Postmodern Conservative

Populism: Brexit, Matthew McConaughey, and Huddle House

Well, this is going to be the story about my populist adventure in the wake of the victory of the people over the experts in Great Britain.

First, a comment or two about Leaving the EU. You know, there were good arguments on both sides. If I had been a British voter, the “Should we stay or should we go?” question would have been tough to answer.

But, you know, I’m not British. And not only do I join the president in respecting the choice of a sovereign nation. I think it was a very respectable choice, although arguably a, n overreaction. The argument against overreaction begins with: Poor David Cameron went to the EU to get a better deal that he could brag about at home. The response, more or less: “Blank you, we know you’ll never leave.”

And our schoolmarmish president joined every respectable expert in Britain and the rest of Europe by overplaying the fear factor: Really bad economic stuff, they all said, will happen to you if you leave, and you better listen to us for your own good. There was a good deal of Leave voting with the middle two fingers, and you have to admire that. So I’ve read that a Leave vote was immoral choice of “low information” voters. There are two ways to be informed enough to vote.  Spend all your time studying up on the issues, as do the experts.  Or just listen to the experts.

And, I have to say, the most edifying narrative for Brexit ;was given by the impressive Boris Johnson. It’s not at all mainly about immigration, it’s about democratic control. We want to be able to vote the bums out who rule us. And Johnson is actually for a very generous immigration policy for his country, remembering that it’s a political decision for his country to make. He’s not at all like Donald Trump.

My final thought: Both sides are over-theorizing the significance of the British choice. It was a choice against being scripted or theorized from Brussels or by multinationals in undisclosed locations and a choice for British institutions being British. It wasn’t a choice made by young people, but mainly by those realists called “skilled labor.” It’s not the end of the end of History or a shattering of all progressive illusions, as some are saying.

So anyway I traveled with my wife to Cartersville, Ga., and its Carmike 12 to see The Free State of Jones. Confederate deserters and runaway slaves hiding out together in the swamp morphed into a formidable enough force to take over three counties in Mississippi as Unionists. One reason almost no one has heard of this uprising until lately is that it was of no strategic significance for the war. Another is that Southerners even these days don’t like talking about it.

The movie as a whole could be better. But it’s another brilliant contribution by Matthew McConaughey to developing the character of the post-racist honorable and violent yet gentle and loving (including God-loving) populist Southern man.

Newt Knight, as McConaughey portrays him, is quite the populist. He against honor in the sense of dying for the Confederacy. That’s for suckers. What really ticked him off was the Twenty-Slave Rule, which exempted owners of a significant number of slaves from conscription. He explains that a (insert N-word here) is, to be sure, someone who has to work for a rich man. But even more so is a poor man who has to die so the rich man can hold on to his slaves. There’s no honor in that!

And Newt, a Primitive Baptist, knows that the Bible says that no man has any business enslaving a child of God.

There is also a moving scene where Newt leads his fellow (virtually all black)  Republicns to the polling place after the war. Their weapons get them ballots, but of course they votes don’t actually get counted.

True honor comes — and plenty of room for violence — in defending your own, both black and white. There’s a lot more, but I don’t want to spoil the surprises for you more than I have.

You might have expected that, on the way home, we would have dined at Waffle House. But in the name of culinary diversity, we chose the Huddle House. HH, as you might know, is also a 24-hour eat-in diner. It was founded in Decatur, Ga., just a mile or two from the first Waffle House. It’s now found in 21 states, mainly Southern.

It’s called Huddle House because it started as a place to go after the high-school game.

It’s very similar to WH, and maybe more aesthetically pleasing. Well, except for its menu, which features disturbingly huge and garish pictures of burgers and biscuits stuffed with all kinds of stuff.

Overall, the food, including the waffles, is pretty good. It underbids WH by a penny on its value meal. It’s $4.99, including beverage, with a great variety of enticing possibilities. I had the chili with a loaded baked potato — all the food groups covered.

The coffee at HH, I have to emphasize, is really smooth — maybe better than WH and much better than Starbucks.

There’s more to say. Overall, I have to go with Waffle House as the more reliably satisfying place.

But if you can’t find a Waffle House, Huddle House is a safe choice too

Peter Augustine LawlerPeter Augustine Lawler is Dana Professor of Government at Berry College. He is executive editor of the acclaimed scholarly quarterly Perspectives on Political Science and served on President George ...


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