This week, Mississippi - a state that boasts the highest number of lynchings in the country and only got around to banning slavery in 2013 - elected to the Senate Cindy Hyde-Smith, an unrepentant, Trump-loving, white supremacist and tawdry relic of the old South whose victory, in the words of one pundit, proves "that deep-seated racism is alive and well in the United States." With her win in the run-off election against Democrat Mike Espy, a black former congressman and Clinton Agriculture Secretary, Hyde-Smith proved herself a woman who's "sold out lock-stock-and-conscience to the state GOP's continual racist drum beat." She also helped confirm some larger, ugly, depressingly persistent truths.
Nationally, the GOP is now officially the party of white dominance, Klan complicity and a race-baiting Trump who at a Tupelo rally brazenly dog-whistled, "How does he (Espy) fit in in Mississippi?" More locally, a state with a bloody history, a much-disenfranchised black population of over 35%, and a 50th ranking nationwide in income, health care, child mortality and college readiness remains steeped in the toxic lost-cause myths of the Confederacy and a profound racism "built into the very bones of this place." "For weeks, we've been hearing pundits say that Mississippi was ready to enter the twenty-first century,” Andy Borowitz had Hyde-Smith tell her supporters. "Tonight we proved them wrong."
Campaigning in a bus dubbed the MAGA Wagon, Hyde-Smith won despite multiple, now-infamous gaffes, aka moments where she revealed her repugnant beliefs. Apparently unaware the savage murder of black people is unfunny, she jovially told a crowd she'd be "on the front row" at a lynching, then offered a bristly non-apology Espy wasn't having: “No one twisted your comments. They came out of your mouth." She "joked" about not letting liberals vote. Others dug out atrocities from her repugnant past: She posted a gleeful photo of herself in a Confederate cap, rifle in hand, with the noxious title, "Missisisippi history at its best!", she promoted a bill honoring a Confederate soldier for trying to "defend his homeland," she sent her daughter to the same "segregation academy" she attended, evidently not having learned over time to find the idea of black fellow-students any less icky.
Despite all this - which was bad enough even Walmart withdrew its support - she beat Espy 54.9% to 45.1%. Observers looking to be cheered noted her margin was far below the 18% by which Clinton lost to Trump in a deeply red state that hasn't seen a Democrat win a Senate seat in over 40 years. Espy himself sounded a hopeful note, calling the results "the beginning, not the end...It is a moment. It is a movement. And we are not going to stop moving our state forward." Still, that task will be a long hard slog in a place where a bloody, obdurate racism runs deep - where, writes Jesmyn Ward, a fierce black novelist who has returned to the state to raise her family, "the seed of difference, and the belief in our poverty, our inferiority, persists...Every day, I wonder at living in the kind of place that would have my children understand that they are perpetually less." Nina Simone said it: "Mississippi goddam." So did the great Phil Ochs.
Here's to the state of Mississippi
For underneath her borders, the devil draws no lines
If you drag her muddy river, nameless bodies you will find
Whoa, the fat trees of the forest have hid a thousand crimes
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