America / Politics in America

“…American liberalism had a lot of the South in it”

After slavery had ended and Reconstruction gave way to the Jim Crow system, the Democratic Party was, for decades, an unlikely marriage of the white South (the black South effectively couldn’t vote) and blue-collar workers in the North. This meant that American liberalism had a lot of the South in it. Ira Katznelson, in “Fear Itself,” adeptly identifies the deep Southern influence on the New Deal era, the country’s liberal heyday, including not just its failure to challenge segregation but also a strong pro-military disposition that helped shape the Cold War. The great black migration to the North and the West, which peaked in the nineteen-forties and fifties, partly nationalized at least one race’s version of Southern culture, and, by converting non-voters to voters through relocation, helped generate the political will that led to the civil-rights legislation of the nineteen-sixties. Once those laws had passed, the South became for the Republican Party what it had previously been for the Democratic Party, the essential core of a national coalition. The South is all over this year’s Republican Presidential race.

Nicholas Lemann, “The Price of Union”, The New Yorker (2 November 2015), 90-91.