Mandeville, LA - Exclusive Audio and Transcript - On today's show, Chuck Thompson, author of "Better Off Without 'em" joined Mike for a friendly discussion about secession. Chuck believes that the North and South have gone their separate ways for over 200 years not only in politics, but also in culture, so why not have an amicable split? There are, of course, a few details that Mike and Chuck disagree on (like Texas going to the North?) but the overall idea is basically the same, that the more local the government, the better for everyone involved. For more with Chuck, check out today's transcript and a clip from his interview...
Begin Mike Church Show Transcript
Mike: Chuck, good to have you with us. Thanks for stopping by. Welcome to the program. How are you?
Chuck Thompson: I’m doing all right. Thanks for having me on.
Mike: I hadn’t seen the cover of the book until I went and looked at it on Friday night with the big St. Andrew’s cross with the stars across it, the Southern rebel battle flag, on the cover of the book. Tell the audience a little bit about the book.
Chuck: Well, the book is pretty simple. It’s a modern take on the contemporary South from the Northern, liberal, lefty, loathsome, socialist point of view, from the point of view of me and I think a lot of people actually. One of the things I’d hoped to do with this book is articulate what seems to me to be this growing dissatisfaction and frustration and at times outright anger and hostility on the part of some Northern liberals and even Southern liberals about the current political state of the conservative South. There are a lot of ways to define the South. You can lump it into anywhere from 12 to 16 or 17 states. A lot of people say that the South is a state of mind, since we all know Southern influences around the country are pretty pervasive.
I just wanted to look at this phenomenon that seemed to me, among people in my political circle, had been gathering a lot of momentum over the last five to ten years. Ultimately make it a thought experiment, that’s the way I approached it in the beginning. What would really happen if we split the country in two right now, at this time, amicably? One of the things I wanted to do is stay away from -- I didn’t really want to traffic in these old shopworn stereotypes that all of us are familiar with and I think all of us are a little sick of: the hayseed redneck chewing on a weed, sitting on an old porch with a hound dog sipping moonshine, or the more nefarious truncheons of the civil rights era and that sort of stuff. I really wanted to avoid that because that’s been done millions of times. We’re all aware of those stereotypes. The fact is, most of them, if not all of them, are comically outdated at this point.
I wanted to look at the contemporary South, crunch some numbers, get some stats, find out if, as people on my side of the political divide tend to believe, that the religious right really is exerting a widespread, pernicious influence on the types of political philosophy that I would rather see in this country. What’s going on with the Southern economy, economically, if we split up, could it really happen? Could both sides manage to fend for themselves? Would the North be irreparably damaged without those, as I defined it 12 Southern states. Could those 12 Southern states stand on their own?
I spent two years really researching this book to see, one, if this was a viable option, and also expressing a lot of discontent that I think a lot of Northern liberals currently hold about the South, and have held for a long time. It’s kind of interesting. I’ve been listening to the show a little bit. Your last caller, I think his name was Frank, said something in the context of Spain and the Middle East. He said the divide between East and West has been there a long time and I don’t know why we’re still spinning our wheels over there trying to bring these cultures together. In a different way, I think we’ve been dealing with the divide between North and South for a long time, parts of four centuries now going back to the 1700’s. I was trying to avoid some of these shopworn stereotypes with which we’re all familiar; however, it is kind of impossible to look at what’s going on between two sides of the country and not go back 100 years, 150 years, reconstruction, Civil War and even pre-Civil War. That’s basically the setup for the book.
Mike: I think you cover a lot of good, fertile ground there. I don’t think there’s anything wrong, if you bisect the country South and North -- I haven’t read the book yet. I’m waiting for my autographed copy, Chuck.
Chuck: I’ll send you an autographed copy. There’s a lot of vitriol about the book right now. Almost everybody says to me, “I haven’t read the book” and they get all pissed off and post stuff about what an ignorant jackass I am to even be suggesting this. That’s cool, but it’s what happens in our modern society. They review stuff they haven’t even looked at.
Mike: I did read your entire interview and I listened to the podcast with Joshua Holland. I’m not approaching this as --
Chuck: I’m not blaming you.
Mike: What I wanted to say, I told the audience earlier, and in my post earlier, I said Chuck is undergoing, what is amazing to me, the usual suspects have crawled out of all their corners and are hurling the same invective at Mr. Thompson that they would hurl at Professor Livingston. I don’t know if you’ve read Professor Livingston’s book Rethinking the American Union for the 21st Century. Anyone that goes into this subject matter has the same accusations. You mentioned the tired, worn-out, hackneyed, hick, hayseed redneck with a piece of grass in between their teeth. The reaction to this is quite predictable as well. I’m interested to find that since Mr. Holland’s interview with you was posted at Salon, that there were a bunch of liberals that were accusing you of fomenting treason and sedition and what have you, right?
Chuck: That’s absolutely right. I’ll tell you what the interesting thing about this entire book was. I write about it a little bit in the epilogue. One of the things that truly surprised me was how difficult it was to get people to talk to me about this issue. Even as a thought experiment, to me, it’s kind of an interesting thing to talk about. If you want to argue and make the case that you’re an idiot, this isn’t going to work for reasons A, B and C, I’m willing to listen to that. I think that’s fine. It’s an interesting discussion. I think there’s actually a decent case to be made for this amicable secession.
Back to your point, I tried to get so many people to talk about this. Very few really wanted to do it in a serious way. I even went after high-profile people from left and right. I tried to get James Carville, Lindsay Graham, Paul Krugman. They wouldn’t even really talk about it. One of the guys, by the way, who had the cojones to actually get on the phone and talk to me was South Carolina Representative Joe Wilson, who achieved a brief flurry of fame in 2010 or 2009 when he shouted, “You lie!” I didn’t get much out of Congressman Wilson, but he was pretty respectful and cool to get on the phone and talk to me. I’ll give him that. Very few people wanted to address -- it freaks people out, Mike. There’s a certain toxicity about the topic. People really cower from it, on both sides. Southerners didn’t really want to deal with it; liberals didn’t really want to deal with it. Everybody is pissed off about this situation. We’ve been dealing with some of these issues going back literally to the 1700’s. I don’t know that things are going to change.
I’ll tell you what, as two years of research went on, I started this project thinking this is sort of a Swiftian proposition and the meta argument of secession is a little bit absurd. I think we can all agree it’s not going to happen anytime soon. I don’t expect to convince very many people to get this apparatus in motion tomorrow. I do think beneath this meta argument of a friendly secession, there’s a lot of room to talk about these other issues, economic, religious, political. The political culture of the South is different than the rest of the country. Public education is approached and funded and dealt with in a much different way in the South than in the North.
There’s one other thing. Again, one of the things that really kicked this project off for me was I came to believe there are a lot of good and decent people in the South -- again all over the country but the voting quorum for me is in the South -- a lot of good and decent people who are just as sick of Barack Obamas and Nancy Pelosis and Harry Reeds of the world having an effect on “their country” as I am sick and tired of guys like Jeff Sessions and Lindsay Graham and Eric Cantor and Mitch O’Connell having effect on “my country.” Why shouldn’t the shared traditions and values and manageable geography be the reason for your country or culture standing rather than the chance tentacles of history and perhaps military need based on a government that’s thousands of miles away from you?
Mike: Chuck, you’re speaking to the choir here. This is Chuck Thompson. The book is Better off Without ‘Em: A Northern Manifesto for Southern Secession. You just made the argument that I make all the time.
Mike: Yes. We are very familiar with your argument. Here’s the problem with your argument, my friend: it makes way too much sense. There’s way too much common sense built into what you said. I want to say to you, too, that with amity I reach out to Chuck as the hated lib, me as the hated right-wing nut job. Together, though, we concur that the whole effort here or the whole current incarnation is out of scale, geographically stupid. It doesn’t make any sense to continue with the acrimony that exists there. Out of that may form new alliances, confederations, federations, whatever you want to call them, that may produce more felicity amongst our fellow citizens and between the states we currently enjoy.
I’ll also say to you there’s a great Northern liberal that’s living in South Carolina. His name is Kirkpatrick Sale. He’s one of the most sought-after and celebrated writers of the ‘70s and ‘80s. I think his last big hit book was 1492, which came out in 1992. He is a man of the left. He is died in the wool secessionist. That’s why he moved to Charleston, South Caroline. I know Kirk and Kirk is a good man. Let’s talk a little bit about your sojourn, if you will. As you said, you spent two years researching this. Can you tell the folks out there some cities you visited both North and South and what you may have learned pro or con?
Chuck: I was all over the South. I was there for parts of two years. I did a number of large, extended trips, the shortest being a couple weeks, the longest being two or three months. It’s funny, when you go to the South and talk to people, “Where’s the real South?” half the people will say, “It’s in the country, the country folk, the common man. Get out in the country and that’s where you’re going to find the real South.” The other half says, “If you look demographically, it’s all about the big cities. It’s about Atlanta and Raleigh-Durham and Greensboro and Charleston.” Then, of course, there’s everything in between, suburbs and this and that.
I went everywhere. I think the first place I went to was Raleigh-Durham. I was in Atlanta, New Orleans, Jackson, Columbia, Nashville, Memphis. I think I visited every state capital with the exception of Tallahassee. I was in a lot of little towns. I went to the smallest town in Alabama, which is called Natural Arch, Alabama. There’s a natural art there, a geographic attraction there. I think there’s 28 people there when I got there. Some states I visited a little more frequently or was in there more often than others: Tennessee, South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama.
I lumped West Virginia and Kentucky into the South. Granted, they were not part of the Confederacy. West Virginia was started, as you know, to be a free Northern part of Virginia. Culturally and demographically, they look a lot like the South. The U.S. Census Bureau calls them the South. The Southern Governors Association includes those two states as well. I did everything from pop into church services in Mobile, Alabama, to go to the South Carolina state capital to talk to people there. I interviewed a couple political consultants in South Carolina who are quite interesting.
I talked to sports commentators and columnists about SEC football in Chattanooga and in Nashville and Atlanta. I visited a chemical plant in Sterlington, Louisiana, talked to oil workers in Louisiana and Texas. I went to universities, talked to professors, students, public schools in Arkansas. Little Rock was looking for its superintendent of schools during the time I was researching my chapter on education. I sat in on community meetings where they were having these forums to discuss the qualifications of the new superintendent. I could go on and on. Barbershops in South Carolina, dropped into bars and nightclubs to talk to regular people.
One of the things, as far as the reaction to this book that kind of surprised me from people who are criticizing it is that I bee-lined for small towns and looked up the dumbest, mouth-breathing hick I could find and use that guy in the tradition of Northerners coming down to scrape the South, use that personality to paint the entire region as a backwards, hillbilly, Dollar Store gentry. Nothing could be further from the truth. I specifically went out of my way to find average, sort of normal people, intelligent people, not your fire-breathing, hayseed dickheads, of which there are a few, and I did talk to a few, and I did include in the book. For the most part, if people find that I went down to look for easy targets, then their easy targets are rank and file Southerners.
Here’s the deal about rank and file Southerners, one, most of the time they’re pretty educated. The Southern states do, in my judgment, a poor job of educating people vis-à-vis the rest of the country. I’m talking public schools. That doesn’t mean there are stupid people there, that just means there’s less of a commitment to the education system in terms of money. The other thing that makes this whole proposition work to some degree right now is that unlike any other point in the history of the South prior to the Civil War, the South right now is one of the economic engines of this country. It’s a very dynamic economy. It’s a very strong economy, very robust. The South right now could, I think -- again, it is very arguable, but I’m willing to argue it. The Southern states could stand on their own right now economically. The Southern states right now would constitute, depending how you cut it, the fifth or sixth largest economy in the world, just those 12 or 13 states. If you get Texas in there, it’s always a rogue player, hard to categorize and not much of a team player, but depending on whether or not you want to count Texas in your South, then you’ve got a real storming economy.
Mike: You didn’t count Texas. I know Joshua Holland asked you about this. You did not include Texas. Why?
Chuck: Because in a fair -- again, I will argue this all day long, and I’m willing to see the other side. In a fair distribution of income and wealth and other factors, I think the North needs Texas too badly to let it go in my amicable secession scenario. Whether Texas wants to go along with that is another matter. Many Texans have told me, “You’re dreaming, boy, if you think we’re just going to go along with you liberal Northerners in San Francisco and Seattle and New York.” The way I cut it down, when I crunched the numbers and looked at what both sides were going to be getting, who they would survive with each other, what sort of treaties and agreements would have to be made for things like military bases and Gulf oil that the rest of America needs, it just felt like Texas was the big bargaining chip that the Northern states would have to walk away with in order to make this work.
End Mike Church Show Transcript