It was my people, sad to say, who were largely responsible for the mess we’re in.
So it might well be up to my people to get us out.
My people are the Scots-Irish, the people I knew from birth in the Smoky Mountain town of Franklin, the ones I went to school with and spent my formative years around.
But you don’t have to be from the mountains to be Scots-Irish. We’re everywhere. You may even be one of us.
All of which makes a book by one of us, James Webb, the one-term senator from Virginia, so important to knowing who I am, where I came from and the impact my people have made – and continue to make – on the great American experiment.
Webb, first off, is far too good a writer to be a politician. His work, titled Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America is a wonderfully compelling read, one I would recommend highly to anyone interested in our country’s history and culture.
Webb traces our lineage to William Wallace of Braveheart fame, and chronicles our pugnacious past from the battle-scarred borders of Scotland and England to the embattled Ulster Plantation of Ireland and on to colonial America, where we couldn’t get along with any of the earlier settlers long enough to be even remotely welcome along the coasts or among established settlements.
So a goodly number of us ended up in the borderlands of the New World, where, originally we were seen as a convenient buffer between those Native Americans disgruntled by the encroachment of Europeans and the colonies’ more refined society. What quickly became evident to those in the power centers of Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Richmond, Raleigh and Charleston was that we, the Scots-Irish, could be a bigger pain in the posterior than the Cherokee, Shawnee or Chickasaw.
If you don’t believe it, just read up on the Whiskey Rebellion. Nobody tells a Scots-Irish they can’t make corn whiskey for their own consumption, at least not without a good fight.
We’re, as a people, really good at fighting. It’s in our DNA. Webb, a decorated Marine officer who did himself, his family and his country proud in Vietnam, makes the point repeatedly how an out-sized percentage of Scots-Irish have served in our nation’s military – so often with the kind of distinction Webb himself served.
But what we’re best known for is our independence, self-reliance, strong work ethic and absolute refusal to “bend a knee’’ to an authority we, ourselves, don’t consider worthy of honor or respect. We’re a head-strong breed, one that will follow a leader we trust and respect to the ends of the earth through hell and high water. But let some king, or some lord, or some governor who we don’t know and have never met come along and tell us what we can and can’t do, and they had best be loaded for bear.
Sadly, we can also be known as narrow-minded, jingoistic and even bigoted. All cultures have their unappealing characteristics and it can safely be said that, at least until recent times, education was not one of the Scots-Irish’s priorities.
That’s largely because the Scots-Irish were for the longest time preoccupied with fighting off hostiles in order to scratch out a living in flinty soil.
The conclusion that my people were largely responsible for getting us in the mess we’re in comes from the one of the best magazine articles I’ve ever read. And what makes the 5,000-word piece, written by George Packer and titled Hillary Clinton and the Populist Revolt so amazing is that it was published in The New Yorker a full month before the 2016 election and basically predicted the outcome.
Packer chronicles how the White Working Class, once the traditional base of the Democratic Party, flocked to Donald Trump because it felt abandoned by Hillary Clinton and the Democratic politicians who came before her. Some might feel I’m taking liberties to equate the White Working Class with the Scots-Irish, but I would argue that the overlap of the two entities is such that it makes for a difference without a distinction.
Packer makes the case of how the Democratic Party, my party since birth, lost its moorings after the McGovern debacle of 1972. Instead of continuing to stand up for the working men and women, it hitched its wagon to the rise of the affluent professionals in America, known collectively as “Atari Democrats.’’
By the emergence of Bill Clinton, the center of power in the party had become a coalition of cosmopolitan elite and diversity, one far more concerned with identity and other forms of single-issue politics than how the working people of our country are going to keep a roof over their heads and feed their family.
Even then, plenty of my people, the Scots-Irish, might have remained in the Democratic column if not for the condescension and denigration they felt drizzling down on them from academia, Wall Street and such high concentrations of the cosmopolitan elite as to be found in the publishing, entertainment and media industries.
Packer makes the point that by the 21st century, the only slur acceptable in “polite society’’ was redneck, or perhaps, Bible-thumper. Condescension is toxic to my people. We can smell it from a thousand miles away. When we get spit on, we’ve been conditioned since time immemorial to respond the best way we know how.
Hillary Clinton spit on my people when she complained about the baskets of deplorables. We can debate what exactly she meant, but not where she said it. She said it at a fundraiser on Wall Street, in front of her people.
And as much respect as I have from Barack Obama, clearly a trans-formative figure of American history, he stepped on my people as well with the comment about bitter folks clinging to their guns and their Bibles.
We respond by fighting back. And in 2016, the weapon at our disposal, unfortunately, was the most flawed man in America, Donald Trump.
Today’s Scots-Irish feel abandoned and, worse, roundly denigrated. But I also have to feel that many of my people can see Donald Trump for who and what he is. And I have to feel that if they could see any other politicians as being the least bit concerned about who they are and how they’re doing, then they could be persuaded to vote for their own interests and not those of some fat-cat hedge-fund manager on Wall Street.
Like the one who married Chelsea Clinton.
Not all of them, of course, are gettable. There are those Americans who vote Republican because of Donald Trump. I don’t see many of them changing their stripes. But there are also plenty of Americans who voted Republican despite Donald Trump. And many of them, I have to think, are Scots-Irish.
If even a percentage of them can be peeled away, then I can see a landslide that would deposit Trump and those of his persuasion in the dust-bin of history.
But the last way to convince any of my people to go along is to look down on them, denigrate them, spit on them, call them names.
The Democratic Party has already tried that, and we all see how that worked out.
Show a little respect, the same any culture or people should expect. Otherwise, the only thing you have to lose is the country we’ve always known, one for the people, by the people.