Guns, Realtree and doltish Country music. And don't forget the Stars and Bars, the ultimate statement of treason and hate -- or "tradition."

South Carolina is under increasing pressure to take down the Confederate Flag outside the state Capitol following last week's mass shooting in Charleston. But the banner is just one symbol of rural America's hyper-aggressive self-branding campaign.

Want to say you're a member of the redneck brigade? Easy. Wal-Mart might have everything you need.

Wrap your pickup in vinyl camo. Stick some slogans about impeaching the president and hunting terrorists on your back window. Membership confirmed. 

I've spent my entire life in small, white-bread towns, meeting some incredibly thoughtful people along the way. But the dominant culture is a belligerent, dangerous celebration of self-induced ignorance.  

Books: Who needs them? Science and philosophy: Just more attacks on "tradition." Anyone who talks about race: They're the racists.

It's the anti-intellectual credo of the increasingly in-your-face, camo-clad club. And they wear it with pride.

It's an identity designed to self-isolate, one steeped in racially charged undertones and fear of change. And, as displayed last week in the murder of nine black churchgoers in South Carolina, the movement breeds hate.

The movement's coded messages are pervasive.

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Charlie Daniels, whose hits include the "South's Gonna Do it Again," will play the taxpayer-funded Du Quoin State Fair later this summer. Daniels' 1974 ditty details the South again making its mark, this time through Southern rock. The first instance of the South "doing it" was an act of mass treason in the name of slavery and racial subjugation. How noble. And who's doing it again, Charlie? Oh, bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd, which famously flipped out in "Sweet Home Alabama" because some Yankee said, "Hey, racism isn't Christian. Don't be hypocrites." Now, there's a good use of tax dollars.

Rural white America is extolling itself with ballooning veracity these days. I'm guilty of occasionally feeling the pull. Rural King has a camouflage recliner that would look excellent in my living room. And there's this semi-automatic that I always stare at longingly before leaving.

Yet ours is a self-destructive culture defined by its constant division of people. Black vs. white. Patriot vs. "socialist." The U.S. isn't a rural nation anymore, demographics show. Americans are, by and large, an urban and suburban people. That social assault on rural life is probably fueling the misguided branding campaign, which, over time, will only assure increasing political irrelevance. Meanwhile, Fox News, the Koch brothers and the NRA are getting rich off of our frustration. And they excel at providing the easily herded a scapegoat. For example, the color of the president's skin absolutely plays a substantial role in the widespread disdain. How many times was Bill Clinton asked for his birth certificate?

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Colt Ford, who's also performing in Du Quion, lacks the outright racism. He's just a working-class champion of trite, intentional stupidity. 

"'Cause there ain't no trash in my trailer, though you might find an empty can of beer. No there ain't been no trash in my trailer, oh no, since the day I threw you out of here," Ford says in his erudite treatise on the plight of the poor, "No Trash in My Trailer."

There's nothing honorable, or particularly American, about celebrating thoughtlessness. The U.S. was birthed in Renaissance philosophy and liberal politics, after all. 

For decades, rural white America has battled progress, reflecting the struggle in its music and general contempt for new ideas. Mass-marketing, big box stores and social media have given the modern version a uniformity for the movement's purveyors. They sling small-mindedness, ignorance and hate for profit.

America has a problem. And many of us just can't buy it fast enough.

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Jon Alexander is opinion page editor at The Southern. He can be reached at jonathan.alexander@the southern.com.


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