Gary Wills, a conservative, shakes his head at his native South:
This is a region that rejects sex education, though its rate of teenage pregnancies is double and in places triple that of New England. It fights federal help with education, preferring to inoculate its children against science by denying evolution.
No part of the country will suffer the effects of global warming earlier or with more devastation than the South, yet its politicians resist measures to curb carbon emissions and deny the very existence of climate change—sending it to the dungeon with evolution and biblical errancy [ . . . ] it just digs deeper in denial. The South has decided to be defeated and dumb. [ . . . ]
This is the thing that makes the South the distillation point for all the fugitive extremisms of our time, the heart of Say-No Republicanism, the home of lost causes and nostalgic lunacy. It is as if the whole continent were tipped upward, so that the scattered crazinesses might slide down to the bottom. The South has often been defeated. Now it is defeating itself.
Wills casts the blame for the South’s willful spiral into self-inflicted destitution on its misplaced sense of “dignity,” a dignity that will not allow it to accept a black man as president, that clings with desperation to whatever fictions it needs in order to maintain some sense of time standing still.
The problem, recognized by Wills, is not just what the South is doing to itself, but what it’s doing to the rest of the country and the rest of the planet. (And of course, we’re using “the South” as shorthand for the Tea-Party, Christianist culture about which Wills writes in his essay, not “everyone who lives in the South.”) In Washington, its “la-la-la-I-can’t-hear-you” attitude toward reality gets enormous influence, if not total veto power, over national policy, particularly as low-population states are overrepresented in Congress, which, if not of the South itself, tend to be ideologically aligned. And of course you have the southern states (and non-southern states run by GOP governments) that intentionally obstruct any modicum of genuine progress that might accidentally spill out of Washington.
This means that on these crucial, existential issues such as environmental policy, energy policy, civil rights, health care, and the need for an educated population, the whole country suffers. And since the U.S. remains the world’s superpower, and because it consumes energy and emits waste at a highly disproportionate rate, particularly on climate change, we screw the whole planet. The South defeats not only itself, but all of us.