Celebrate the Facts!
The United States in its American exceptionalism extension of empire has been engaging in nation building since the end of the Civil War with very little evidence of success. Such endeavor is generational and requires substantial effort, intent, and resources. About 156 years have passed since the Confederate States of America surrendered and United States forces occupied the South, and the ghost of Jim Crow still rides at night, but there are few signs the South will join the community of progressive nations.
A May 2003 publication by the Carnegie Foundation, in a seminal work produced in the shadows of the United States interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, defined three criteria required to be present in a United States nation building effort:
The report concluded that of the sixteen such efforts to that date (2003) since 1900, the United States helped sustain democracy in only four cases ten years after the departure of United States forces. Two of these followed the total defeat and surrender of Japan and Germany after World War II, and two were the tiny countries Grenada and Panama.
The complete military devastation of Germany and separation into two distinct occupied states made that a unique outlier but the result was successful regardless, although the United States military has remained in Germany since. Japan’s capitulation was certified by the Emperor, literally a God in the state religion, and the country still has a military occupation by United States forces.
Oddly the referenced Carnegie report neglected to include South Korea, which turned into a very successful democracy, albeit with continuous United States presence.
After World War II, Soviet troops occupied areas north of the 38th parallel, which became North Korea, with United States troops in the south, in what became South Korea.
The governance of South Korea oscillated between republican efforts punctuated by repressive military juntas until Kim Young Sam, who was an opponent of a previous military regime, became the first freely-elected civilian president in 1993, 48 years after the initiation of the nation building effort.
Nation building is a problematic undertaking, and it is a generational process with many starts and stops. Whether nation building is moral and ethical is questionable and far beyond the scope of this examination.
An examination of the American South from a nation building lens is illuminating as it fits the three Carnegie criteria:
Reconstruction was an attempt to eradicate the odor of slavery and rebuild a society around democratic ideals and free labor.
The primary legal portions of Reconstruction remade the United States Constitution through three amendments:
The United States Congress took additional aggressive legal action in the nation building effort. The First Reconstruction Act in 1867 divided the South into five districts, each governed by the United States military. Congress also specified states would have to enfranchise former slaves before formal readmission to the United States. The Second Reconstruction Act put the military in charge of Southern voter registration.
The natural outcome of the right to vote was representative democracy. A dozen African American men, many of whom had been born into slavery, were elected to the United States Congress, including the first African American Senator, Hiram Rhodes Revels of Mississippi.
Unfortunately for the entire United States Reconstruction ended in 1877. The
‘Home rule’ in this sense became the resurrection of white supremacy with all its convoluted immorality. ‘Jim Crow’, a colloquial term of unknown provenance, referred to a type of laws and regulations enforcing a race-based social order run by European Americans. Southern segregation gained ground in 1896 when the United States Supreme Court declared in Plessy v. Ferguson that facilities for African Americans and Caucasian Americans could be ‘separate but equal.’
The Civil Rights era formed the platform of an American Renaissance. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was labor law legislation that outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, and ended unequal application of voter registration requirements and racial segregation in schools, at the workplace, and in public accommodations. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 outlawed the discriminatory voting practices adopted in many southern states after the Civil War, including literacy tests as a prerequisite to voting. President Lyndon Johnson urged the approval of the Fair Housing Act of 1968 which occurred one week after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Its primary prohibition made it unlawful to refuse to sell, rent to, or negotiate with any person because of that person's inclusion in a protected class.
As outlined in a previous investigation the repression of voting rights, gerrymandering, functional segregation of education, housing, and outright racism have caused the South to trail the United States in income per capita. Economic growth and representative democracy are correlated. South Africa's growth performance strengthened substantially since the end of apartheid in 1994.
Like South Korea, the South is taking its time in becoming truly representative but there are signs of cracks. Of the 11 former Confederate states, two, Virginia and Georgia, went Blue in the presidential election this year, and Georgia elected two Democratic senators, one African American and one Jewish. Some analysts insist Texas could join Blue states as soon as 2024 due to demographic changes.
Recent corporate objections to Republican-led voting restrictions including Major League Baseball pulling the All-Star game from Atlanta due to Georgia’s attempts to limit the ability of people to vote will act to mitigate voting rights suppression. The Business Round Table, a group of CEOs of major corporations, has publicly stated their opposition to voter suppression legislation.
However, corporations can’t whitewash their support for politicians who support voting rights suppression legislation due to open-book reporting on campaign contributions. Corporations donated $50 Million to supporters of voter suppression bills since 2015 and $22 Million in the 2020 election cycle.
The path forward for the South is embracing multiculturalism and human rights, otherwise, it faces continuing erosion of its economic status and cultural prestige.
Michael Donnelly investigates societal concerns with an untribal approach - to limit the discussion to the facts derived from primary sources so the reader can make more informed decisions.