Episode

1/30 When Freedom Means Oppression: A Saga Of White Resistance To Federal Power w/ Jefferson Cowie

January 30, 2023

Sam and Emma host Jefferson Cowie, Professor of History at Vanderbilt University, to discuss his recent book Freedom’s Dominion: A Saga of White Resistance to Federal Power. First, Sam and Emma run through updates on the GOP acting as the House majority, Ronna McDaniels winning the election for RNC Chair, and the murder of Tyre Nichols by the Memphis Police “Scorpion Squad,” before parsing through the lackluster response from the right to yet another example of the overwhelming violence of the US police state. Professor Jefferson Cowie then joins as he dives right into how he came to focus so specifically on the evolution of ideas of “freedom” in Barbour County, Alabama, looking to the southern US’ particular anti-statist and anti-federal view of freedom that favors the freedom to dominate over the freedom from domination. Expanding on this lens, Professor Cowie explores various conceptions of freedom, including personal freedoms (as enshrined in the Bill of Rights), civil freedoms, and sovereign freedom – the freedom to control and dominate – and how the settler-colonial nature of the inception of the US aligns strongly with this latter idea. Beginning in this era, Jefferson walks Sam and Emma through “freedom” as a central political idea in the development of Barbour County, originating with the displacement of the people of the Muscogee Creek nations to clear land for slave labor, isolating them into a New Jersey-sized lock of land under supposed “protection,” and continuing through the white invaders’ insistence on overcoming the tyranny of the government protecting this land, igniting a full war with the Creek peoples, and even forcing the government to step in to fully put down the indigenous rebellion. Moving forwards, Professor Cowie then walks through the reconstruction era and the white supremacist reaction to the election of various Black and freed members of society, launching a full coup on election day 1874 with an attempted massacre of enfranchised free folks, and an establishment of a local regime led by J.W. Comer that exemplified this white freedom to dominate, institutionalizing hardcore prison labor within a system that brought the imprisoned population from 8% African American to over 90%, and launching the county into the modern era of white supremacist institutions. Wrapping up the story portion, Jefferson Cowie dives into the emergence of Alabama Governor George Wallace from Barbour County as the final stage in the development of the southern philosophy of freedom, ingraining his white supremacist attitude within arguments against federal tyranny and faux-populist rhetoric for liberty, before they conclude the interview by assessing how to balance differing conceptions of freedom, and the importance of the federal government in ensuring the greatest freedom for the greatest number of people.

Fun Half: Sam and Emma discuss the Right dismissal of the Tyre Nichols footage and the mass influx in anti-LGBTQ bills across the US, the GOP debates how to trim the woke from the budget, and Ben Shapiro blows the whistle on POLITICO’s puppetry of the American public’s opinion of the debt ceiling. Matt from Denver discusses his relationship to the Republican Party and their agenda, Amir from VA dives into his experiences in Brazil in the leadup to January 8th, Donald Trump’s 2024 strategy begins to unfold from the sky, and Dennis Prager explores the nuances of bullying children, plus, your calls and IMs!

Check out Jefferson’s book here: https://www.basicbooks.com/titles/jefferson-cowie/freedoms-dominion/9781541672819/

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