At the height of the civil rights movement,the journalist and historian Gary Wills coined the phrase "the Second Civil War" to describe the federal government's assault on segregation in the South. Fifty years ago, Washington and the civil rights movement won two huge victories, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, but that was only the beginning of the new struggle between the South and the North. The white South immediately flexed its political muscle in 1968, giving all its electoral votes save those of Texas to Richard Nixon or George Wallace. After returning to the Democratic fold in 1976 to elect native son Jimmy Carter, it became pretty solidly Republican from then on. Virginia, North Carolina and Florida are now swing states, but the rest of the region is almost entirely Republican.
Virginia, North Carolina, Florida and Texas have also grown enormously in population relative to the rest of the country. In 1964 those states had 64 electoral votes among them. A belt of industrial states from New York through Pennsylvania and the states on the shores of the Great Lakes had 161. Now those four southern states have 95, while the northern belt has fallen to 134. The exception to teh nationwide pattern is California, which already had 40 electoral votes in 1964 and now has 55. Two days ago the New York Times ran a story about population movements to the South in recent decades, pointing out that many northerners and westerners have realized that housing and energy are much cheaper there, and now return north for the holidays. Today another story pointed out that when Congress convenes, six of the House's standing committees will be chaired by Texans.
The South has been more backward economically than the North for the whole of American history, and it is still much poorer in per capita income and much more subject to various social pathologies such as teen pregnancy, crime, and poverty. But in the late nineteenth century the South learned to turn this into an advantage by exploiting cheap labor. In subsequent decades it managed to move much of the textile industry out of the North. Those gains have not lasted--those jobs have now moved further south, to foreign countries--but the new service economy has proven even more suitable to this strategy, as I am reminded almost any time that I have to make a customer service call.
Whether you are calling your telephone company or your internet provider, the odds are that you will be connected to someone with a strong southern accent, no matter where you live yourself. Their competence varies widely, but they cost relatively little. Other kinds of calls--especially relating to computer hardware--take you much further, usually to somewhere in South Asia. In today's economy here in the US there must be millions of over-qualified people, including recent college graduates, who would be glad to do those jobs--but they would have to be paid much more. Since business schools have long since stamped out any feeling of national, much less regional,responsibility among corporate leaders, I doubt any of the leadership thinks to question any of this.
I have been most depressed over the years when I have to deal with customer service for the home delivery of my New York Times, or my subscription to The New York Review of Books. There are obviously two sacred publications of the northeastern liberal elite. The Times people are very frustrating to deal with, because they will not allow you to contact the local subcontractors who actually deliver your paper. (No one knows this, but in 2012-13, when I was a visitor at Williams College, I singlehandedly got the town's Times delivered on time, instead of after 9:00, by making about 30 calls to the 800 number and eventually finding the local subcontractor myself.) But what is really rather striking is that both the Times and the New York Review call centers are located in Mississippi. Their employees, particularly those of the New York Review, are intelligent and competent--but it has not occurred to the management of either of these publications, apparently,. that they are contributing to the relative decline of their own region and the culture and values it represents by sending their subscribers' money into the Deep South. Yes, both publications are surely running deficits, but wouldn't it be worth something to them to keep that money closer to home and help the educated but less-well-off members of their own community?
I had brief moment of hope some months ago when I had to call my financial services firm, one of the nation's largest. I was connected to a woman with a strong New York accent. When we had finished our conversation, I remarked that it was nice, for once, to be connected from some one from my own part of the country. But the joke was on me: she was now living in Arizona. The northeastern elite seems to have lost any feeling of responsibility towards its less well off neighbors, and they are paying a huge price for this in political influence.