Recent calls for secession from politicians in Georgia and Texas have brought to the surface some troubling undercurrents swirling beneath our region’s political waters.
In order to keep these sentiments from gaining legitimacy, the genuine grievance of overspending by the federal government must be addressed. At the same time it must also be said that officials who make such loaded statements are the most hateful kind of opportunists, for they would risk our peace and prosperity for their personal gain.
After all, how can one who knows our history of civil conflict, and the poverty and contention that accompanied it, suggest that the solution to the region’s problems today is to revisit our brutal past?
Recent surveys indicate a striking regional desire to pull away from our great republic, and perhaps withdraw from life altogether. The desire to withdraw is not without historical precedent. As Gibbons tells us, when the Roman Empire was in decay, the numbers seeking the monastic life increased dramatically.
Today cultists, nudists, survivalists, re-enactors and bigots all openly espouse various modes of seclusion from the world. Yet it is a sad sort of fatalism that brings good people to willingly wall themselves away from civilization, and we must do our best to keep all fruitful plants inside the garden, lest they become weeds when we find them where they are not wanted.
Public discontent has lately centered on taxation, and although the true objection to the current government may be something else altogether, the fact remains that current federal spending is unsustainable.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, 65 percent of federal spending goes toward the military, Social Security and Medicare. Therefore, to make meaningful cuts in spending, we will have to decrease the benefits that the aged receive under the two welfare programs. Family members of the elderly will bear a larger share of the social burden and depend less on the state. The upshot will be better relations between the generations, when the intermediary that rations care to the old has been removed.
I have written numerous pieces against military spending. It is enough here to restate that the American military budget is out of proportion with all manner of reason and good sense.
In addition to addressing the complaint of overspending, our public officials ought to remember the terrible consequences that divisive tactics have wrought on Southerners. It is only since the 1960s that we have enjoyed lasting peace here. Yet it seems that for officials today, the temptation of easy gain is just too much.
Anyone so tempted might consider the defeated and embarrassing legacies left by like-minded politicians of our recent past (such as Lester Maddox and George Wallace). For contrast they might look to a pair of Southern statesmen, both Georgians, who have become world renowned for their public life, namely Martin Luther King and Jimmy Carter.
In the 1950s and ’60s, our region was bubbling with anger and discontent, which could have easily produced another long bloody conflict or a shameful slaughter. From the swirling vortex Dr. King emerged as a political genius. He courageously put his person in danger to solidify support to the cause.
He appealed to common Christian ideals, while holding the extremists on both sides in check, and eventually united blacks and whites in compromise. It was a political feat that saved us from untold bloodshed and destruction, and began a revival of the South’s image in the eyes of the world.
President Carter offers a different story, but one no less extraordinary. The legacy of his presidency is often belittled, but no one can dispute the fact that the man has been remarkably successful in virtually every human endeavor he has set his mind to.
Carter’s long life has allowed his powers of intellect and determination to reach their full potential. His talents coupled with a buoyant faith in God and Man have propelled him to excel in academics, the military, agriculture and practical business, family life, statesmanship, and diplomacy. The only question left about the man is what would he be capable of with another 100 years among us?
With examples like these one wonders what would drive today’s office-seekers to pursue the dark path of separatism. The answer must lie in the cheap exploitation of fear. It’s easy. After all, fear is the prevailing theme in news coverage of every sort. With its new series "Storm Stories," even the stalwart Weather Channel seems to have taken up the industry mantra of "tune in ... or DIE!" Everything from illegal immigrants to a hard rain is cause for mortal alarm.
Those with the courage to stick around and better our republic will have to make clear to officials that vitriol in the public sphere is irresponsible. Rabelais spoke clearly on the topic when he said, "Out-strouting cluster-fists, contentious bulls, fomenters of divisions and debates, elsewhere, not here, make your sale of deceits."
Only then will the rest of us have an easier time in keeping America’s states United.
Jesse Corn is a Gainesville native and area resident. Contact him at 3292 Thompson Bridge Road, Box 158, Gainesville, GA 30506