Like a blazing sunset over an old magnolia grove, the South continues to burn bright red. Democrats had hoped that former Confederate states such as Texas, North Carolina, and Florida would return to their long-lost Democratic roots in the 2020 election. Every one of those states, however, voted for Donald Trump, and of the two Southern states that opted for Biden, one quickly snapped back to red, and the other, Virginia, has arguably transcended its Southern cultural roots to join the Acela corridor.

So, the last two years have delivered bitter disappointments to Southern progressives who’d hoped for an end to their long bout of political suffering. The region remains, as of now, a conservative bastion in a center-left nation. Its history of racism reverberates with devastating force. Its social conservatism seals off too many hearts from appeals to modernity and tolerance. And whatever Democrats may have hoped, demographic evolution does not yet seem to have transformed the South’s political disposition.

One indication as to why new demographics have left the region’s conservatism unaltered may be found in an old book. In Albion’s Seed, David Hackett Fischer argues that newcomers to America do not assimilate into a generic nationalized culture. Rather, American immigrants gradually blend into one of several distinct sets of norms and mores that are divided by cultural geography. In the South, that dynamic has tended to produce cultural conservatism even in migrants who come from societies far different from Protestant, racist Dixie.

We see this operating in the demographics of the state of Florida. In the Sunshine State, Latinos, most of whom are descendants of or even first-generation immigrants from a diverse, Catholic world, have migrated politically into the arms of Trump Republicans. Cuban Americans and other Hispanics voted in 2022 much like the white “Florida Crackers” in the culturally Southern northern panhandle of Florida. As a result, Florida has fallen off the map of American swing states.

This tendency of migrants to “Southernize” is not without its limits. Demographic change can transform a region’s politics under the right circumstances. For example, when it was dominated by racially conservative white mill workers, Durham, North Carolina once voted for Senator Jesse Helms. Such an outcome is today unthinkable due to Durham’s newfound domination by the technology and education sectors. But enough new Southerners have assimilated into an anti-Black political culture to keep the vast majority of the region, including the bulk of North Carolina, Republican red.

What it will take to finally turn the South blue is a cultural transformation. As long as Southern culture remains reactionary and fixated on the past, there will be limits to how far demographic change can go in altering the region’s politics. We need a moral awakening, a moral revolution. In short, we need a third Reconstruction.

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