On Southern Honor and Alt-Right Aggrievement

If you haven’t you should spend some time reading up on the experiment of Theo E.J. Wilson, a poet and activist from Denver. After being trolled by white supremacists on his YouTube channel, Wilson adopted an alt-right online persona to try and learn where the hate was coming from. (His name was John Carter, a fictional Confederate soldier who becomes a warlord on Mars.)  Wilson developed some understanding, and perhaps most notably, some empathy for those who hated people like him.

“One thing kept screaming at me in the subtext of those arguments. And that was, ‘Why should I be hated for who I cannot help but be?’ As a black man in America, that resonates with me,” Wilson says in his popular Ted Talk.

I saw a connection between Wilson’s observations and a recent post by Iowa historian David Connon. President Lincoln — surely one of the most astute politicians in American history — seems to have been surprised by the South’s intense animosity. Connon suggests Lincoln appears to have failed to understand the South’s sense of honor — and its people’s anger at perceived Northern arrogance.

Shortly after Alexander Stephens of Georgia made a speech against secession before Lincoln had a chance to demonstrate his intentions in office, Lincoln wrote to the southerner, saying,

You think slavery is right and ought to be extended, while we think it is wrong and ought to be restricted.  That, I suppose, is the rub.  It certainly is the only substantial difference between us.”

But Stephens disagreed, replying:

“The leading object [of Republicans] seems to be simply, and wantonly, if you please, to put the institutions of nearly half the States under the ban of public opinion and national condemnation. This, upon general principles, is quite enough of itself to arouse a spirit not only of general indignation but of revolt.”

There is far more to say on this subject. But let us consider this. Perhaps Theo Wilson, black slam poet of 2017, discovered the same sense of aggrievement among the alt-right that provided Confederates with their emotional motivation 150 years ago. A sense of having been maligned that President Lincoln underestimated.

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