03 Nov 2004 Kerevan: Scots-Irish Elected Bush
Columnist George Kerevan, writing in the Scotsman (UK), has an interesting take on why Bush won: The influence of our citizens of Scots-Irish heritage.
I don’t agree with all of it (especially the silly bit about George Bush possibly appointing “reactionaries” to the Supreme Court — sticking to the Constitution’s text rather than making stuff up on a whim does not make a justice a “reactionary”), but I recommend this piece for its fresh and mostly thoughtful perspective.
Here in Scotland, where the mainstream view is anti-Bush, the instant reaction will be to dismiss [the America that gave Bush his majority] as redneck, racist, bigoted, gun-loving and ignorant. But hold a mirror to thyself: the part of America that doggedly voted Republican on Tuesday is its ethnic Scottish-Ulster heartland. These are the descendants of the lowland yeoman folk who colonised Virginia in the 17th century, then crossed the Appalachian Mountains to open up the frontier in the 18th, joined by the refugees from the Govan slums in the 19th.
They brought with them a Celtic tribalism, a small-farmer self-reliance and a rationalist Presbyterian morality based on the Good Book. They also brought their own home-spun music, with its sentimental narratives and view of this world as a trial to be endured. From the bluegrass fiddle music of the Appalachian crofts to the Burns-like honky-tonk ballads of the itinerant oil workers in the Texas dustbowl, country music has evolved to dominate contemporary musical tastes. But beyond the saccharin-sweet commercialism of country rock, it is music that still defines the mental and moral landscape of a community that was prepared to defy the world last Tuesday. Never in a million years were America’s Scots-Irish going to vote for John Kerry, whatever the eastern pollsters thought.
I… suggest a way for Europe to understand a resurgent American nationalism that conforms pretty much to what the Scots-Irish made it. Contrary to European myth, it is not an especially imperialist nationalism, but when provoked it sees things with a terrible, biblical simplicity.
The Scots settlers who first colonised America, and then illegally slipped across the Appalachians to live among the Indian tribes, were not out to found a new empire. Having been chased out of Scotland and Ulster for economic and religious reasons, then having clashed with the conservative English merchant elites who ran the eastern colonies, the Scots just wanted to be left to their own devices. To this day, their predilection for owning guns is less to do with the desire to blast away at dumb animals, as pique at the idea that someone should tell them what to do. That’s why it is not a good idea to try to frighten them by crashing airliners into tall buildings: it just makes them mad.
When roused, usually by a wholly correct moral indignation, Scots-Irish America believes it is the agency for Divine retribution. Don’t snigger: you are here because of this gut reaction. Back in 1940, the United States was split down the middle – nothing new there – over the war in Europe. The large German immigrant communities of the industrial Mid-West (think Ohio) were fervently isolationist. They had just re-elected Franklin Roosevelt on a platform of non-intervention. The Americans in favour of dealing with the fascists were the Scots-Irish, who had a long tradition of military service, especially during the Civil War (on both sides). Otherwise, the capital of the EU would be called Germania.
Like it or lump it, a Bush White House is now a fact of life. But if Scotland calms down a minute, we might discover that his America is a far less alien place than we imagine.
I recommend the whole thing (free registration required).