A NON-RACIST THEORY OF RACIST AMERICA
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
All the theories that have been used to explain the nature of the United States are inadequate to the task because they have refused to see racism as the primary factor influencing the country. It is just too upsetting for Americans to admit this role of racism.
Even the liberal/radical theories that refer to the United States as a racist nation mean little more than that the people and the institutions of the nation are prejudiced and discriminate against black Americans. This is only half the story, however, since the values, ideals, and indeed the very thought processes of Americans are expressions of racism. In this article we argue that racism is not an American "dilemma," or simply one of the social problems facing the country. Racism is America itself.
The article examines the South as an example of the kind of analysis that sociologists should be doing for the entire United States. American social scientists understood the racist nature of the South. They emphasized the importance of the caste system and the racism of not only the southern upper class, but the middle class as well. These theorists also emphasized the impact of racism on every aspect of southern life, from its government to its values, ideals, and ideas.
Sociologists have failed to apply the southern model to the United States as a whole. The reason for this is primarily that most sociologists believe in the liberal version of the equality- of-opportunity thesis and because they became so focused on the civil rights battles in the South that they failed to notice the pervasive racism throughout the nation. The South's racism was simply more virulent.
The next part applies the southern analysis to an understanding of the United States as a whole. This application is especially needed today because the migration of blacks to all the urban centers of the nation makes the entire country now behave in a manner similar to the South after the breakdown of legal supports for its apartheid system. The next part concentrates on the acceptance by the upper and middle classes of the equality-of- opportunity thesis, rather than equality of results, as the preferred social model for the nation. We argue that the basis for this acceptance is racism itself.
The next part develops a political model showing how the white middle class controls political swings in American governmental history. The white middle class (including in that class the working class) determines the major political agenda of the nation, including its society, culture, and government. It also shows that this middle class is racist.
The model also identifies the social change factors that account for the political cycles in American history. Even though the United States is a basically conservative nation, it has increased equality of opportunity five times (counting the Jacksonian revolution as part of the establish of American government): the abolition of slavery, the Progressive era's curbing of industrial concentration, the granting of woman suffrage, the establishment of the welfare state, and the abolition of the southern apartheid system. Although the United States has certainly granted more equality over time to its citizens, it must never be forgotten that these changes occurred within the framework of a racist nation, and that the changes never touched the underlying equality-of-opportunity thesis or fundamentally altered the unequal society.
The next part traces the development of a common racist culture in the United States. It shows how the three very different regions (New England, the mid-Atlantic, and the South) were able to unite culturally because all faced similar problems involved with slavery. Common experiences with racism led the colonials to combine laissez- faire economics and puritanical moralism into a racist thesis of equality of opportunity.
The next part explains how the founding fathers actually created a weak and ineffective system of government that the white middle class changed to suit its needs as soon as they came to power with the Jacksonian revolution. Indeed, America's most important founding father was Andrew Jackson of Tennessee, for the Age of Jackson saw the inevitable triumph of the white middle class in American society and government.
This kind of national history is important because sociologists who write about race and racism focus their efforts toward understanding the impact of racism on black Americans. Sociologists sympathize with the underdog and try to help the wider society understand the plight of this beleaguered minority. Unfortunately, sociologists usually leave the study of the entire history of the United States to historians. The history sociologists write about is usually the history of discrimination against blacks. This one- sided history is patronizing because one should also feel sorry for white Americans, who have critically damaged themselves by their racism.
The article uses the word "black" instead of "African American." There are two reasons for this. First, the book uses the word "white." Second, as the book clearly shows, the emphasis on the role of ethnicity (as opposed to race) as the key to American society is a mistaken one. Using "African American" encourages white Americans to think of blacks as just another ethnic group and thereby plays into the hands of the equality-of- opportunity/sociological racism that now is the dominant ideology in the country.
The Nature of the South
While theories of American society underestimate the role of race in American life, such is not the case for studies of the American South. It would be virtually impossible for social scientists to underestimate the role of race in an area totally dominated by slavery and then by apartheid. The best applicable theory of the United States is that developed by analysts of the American South. This is true because the sociologists, political scientists, and historians were able to show how racism so thoroughly affected every aspect of southern life: government, police, education, media, and culture, as well as values, ideals, and ideas.
This article does not analyze the South in detail. Instead, the focus is on the theories developed to explain the South. Theorists such as William Dodd, Ulrich Phillips, and Frank Owsley (see O'Brien 1979) made the essential point that the southern racist system stemmed from slavery. This is important because it establishes the priority of social structure over ideas. All too many American theorists prefer to emphasize values as primary. Keeping with the economic theme, under the southern slave system, some white workers did have economic reasons to worry about black labor, for employers would often use slaves rather than hire poor whites (Stampp 1956:426). This kept the poor whites supportive of the caste system, but it does not explain the intensity of white middle-class racism. Sociologist Wilbert E. Moore (1971:137) notes that in the South the nonslaveholder (and this included many persons in the middle class) remained socially superior as long as the blacks remained slaves. By the very existence of a black caste, all whites were members of the dominant class.
Non-Marxist theorists of the South recognized that the southern white middle class, independent of the obvious influence of the gentry, was racist in nature. In the South the farmers and artisans exercised what Cooper and Terrell (1990:60-63) call the politics of deference and democracy. Although the middle class believed in and practiced democracy, the farmers and artisans gave their consent to and even expected the gentry to rule. Indeed, the farmers and artisans supported the gentry's exercise of authority.
Most serious students of the South argue that the white middle class was deeply racist and helped maintain the racist system (see Davis et al. 1941). Both the upper and middle classes benefited in the short run from the subjugation of blacks. The southern upper class could keep the less fortunate divided by (please excuse the term) "nigger baiting," but middle-class whites would not have taken the bait if they were not racist themselves. Southern political leaders merely had to warn the white middle class of the threat of racial equality to stir a negative reaction. The politicians would dredge up the deepest fears of these people, topping the argument off with the fear of miscegenation. The threatened middle class would then immediately stop any progressive southern politician, as well as any member of the upper class, intent on modernizing the South.
Racist ideology, first seeing blacks as heathens and then as biologically inferior, supported this racist system. The South enforced this racism in all its educational institutions, including schools and the various media. Racist ideology thereby reinforced the racist caste system.
The racist system in the South affected all aspects of southern life, not just the way southerners made their living. The southern way of life included such values as their chivalrous but sexist attitudes toward women, as well as their celebration of war and warlike attributes. Wilbur Cash (1941; summarized in Cooper and Terrell 1990) delineated southern self-consciousness with the term "savage ideal." This ideal supported the suppression of dissent (and even personal variety), anti-intellectualism, a lack of criticism and analysis (wherein criticism is seen as high treason), Puritan guilt, a disinclination to reflection and abstract thought, violence, exaggerated individualism, a restricted concept of social responsibility, and attachment to fictions and false values. Southerners justified the cruelty of their racist system in the name of such values as racial superiority, southern patriotism, and religion. Even the so-called virtues of the southern way of life were the result of the paternalistic southern culture. These values included courtesy, personal generosity, loyalty, and patriotism. The thesis of our book is that these southern characteristics and values are merely applications or exaggerated versions of the American way of life and values. The reason for this is that both America as a whole and the South are racist. (This is not to deny that the South continues to the present to be the most racist region in the nation. But constantly pointing to southern racism, as if somehow it is fundamentally different from northern racism, merely lulls liberal Americans into self-satisfaction.)
Like the average American, the average southerner rejects the idea that racism is the source of many of his or her values and ideas. Southerners have elaborated a great social pretense system to deny the influence of race. The idea of social pretense has been illuminated by the political scientist V. O. Key, Jr., a student of the southern apartheid system. With slight modification, his remarks can be applied to the entire nation as well. The author notes (1984:665) that "southern political regionalism derives basically from the influence of the Negro. Other factors, to be sure, contribute to sectional character, but in the final analysis the peculiarities of southern white politics come from the impact of the black race."
Key (1984:665) adds:
... it would be incorrect to say that the problem of race
relations is a constant preoccupation of politicians or a
matter of continuous debate. Campaign after campaign is
waged in which the question of race is not raised; ...
The situation is, rather, that the struggles of politics
take place within an institutional framework fixed by
considerations of race relations, a framework on the
order of a mold which gives shape and form to that which
it contains. It is chiefly when the equilibrium in race
relations is threatened that the issue of the Negro comes
to the fore in political discussion.
... the effects of race are such that the participants in
politics are not always conscious of them. Much less are
outside observers aware of the precise nature of the
consequences of race and, indeed, in many instances it is
most difficult to estimate their significance although their
general nature may be divined.
Indeed, both southern and American societies have highly developed systems of social pretense that largely exclude rational consideration of the nation's racial problems. The refusal to discuss race and racism is itself a sign of racism. Not talking about racism continues the social pretense system and racism; but that is the intent, sad to say.
This article uses the southern model as a starting point to analyze American society as a whole. The southern model clearly shows how racism is more intimately tied to economics than to racist values or ideas. The discussion that follows delineates some of the main facets of this analysis -- an analysis that corrects many of the conservative and liberal biases in American social theories.
What the Southern Analysts Missed
The South, currently stripped of its ideology of biological racism, has had to fall back on the real American justification for racism that has always existed in both North and South: equality-of- opportunity racism. This justification goes to the heart of America itself. Lurking underneath all the theories of blacks as heathens or as inferior biological beings was a basic and important philosophy that supported racism. An equality-of-opportunity racism always underlay the biological racism and was always more invidious than biology. And this sociological or socioeconomic racism developed from the theory of laissez-faire economics.
Laissez-faire economics maintains that in a market economy the markets are free and open with no restrictions placed on them by politicians or society. In the market economy goods are distributed on the basis of rational criteria such as education, talent, and initiative. Each individual works for his or her economic self- interest; the end result of working for one's own selfishness is that the society reaches a wonderful equilibrium or balance that is optimal in fairness and rationality. Those not prospering under these conditions have only themselves or personal circumstances to blame.
This philosophy is perfectly adapted to an equality-of-opportunity racism. After all, as long as there is equality of opportunity in the society, all will reach their deserved positions. Even more conveniently, this philosophy relieves the true believers of any responsibility for the outcomes of the society, for the outcomes are the end result of a fair and just society. Therefore, in a free- market economy, if black Americans do not prosper, they have only themselves to blame. Furthermore, white Americans have no responsibility to improve the overall situation of black Americans.
As a theory of social stratification, this belief obviously flies in the face of reality. The primary reason for the privileged positions of the upper and middle classes is not hard work but the riches of their families (Pessen 1973: chapter 5). Nevertheless, if a majority of U. S. citizens insists on believing in the laissez- faire version of society, the ethic will be the dominant philosophy regardless of its inadequacies. This chapter investigates in detail how this equality-of-opportunity thesis came to be adopted in the United States.
Equality of Opportunity and Social Classes
In all societies those at the top of the economic hierarchy need a belief system that justifies their having more of the better things of life. The nobility culture in Europe provided such a justification for the position of the Old World upper classes. What belief system did the upper class in America adopt to justify its position? This upper class wholeheartedly accepted the laissez- faire and associated equality of opportunity philosophies. Under equality of opportunity, the justification for vast wealth was that the elite had obtained its position through hard work. By fairly winning the economic race, the elite deserved its wealth. The more fortunate had shown their superiority in the economic game, and no one should criticize them in a society based on individual effort and not on nobility. As long as the game was "fair," then no criticism should apply to the winners of the game.
The attraction of this approach was that the elites of all three regions of the thirteen colonies could apply the theory to themselves. It was so flexible that New England merchants, mid-Atlantic lords of the manor, and southern plantation owners could use it to justify their privileged positions.
Of course, the workability of the equality of opportunity thesis depended on the consent of the less fortunate. The key question here is why the white middle class agreed to a theory that basically declared the system a fair one; that everyone's position in the society was due to his or her own efforts; and that the status quo of the unequal distribution of wealth should be accepted. In short, the most interesting question was not that the upper classes adopted the equality-of-opportunity philosophy, but that the middle class also accepted it.
Why would nonentrepreneurial Americans, small farmers, and industrial and service workers accept a capitalist ethic as their dominant ethic? There have been a number of traditional answers to this question. One of the most popular is that the American middle class was wealthy. This is relatively true if one compares the American middle class with that of the European middle class, but workers primarily compare themselves to others in their own work environment, not with workers in foreign countries.
Most Americans in colonial times
would have had no conception of European wages. But Americans certainly knew
in general how much the important people in their immediate surroundings
earned. The middle-class- wealth theory is just not a satisfactory answer,
especially since the American middle class was not objectively well-off compared
to the upper class.
Another traditional explanation is that the middle class was made complacent because they could move into the upper class. The greater social mobility explanation does have some validity. It is true that, compared to the situation in Europe, the chances for moving upward were greater in America and this obviously impressed the white middle class (see Pessen 1973:81). But this difference in mobility is a difference in quantity, not in quality. Such small differences in mobility would never have resulted in the building of the American myth of the classless society. American society was very unequal, despite all the talk of equality. (There is something very troubling about the studies of mobility used to support this contention. These studies usually exclude blacks and compare the social mobility of white Americans to Europeans. The end result is a very biased picture that misleads social scientists. One cannot ignore the existence of blacks if one is to understand American society.)
One would think that if Americans were so entranced with equality and with a powerful middle class that they would have pushed for more equality of results, rather than settle for equality of opportunity. But they did not. Why did they accept equality of opportunity when this obviously meant that the middle class would find it hard to gain greater equality between themselves and the upper class?
The key to the explanation is that the American colonies were racial tripartite societies. At the top was the upper class, accompanied by a large white middle class; finally, at the bottom, were slaves and freedmen. The result was that American society had two elites that felt they had to protect their positions. The white middle class had to justify its disproportional enjoyment of the better things in life and the great gap between themselves and the lower caste. They accepted the equality of opportunity thesis because they were themselves a privileged elite. (In this analysis, the white working class in included in the white middle class. Objectively, the working class is more liberal than the middle class on economic issues. But, overall, the working class is still very conservative, which justifies treating it as part of the middle class.)
If it was important for those in the American upper class to say they obtained their positions through hard work and therefore deserved these positions, it was just as important for average white middle-class Americans to prove that they deserved their relatively privileged position, especially when compared to blacks. Thus, the two privileged classes in America used the theory of equality of opportunity to justify their positions.
Early European writers waxed eloquent on how little class consciousness there was in America. The United States was not as class conscious as Europe, because U. S. citizens were primarily caste conscious. The middle class had its eyes on those lower than themselves, not on those higher. After all, there were many more members of the caste system than of the upper class, and members of the caste system were so horribly treated that they represented a fearsome thing. The more blacks there were, the more frightened were the whites (see V. O. Key, Jr. 1984, for support of this correlation).
The upper class also worried about the caste, but could rely on the middle class to enforce the barriers. This alleviated any pressure on the upper class to help the less fortunate through social and economic reforms. It also saved the upper class a great deal of money, for the anxiety of the middle class toward the lower groups ensured that the upper class would not have to spend large sums in caring for the less fortunate.
The strongest support for the racial tripartite thesis comes from the modern attitudes and voting behavior of the American white middle class. Certainly in today's America few people would argue that, compared to Europeans and the Japanese, the middle class is richer and has more access to social mobility. And yet racism extends throughout today's white American middle class (see Lane 1970, Schumann et al. 1985; Wellman 1985). Today's racism is discussed at length when describing the modern era in American history. Suffice it to say that the dethronement of biological racism has not fundamentally altered the racial situation in the United States. Equality-of-opportunity racism reigns supreme and will be the hardest racial justification theory to overthrow.
The Lower Caste and Equality of Opportunity
Those trapped in the caste system obviously are cynical of the theory of equality of opportunity because this group is largely excluded from economic competition. They know that equality of opportunity ignores the overwhelming role of blatant discrimination in enforcing the caste system and that the whites use it as a justificatory theory.
This does not mean that blacks are completely disenchanted with the equality-of-opportunity doctrine. Blacks continue to have hope in America because they believe that one day they will be allowed to play in the equality-of-opportunity ballgame, whites always hold out that hope in order to soothe black feelings of victimization.
The Narrowness of Equality of Opportunity
The laissez-faire version of equality of opportunity has been the dominant and central core of the "American way." This belief has existed throughout the nation's history down to the present. That some observers have failed to recognize this is partly the result of calling the philosophy by different names. In the antebellum period it was called states' rights. Social Darwinism was its name after the Civil War. In sociology it became the theory of structural functionalism. And in the 1980s it was called Reaganism. But these are all restatements of the classic laissez-faire philosophy. A more important reason is that liberals accept the equality- of-opportunity thesis, although in a liberal, not conservative, version. Yet American liberalism is tainted, like everything else in our society, by racism.
The philosopher John Schaar (1976) has criticized the concept of the equality of opportunity for being a very conservative doctrine. He notes that virtually everyone in the United States so completely accepts the doctrine that most people are not even aware of the radical democratic conception of equality of results. The problem with equality of opportunity is that it rewards only the socially valued talents at any given time in any particular society. Obviously, there are many other valuable talents, despite the fact that materialist cultures choose to reward monetary ones.
One of the many disadvantages of an equality-of-opportunity system is that it tends to be mean-spirited. There is greater overall misery in such a society compared to one based on equality of results because there is little governmental assistance for the disadvantaged. Blaming the unfortunate for their situation tends to enable wealthier citizens to turn their backs on the less fortunate. Moreover, equality of opportunity does not take into account any of the economic inequalities resulting from biological or accidental sources. A substantial proportion of any people suffer from physical and mental disabilities that are congenital, naturally occurring after birth, or acquired through accidents. In addition, many people have low intelligence quotients. For these people, is it fair or just to have great discrepancies in real equality in the name of the equality of opportunity?
The advantage of nobility cultures is that almost everyone knows the system is unfair. After all, nobles are born, not made. This enables citizens of these nations to seek more increases in equality of results. (Because of racism, whites cannot admit that the system is unfair. Indeed, if it were not for racism, most Americans would probably be willing to trade their chance of being Donald Trump for a more just and equal society.)
The United States as the South
This and the next chapter apply the sociological model of the South to the United States. The model stresses that social structure comes first and largely determines values and ideas. Values and ideas in turn reinforce the social structure. In the United States both the social structure and its associated values and ideas are racist.
American racism began before the creation of the nation. The thirteen colonies were a tripartite society consisting of the upper and middle classes and a black lower caste. Being more concerned with the bottom caste than the upper class, the American middle class adopted the equality of opportunity thesis from the laissez- faire theory of capitalism. Indeed, the key part of the cherished "American way" is the commitment to equality of opportunity. This thesis justified the privileged positions of both the upper and middle classes over the lower caste. In this respect, equality of opportunity justified both slavery and racism. Although the equality of opportunity thesis has become more sophisticated, it still is the primary justification for the relatively privileged position of the upper and middle classes against the large poverty class, disproportionately composed of black Americans.
The American Political Model
With such brilliant analyses of the situation in the South, why have social scientists underemphasized the key factor of race in America as a whole? The answer is partly found in the nature of the South. Because that section's racial troubles have been so serious, social scientists have tended to ignore racial problems in other parts of the country. Theorists have tended to gloss over the fact that slavery and racism also existed in the North. (This is slowly being corrected; see Wilson 1973.) But the real reason for the underemphasis on race among liberal social scientists is that they largely accept equality-of-opportunity racism.
Daniel J. Boorstin (1987) in Hidden Theory says that the United States has been infertile in political theory because the country has not needed one. Americans believe that the settlers and the founding fathers gave the country a complete political theory. Indeed, American institutions and values are taken as "givens." This sense of self-satisfaction may indeed be one of the reasons for not seeking a political theory of the American nation. It may be equally true that Americans did not want to delve too deeply into an explanation of their society for fear of what they might find underneath the beautiful oratory.
Another reason for not delving deeply into American society is that in the early stages of American economic development racism did not stop economic progress. The country was relatively rich in resources, and the push for free education and equality of opportunity for the large white middle class meant that the United States was in the forefront of economic development. It is as if theorists shouted, "How can you criticize a way of life that has proven so successful?" Now the capitalist world is entering a new phase where economic cooperation and government support for business are highly important. And now racism has become a serious obstacle to economic development because it keeps the United States divided.
In building a theory of the American political system, race is here given primary importance, but this is no monocausal theory. The orthodox interpretation of American society as summarized by Max Lerner is helpful, and we use all the factors he mentioned. But this standard theory underplays the racial factor. When race is added to the orthodox theory of America, one is able to see the dominance of American politics by the white middle-class. The political changes in the American system always take place in terms of this middle class dominance. And these political changes have been several. The United States has undergone five major extensions of equality: the abolition of slavery, progressive era reforms, passage of woman suffrage, creation of the welfare state, and destruction of the southern apartheid system. (There are six major extensions of equality if one includes the Jacksonian revolution itself.)
The American system of racism has meant that the white middle class primarily determines the large fluctuations in American politics. In most instances, the white middle class is so conservative that the upper class can agree with its actions. Compared to the gap between the middle and lower classes in America, there simply is no fundamental gulf between the American middle and upper classes. Therefore we can analyze the large- scale changes in American politics by focusing primarily on the actions of the white middle class.
In short, large-scale political changes in America are the result of changes in perceptions of the self-interests of the white middle class. When these people feel their position is threatened from below, they adopt very conservative policies to put a stop to egalitarian trends. When the middle class feels it is being hurt by the overly selfish actions of the upper class or by large scale trends, they vote for liberal-conservative changes. Both sets of changes are justified by using the equality-of-opportunity doctrine. Nevertheless, all major extensions of equality never fundamentally alter the reality of the racial caste system or challenge the equality-of-opportunity racism that underlies the society.
Equality of Opportunity Flexibility
The great virtue of equality of opportunity is that it means so many things to so many people. Thus it is acceptable not only to the two privileged classes in America (the upper and middle classes) but also to all regions of the country. J. R. Pole in The Pursuit of Equality in American History (1978:1) has noted that "the evolutionary survival of the idea of equality in America has owed much to its proven ability to adapt to varied and often hostile environments by meaning different things to different minds, and furnishing rival interests with equally satisfying terms of moral reference."
The theory can be used by conservatives and liberals. Conservatives can maintain that since the economic game in America is free and equal, the distribution of power and rewards is fair and just at any given time. Liberals can use the same theory by calling for the elimination of existing inequalities that block access to equality of opportunity.
The flexibility of equality of opportunity has facilitated a dynamic tension in the American system between the dominant conservatism and persisting liberalism. Periodically, the nation attempts to eliminate barriers to equality. To call these attempts cycles is to impose too much order to the system. The existence of many wars and the great length of time needed to win some campaigns for equality make it impossible to impose any exact figure of time between these periods of rest and change. But the history of the country certainly can be seen as consisting of periodic thrusts for greater equality followed by periods of retrenchment. And yet the underlying racist system remains largely intact.
A Political Model of Racist America
The figures below summarizes the theory of America as a basically conservative, racist society that periodically introduces progressive changes. The first diagram illustrates that the usual condition is for the United States to remain conservative. This is primarily the result of the racial division within the nation.
Looking at the second diagram, one sees that periodically, the white middle class in the entire nation or within the dominant region thinks its social position is threatened. This perceived threat is often brought on by outside forces, but more frequently results from political inaction. Conservative political forces resist demands for greater equality increases until a crisis develops. Political unrest increases, and the system begins to function poorly. Portions of the middle class begin to realize that some adjustments are necessary to protect the overall conservative system and begin to vote with liberal forces to change the system. The middle class seeks justification for its political goals in a more liberal interpretation of equality of opportunity. They then elect a more liberal president, who pushes for social change. But the changes are usually a compromise, taking the wishes of the conservatives into consideration.
Liberals and radicals
are often not able to contain their joy at winning power and push for even
more equality of opportunity. This threatens more of the middle class, and
these people vote conservative again. In addition, conservative groups start
to mobilize their forces to push back the liberal reforms. And so the system
swings back and forth between conservative and liberal dominance, always
beset with conflict, but always preserving the basic conservative core. The
ideas used to justify these political swings are conservative or liberal
versions of equality-of-opportunity racism. Both conservative and liberals
always reject radical ideas as inappropriate to a racist nation.
The following parts of the book detail these trends in American history, but it is a history purged of equality-of-opportunity racism. This results in a very different perspective on American history. An additional need for such a history is the tendency of American sociologists to study only the history of America as it relates to discrimination and prejudice. One cannot hope to understand American society by concentrating only on the most powerless groups in the society. The focus has to be on the white middle class.
Summary of Extensions of Equality
Studying the extensions of equality in the United States enables us to determine some of the factors responsible for large-scale social reforms in the nation. It also helps answer the question of what kind of country the United States is, and what forces have worked for and against social change. The graph below summarizes the case studies for the five major increases in equality along with the Jacksonian revolution. The last row indicates the scenario for future change.
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Demands for greater equality arise when the middle class feels hurt by inegalitarian trends or policies or when regionalism threatens the middle class of the more powerful sections of the country. This social-change mechanism is reinforced by economic and demographic forces. A mobilized middle class or northern section then votes for more liberal presidents. Usually the president gets an assist from Congress because liberal congressmen are also elected by the squeezed middle class. In activist periods, the nation relies on the president to push a liberal legislative package. Congress usually takes a passive role. In certain instances, presidents have had to fight against Congress, but these tend to be exceptions. For example, Theodore Roosevelt faced opposition because he gained the office through the assassination of President McKinley. Lincoln faced considerable opposition, but this was largely because he was politically to the right of Congress.
The Supreme Court almost always plays a negative role regarding equality. The only time that the Court assisted major social change was when the Court was out of step with the nation in a liberal direction during the fight against the southern apartheid system.
Another great opponent of egalitarian reforms has been the South. For five of the six equality reforms, the South has opposed the social changes. That once economically backward region has traditionally seen any reform as a threat to the racial apartheid system and so has opposed egalitarian measures. Still another frequent foe of change has been American business.
The biggest obstacle to social change in the United States is still racism because it is behind the structure and essential character of conservative America. It is racism that prevents many voters from supporting progressive increases in equality. The national pattern of racism may blunt the thrusts for reform in any future liberal periods.
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