I will think of a dozen utterances from the mike of Glenn Beck that really irritated me after I have posted these pieces; and, too, I will probably feel guilty about having given the man so little credit for his principled positions, such as his daring to resist the Trump Train on behalf of Ted Cruz. But the people you once thought trustworthy are the ones you least trust after a rupture, for the old habit of trust lurks a while and must be broken.
My point of no return arrived when Confederate monuments started being defaced. Beck has never so much put me in mind of the old saw, “With friends like you… who needs enemies?” We must keep those monuments, he argued, because they remind us of the Nazi stormtroopers in our own history—and Confederates, to Beck, were all hood-wearing, torch-waving KKK members. They allowed his uncle of some remove to starve in one of their concentration camps, so let no one suppose that he hates the South any less than the next man. (This might have been a great-great uncle, or more probably a great-great-great uncle: someone, in short, that even Beck’s grandfather likely wouldn’t remember had the man survived; and the cause behind the starvation, O Mighty Historian of the Fruited Plain, was that Union ships had blockaded all Southern ports and laid waste to the South’s most fertile farmland… yet the Beckster very nearly teared up when remembering hungry old, old uncle-to-the-third-power Chester or Phineas.)
I had noticed Beck’s tone to grow very short on earlier occasions when he would angrily chew some comment about viewers who write in to disparage Abraham Lincoln. Our Black Belt in American History wants nothing to do with the observation that Lincoln didn’t bother to emancipate slaves in Northern states where he might instantly have done so, or that Lincoln had printing presses destroyed and publishers imprisoned if his war effort were openly criticized, or that Lincoln had plans to pack the freedmen off to Panama lest they interbreed with American white folk. No counter-evidence, no reasoned and patient rebuttal: just a highly “pissed off” look (to use one of our luminary’s favorite descriptors) and a hasty transition to the next subject. Thank you for explaining your position, O Wise Mediator and Uniter of the Masses!
The “pissy” attitude was even more noticeable last week (my absolutely terminal moment of viewing) when Beck erupted in a by-the-way remark that became the shout, “Slavery was the cause of the Civil War [the italics a defiant nod at recalcitrant Tweeters and texters]—if you have any doubt, just read the Confederate Constitution!” Okay… so I read the Confederate Constitution. What leaps off the page is the authors’ effort to underscore at numerous points the states’ jurisdiction over matters not explicitly delegated to the central government. The emphasis—understandably—borders on fixation. As for slavery… the Confederate version of our founding document appears to eradicate instances in the original that were worded with sufficient vagueness to include indentured servants. The slaves referred to are definitely of the African variety. And… that’s about it. Did I miss something? Is this perhaps a bowdlerized version, Glenn, that Confederate apologists smuggled into the archive through the nefarious machinations of the KKK KGB?
In any case, the entire gesture in the direction of the Confederate Constitution is so patently irrelevant to the context in which Beck cites it that the maneuver suggests mental derangement. The farmboys who slipped on a gray uniform and grabbed a rifle neither read that document nor had any influence upon its drafting. The immense majority of them—over 95 percent—owned no slaves personally; and to defend the institution of slavery would, in their case, have been to extend the life of a system that deprived them of employment opportunities and created for them a gross disadvantage in the marketplace. Now, did their fighting on behalf of a Southern doctrine that included the preservation of slavery favor the institution’s survival? Obviously. That was the tragedy. Hundreds of thousands of young men lost arms, legs, eyesight, or life itself—good, long decades of life—to defend the principle of self-determination while it sat, contradictorily, on the rotten foundation of enforced servitude.
None of that even comes close to justifying the assertion that the war was fought on behalf of slavery, or that those who fought for the Southern side were proto-Nazis.
I don’t like Glenn Beck’s characterization of my ancestors. I’ve had to try to explain their position, as I heard it from my grandmother (and not from the ghost of Great-Great-Great Uncle Jebediah), throughout my adulthood to a society that increasingly considers my race, sex, and lineage sufficient reason to run me down on the streets. I have in fact been told in confidence on one occasion that I was eliminated from the applicants for a position because of my demographic profile. I’m not a laureated historian, or a multi-millionaire who has been able to buy up rare artifacts for “The Vault”; but I’ve read enough first-hand accounts of boys who wore the gray, like Tom Watkins’ Co. Aytch, that I know their motives from their own testimony. They were lauded as patriots as they went marching to what they presumed would be a month of hiking and camping… and then they were thrown into a fiery furnace—whipped, branded, or shot if they attempted to slip away after the year for which they had enlisted. And not a word about slaves ever appears in most of these testimonials, unless in a protest against the release from active duty of anyone who happened to own twenty or more slaves.
Yet beyond my extreme dislike of Beck’s riding roughshod over historical fact in order to indulge his ill-tempered impatience is a genuine astonishment at the ill temper. There appears to be something profoundly out of alignment in the psyche of Glenn Beck. His vitriolic hatred of certain groups that he has designated as free and clear of any restraint required by Christian scruples is a constant wonder to me. As if so much advertised and highly promoted reconciliation and sympathy had taxed his nature to the breaking point, he unleashes his rancor in specified “safe zones” the way he and his Blaze crew boast of burning hundreds of rounds on the target range. Apparently, if you invest something exceeding a critical mass of effort in publicly loving humanity far and wide, you have to compensate by keeping a bright red bull’s eye hidden away into which you can pump shotgun shells.
My ancestors are that bull’s eye for Glenn Beck. I wish him joy at his sniping. If I had a bronze of Stonewall Jackson, I’d send it to him for duty on an indoor, underground firing range. After all, I owe him something for years of occasionally informative programming.