Life is full of mysteries that neither Neil deGrasse Tyson, Dr. Oz, nor the paranoid pothead philosopher-fool who sells you Adderall can explain. And perhaps no phenomenon is more vexing than the strange and baffling way in which so-called less-government-is-better-government right-wingers in South Carolina will get down on their hands and knees and praise the overreaching actions of the Republican-controlled state General Assembly.
Case in point: the recent backroom deals that installed former state Sen. Glenn McConnell as the incoming president of the College of Charleston. These libertarian-styled enemies of Beltway Big Government are seemingly blind to the actions of Columbia, S.C.-style Big Government.
OK, to suggest that they’re blind to their own hypocrisy is being kind. Truth be told, they’re fully aware how their libertarian-lite philosophy doesn’t jibe with their defense of the strong-armed tactics that put McConnell in the CofC big boy chair. In this case, they’re not fighting a battle against Big Government — and they never were. They are bootlickers of the first order. They are cringing cowards to the powers that be. They are fluffers to the RINO status quo.
After all, what sort of true limited-government champion would not only applaud but defend a dog-and-donkey show process that spent $100,000 on a presidential search committee only to reject every single candidate the committee selected? What sort of Big Government opponent believes that it’s acceptable for members of the state legislature to threaten members of the Board of Trustees, to let them know that they will lose their posts if they don’t approve the legislature’s chosen candidate, that they can’t vote according to their own beliefs? None that I know of. And yet so many limited-government right-wingers in this town have behaved this very way.
The truth of the matter is that these sad and silly individuals aren’t fighting Big Government. They’re fighting another cause entirely: the Civil War. If you doubt it, I encourage you for a moment to read over all of the comments on the City Paper website and our Facebook page regarding McConnell.
Few have the temerity to explain how his background makes him the best possible candidate — although some try and fail. Instead, they either defend the incoming president by proclaiming that we should not question our betters — in this case the bullied CofC Board of Trustees — or that McConnell must be defended because he is a Heritage Not Hate leader, a Lost Causer who knows that the War Between the States was a fight over states’ rights and not slavery, despite whatever nonsense the numerous ordinances of secession detailed at the time. And nearly every single one offers up a particularly Southern, perhaps even Charlestonian, point of view, one in which they proclaim that true Southern heritage belongs to one group and one group only — white people — without explicitly saying it. For them, Southern heritage is white Southern heritage. Southern culture is white Southern culture. The Southern way of life is the white Southern way of life.
You know the type. In fact, if you’re white and a South Carolina native, you’ve probably got one in your family. He’s the uncle who gets trumped-up disability payments from the federal government but who bitches and moans about black welfare queens and food stamp presidents. She’s the bleach-blonde deb who talks about Southern pride and a preserving Southern culture, but simply doesn’t believe that her so-called pride and culture is one that is also shared by blacks. He’s the cousin that’s been in and out of jail for check fraud, failure to pay child support, and various drug offenses but who believes that the NAACP’s most egregious sin is not addressing crime and broken families in the black community. For all of these, the Southern way of life is an exclusively white way of life, and what role African Americans played in shaping it is minimal at best and inconvenient at worst. Sadly, these folks just don’t understand that at heart they are bigots.
And in McConnell’s case there is no clearer example of his own bigotry than his defense of Maurice Bessinger, a virulent racist and segregationist. When everybody who had at least a small modicum of sense saw that Bessinger had become persona non grata — when nearly every single grocery store chain in the South refused to stock their shelves with the barbecue baron’s products because of his deplorable pro-slavery points of view and his unrepentant racism — Glenn McConnell chose to defend him.
Not only did McConnell threaten legislative retaliation against a corporation that opposed Bessinger, the then-state senator began selling Maurice’s barbecue sauce at his North Charleston Confederate memorabilia shop, CSA Galleries. Even worse, McConnell relished his role as a purveyor of Bessinger’s products, proclaiming that the sauce was “America’s most controversial … and best tasting BBQ sauce. Boycotted by the politically correct.”
Now, some like to say that McConnell isn’t a racist, and plenty of African-American members of the S.C. General Assembly have gone to bat to defend him. They appear to have a point. The state senator did help the black community in several ways, and he deserves credit for that. But considering the insidious points of view that Bessinger championed, it’s quite telling that McConnell chose to defend the barbecue baron when all of his dirty laundry had once again come to light.
That the good people, and in particular the members of the Palmetto State media, seemingly forgot Bessinger’s previous and ongoing transgressions prior to the Confederate Flag controversy of the early 2000s speaks volumes about the institutional racism that still has a grip on this state. And it’s worth noting that the African-American leadership in this state has been complicit in keeping this system of institutional racism alive. Far too many believe that the fight for justice and equality is one in which the oppressed will win by remaining docile to the powers that be. The black politicians who don’t challenge the system — who knowingly allow a member of a whites-only country club to become a board member at the state’s leading historically black university — are nothing more than King Toms of their own tiny, insignificant fiefdoms.
Right now, we’re in the middle of a fight for the soul of CofC, if not Charleston and South Carolina itself, and it’s a fight that far too many of our progressive leaders are unwilling to fight. Black leaders defend McConnell despite the fact that he defended one of the state’s preeminent racists, while many so-called white progressives do the same, whether it’s Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, state Rep. Leon Stavrinakis, or the guiding forces in the state Democratic Party.
Make no mistake, this fight isn’t just about McConnell. It’s one about inclusion and equality and a shared culture. It’s one about the dignity of the individual and the freedom of the individual to pursue their own individual happiness. It’s about deciding which side of history the people of this town and this state want to be on. As it stands today, the forces of bigotry and good ole boy big-government bullying are winning. The S.C. General Assembly has been throwing their weight around like they haven’t done in years. They’re empowered by the timidity of the Left — white and black — and the complacency of the populace. And they aren’t simply content with installing a college president. They purge those who don’t follow their orders with enough zeal. They feel emboldened to punish colleges for offering books with LGBT themes. And they promise to retaliate against those schools who don’t do as they’re told.
But while it’s difficult to look at what’s going on and not be overtaken by sadness or filled with anger — maybe both — this is also a time of hope. When it’s all said and done, we will look back on these years as the beginning of the end for the bigots and hatemongers, the last gasp of the Lost Causers. One day they won’t be welcome, even here in South Carolina.
Chris Haire is the author of the comic novel, The Many Crimes of Wyatt Duvall, a despicable tale about a dastardly man committing dastardly deeds. Oh, and dryer lint smoking. Lots of dryer lint smoking. It’s currently available at Amazon.com.