(...) As an emblem of identity, “deplorables” harnessed white anger and anxiety emanating not only from trailer parks, small towns, and the hollows of Appalachia, but also from well-off suburbs, gated communities, and quite a few swank downtown neighborhoods as well. It wasn’t merely the people who were already scorned as white trash, hicks, rednecks, yokels, or hillbillies. The anti-Semitic, pro-Trump troll account known as “Ricky Vaughn” was recently unmasked as a Middlebury College graduate who had worked as a consultant in New York while tweeting caricatures of Jews—hardly a member of the “forgotten white underclass,” but somehow identifying himself as such. The designation “deplorable” appealed, in other words, to whites who knew daily scarcity as well as those who experienced, in the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu’s description, “freedom from necessity.” A label of disapprobation had become a defiant badge of honor. (...)
Telling, too, is that Ike’s “betrayal” of his own tribe is seen by his kinfolk in zero-sum terms: For one tribe’s condition to rise, another tribe’s must fall. And falling in a supposedly egalitarian society—as the McCaslin clan knew all too well—is the greatest disgrace of all.
The Lingering Legacy of Bacon’s Rebellion
To understand the logic informing the views of Ike McCaslin’s kin, we need to return to the crucible of white identity in America and recall not only how power relations and hierarchies were established and sanctified in American tradition but also how they were made bearable to those whites who were always at or near the bottom of the social order. In his magisterial American Slavery, American Freedom, Edmund Morgan provides just such an explanation. Published in 1975, on the eve of America’s bicentennial celebration, the book offers a timely reminder that the liberty the United States was about to celebrate with pyrotechnical exuberance had its roots in a hereditary and race-based system of chattel slavery. Morgan was explicit about the nature of this connection. The freedom the American Revolution and the subsequent constitutional enshrinements of free speech and other liberties made possible was not just incidental to the rise of the American slave system. It resulted directly from it.
The critical event behind this tragic dynamic was an uprising in seventeenth-century Virginia known as Bacon’s Rebellion. Nathaniel Bacon is not a figure who fits easily into rosier narratives of America’s origins. A lesser nobleman from England who became a fierce rival of the colonial governor, William Berkeley, nominally over the governor’s failure to secure the western frontier from Indian attacks, Bacon led Virginia’s poor scratch farmers and many indentured laborers (a few of them black) on a rampage of several months’ duration down the James River, pillaging the plantations of Virginia’s wealthy elite before reducing Jamestown to charred rubble in early 1676. (...)
As a sociologist, I'd like to say that Radio Paradise is a place for me where I'd like to put all the ruminations that haunt me day and night aside and just listen to some music. Society is falling apart one way or another if things go on like they do anyway. And if lying is the prime method of governments to secure their rule (they call it "national security"), the end is nigh, and we all know it. Let's see how it all plays out.
Nevertheless, it's strange that it is so silent in here. But maybe people don't like to be prompted directly to discuss specific topics. I guess a lot of ruminating is going on in many different discussions here that were originally about a song or something.
In his 1995 essay, sociologist Robert Putnam warned of the increasing atomization of American society. The institutions of American social capital, he wrote, are on the decline: Attendance at public forums, religious groups, civic organizations, and even his eponymous bowling leagues have been steadily declining since the the heyday of the 1950s American suburban community. The social fabric of America is coming apart on the neighborhood level, wrote Putnam—and it’s only going to get worse.
Unfortunately, it seems Putnam was on to something. In a report for urbanism think-tank City Observatory, economist Joe Cortright tracks the decline of American social capital over the past 40 years not simply in terms of membership to voluntary organizations, but also through the relationships Americans have with their geographical neighbors. Data used in the report from the General Social Survey doesn’t paint a pretty picture: According to Cortright, the degree to which Americans trust one another is at a 40-year low.