I love South Carolina and the South – I really do. And I consider myself a reasonably serious student of our history and culture.
But I am near dumbfounded by recent changes in attitudes among South Carolinians.
I take my Southern-ness very seriously. My family roots in Upstate South Carolina go back to the state’s earliest days. I’ve lived, studied or worked in every state in the South. I revel in most every aspect of our Southern culture, old and new – food, literature, history and the agrarian traditions. I love dirt track racing, hunting, country music, Southern politics, SEC football – and on and on.
I also understand the dark underside of South Carolina’s history – the legacy of pure evil known as slavery and continuing racism, senseless violence, suspicion of outsiders, willful ignorance, poor treatment of women – and on and on.
All of this South Carolina and Southern pedigree stuff is to say that I’m not naïve about our history or today’s culture. Social anthropologists and other “experts” tell us culture is the hardest thing to change. And they also tell us that when it does change, it changes slowly. And while I think this is generally true, the recent change in attitudes of many South Carolinians on a variety of subjects has been big and fast.
Consider the findings of the most recent Winthrop University Poll, the most authoritative poll in the state:
On the Confederate flag:
Two-thirds of South Carolina residents think the S.C. Legislature made the right decision this summer to remove the Confederate battle flag from the State House grounds.
54% of white respondents said it was the right decision, while 93% of black residents supported it.
By a 50% to 45% margin, Republicans thought it was the right decision.
On same sex marriage:
While 50% oppose same sex marriage, 44% approve.
Now that the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of same sex marriage, 63% believe that a county clerk should not be able to deny issuance of same sex marriage certificates.
80% support a mandatory waiting period and background check before a gun can be purchased.
80% of Republicans and 83% of Democrats support such a measure.
Overall, 22% think illegal immigrants should be deported, 16% say they should be able remain in the US and work for limited time, and 58% say they should be allowed to become US citizens.
For just Republicans, the results were 35% deport, 21% work for limited time and 42% become citizens
For just Democrats, the results were 7% deport, 17% work for limited time and 78% become citizens.
These are very big changes in attitudes of South Carolinians from the stereotypes of the past…even the not so distant past. The cultural divide is shrinking and the so-called Culture War between the extremes on both the right and the left may be subsiding some. And this is not about one side winning and one side losing; it’s about more of us coming together around shared values and common attitudes – and that’s a good thing, a very good thing.
The one group that seems to not get it are the politicians, both in Columbia and Washington. They still seemed to be locked in the same old patterns of bitter political mud wrestling, where nothing is ever accomplished and the level of pettiness and acrimony only heightens with each passing crisis du jour.
As is so often the case these days, the people are way ahead of the politicians.
The politicians are locked in their own world of political fights — fights about various special interest agendas fueled by big-money campaign contributions and lobbyists.
All the while, we the people, at least in South Carolina, are moving closer together in our attitudes and opinions.
This is a good thing, a very good thing.
Phil Noble is a businessman in Charleston and president of the SC New Democrats, an independent reform group started by former Gov. Richard Riley to bring big change and real reform. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.