all found in Southern states, with the exceptions of Mormon Utah and semi-Southern Oklahoma. Mississippi led the nation in zeal.
Southern violence also goes a long way toward explaining the exceptional violence of the United States in general compared to otherwise similar countries. The pre-modern “culture of honor” continues to exist to a greater degree in the South. White Southerners are more likely than white northerners to respond to insults with increased testosterone and aggression, according to social scientists. According to the FBI in 2012, the South as a region, containing only a quarter of the population, accounted for 40.9 percent of U.S. violent crime.
Compared to other Americans, Southerners disproportionately support sanctioned violence in all of its forms, from military intervention abroad to capital punishment to corporal punishment of children. According to Gallup, Southern households have a far higher rate of gun ownership (38 percent) than households in the East (21 percent), Midwest (29 percent) or West (27 percent).