Herewith a tale of a personal secession and how it came about. It is possible (though unlikely) that some will not be interested in my fascinating mental states. I think, though, that numbers may share them without admitting it. Since many are talking if only wistfully about secession from the Union, and worry that they are no longer where they were a few decades back, even though they haven’t gone anywhere, I offer some thoughts that may resonate.
Time was, you could be fond of America. It wasn’t perfect, as no country is, but you could like it. I am not speaking of patriotism, which usually means a loutish jingoism, but rather a sense of place, a fondness for a region and a people.
This I had. I am, in a sense that surprises me, a Southerner. I didn’t think of myself this way until recently. It didn’t seem to matter.
At about age four I lived a year in Biloxi, Mississippi while my father taught some math course at Keesler AFB, then five in Robert E. Lee Elementary in Arlington, Va., then two in Athens, Alabama, five in rural King George County, Virginia, and four in Hampden-Sydney College, which my Venable ancestors founded, in Prince Edward County, Virginia.
The South suited me. Barefoot and BB-gunned in Limestone County, Alabama, where the dog could go where she wanted and come back when she was ready. Arlington was not greatly Southern, just white post-war America, where you could leave your bike anywhere and find it when you came back. King George, wooded, on the Potomac, small farms and people who lived by crabbing on the Potomac, first day of deer season a school holiday because the teachers knew the boys wouldn’t be there anyway. And Hampden-Sydney College, rural, in Cavalier country, minor gentry of reasonable cultivation and a deep sense of history.
I liked the localness of the South, its quirkiness, the easy friendliness and courtesy that set in at Fredericksburg as you went south from the Yankee capital. I liked the music that sprang from the South, gospel, blues, zydeco, Cajun, bluegrass, country, rockabilly, rock, New Orleans jazz. It was hard to imagine these arising in, God help you, Massachusetts. There was in the hot silent summers of the Southland, a savor, a character, an unstated, unfocused rebelliousness, that I guess rubbed off on me. It was a place where the rumble of a Harley—potatopotatopotato—and the blat and roar of NASCAR made sense.
I also liked America, or thought I did, or at least parts of it. In my hitchhiking days I liked the desert West, California, the wildness and virility of West Virginia. The North seemed alien, New England prissy and meddlesome and in Boston they honked like geese. The Midwest? Pleasant but flavorless. This, the observation that America isn’t one place, that it is many places not all of which like each other, leads to thoughts of secession.
I didn’t think about this much, about being American. I just was. I said “we” sent men to the moon, “we” invented this and that. “We.”
Today many, watching the horror that is being made of the country, speak seriously of secession. My people tried it. It didn’t work. It won’t now. Maybe it should.
Twenty years ago I moved to Mexico, not because I disliked America but because I visited Manzanillo to explore, liked the life I found, and somehow never left. It wasn’t planned but just happened.
Then in America came—I’m not sure what, but it came. I watched with a sense of the intense wrongness of things as all that I had liked crumbled. Suddenly schooling was being endumbed, grammarless semiliteracy vaunted as authentic, as indeed it was: authentically semiliterate. Music became the obscene grunting of the slums. Cities burned while the police watched. Videos circulated of some hulking ghettopotamus slugging an Asian grandmother in a New York subway. The country grew coarse, government ever more visibly corrupt. Foreign policy fell into the hands of people who belonged in an asylum. The South again came under attack from a Yankee President and simian trash pulled down statues of men of whom they knew nothing and couldn’t spell. Increasingly troops had to protect the government from a disaffected citizenry.
As society decayed, and then worsened, I watched with sorrow and anger. Things that mattered were being destroyed and, I eventually realized, could not be restored. Start with college. Hampden-Sydney was the archetypal small Southern liberal arts school, of a mold with William and Mary, Randolph Macon women’s College—“Randy Mac” as we knew it—Davidson, Mary Washington, Washington and Lee, and so on. These taught the things that were thought, have always been thought to produce, cultivated men and women. History, languages, the philosophers, mathematics, the sciences, now mysteries to our burgeoning and vacuous rabble.
I began to think, what is there any longer to like in this place? On visits from Guadalajara to Washington I found it more like Khe Sanh during the siege than[FR1] a civilized capital—wire fencing against mobs, concrete stop’em bombs around federal buildings, on Cap Hill metal flaps that rose from streets to stop car bombs, surly police, growing censorship, venomous racial hostility, and prissy moral correction from the likes of Biden.
And then the marginal primates pulled down the statue of General Lee on Monument Avenue in Richmond. Something snapped. I don’t know why. I guess I saw it as an attack on a time and place I valued, on a friendly and unpretentious gentility going back to Jefferson and Lee. To a point I had told myself that the dark Morlocks swarming from the ghetto to loot and burn were people too, that the vapid Eloi of the suburbs might be saved. No more. I simply and intensely loathed them. I had nothing in common with the Negros of the cities or the empty-headed peasantry of the suburbs and, frankly, no longer gave a dam about them. There came an emotional acceptance of what I had known intellectually for some time, that America was irretrievably over. The irretrievability mattered. It ended hopes that doing this or that or the other thing might stop the rot. It wasn’t going to stop. So I seceded, a secession of one, without a conscious decision to do so. I just stopped caring. And reflected that a country perhaps deserves what it tolerates.
The collapse became fascinating rather than disheartening, like watching a terrarium of insects and small reptiles. What garish and savage thing would they do next? One doesn’t often see the end of a civilization.
And so in the mornings I go to the magic window from Dell to see what gawdy efflorescence of comedic wrongheadedness the. inmates have invented. There is much to see. A transexual admiral, rates of crime astonishing to the world, the Daily Mass Shooting, police in high schools, catch-and-release for violent misfeasors. Police disbanded and defunded amid the growing slaughter in the streets. Algebra, English literature, spelling abandoned to please the wild men from the forest. Mixed-sex Marine training. Incapacity made a requirement for employment.
If you don’t let it get to you, it is one hell of a show.