Were America’s “rednecks” cultured in Belfast?

In a fine piece that touches on how an understanding of the American South’s Ulster Scots lineage may help explain some of the cultural roots driving modern America’s Blue-Red division, The Spectator’s Alex Massie, suggests that the “echoes of the Frontier can still be heard in contemporary American politics”.  

Massie is careful not to ascribe causation or simplistic links between immigrant histories and modern American attitudes, but he isn’t blind to their presence either. Reflecting on the American cultural South’s ties to Ulster Scots, he picks up Virginia Senator Jim Webb’s famous Born Fighting thesis that anchors the loyalty, sacrifice and no-nonsense hard graft that characterized this group’s journey from the Scottish lowlands, via a pit stop and a few dust ups in Ireland, before moving onto play a major role in driving and ‘settling’ the US frontier.

 “This region is also home to the American-Americans… these are the parts of the United States most heavily populated by the Scots-Irish and their descendents”

 While not overstating it, Massie suggests:

“Nevertheless, if you look more closely you can still see some parallels between “redneck” culture in America and working-class protestant culture in Glasgow and Belfast.”

 “A culture that boasts “We are the people” yet fears it’s not only misunderstood by the establishment but also actually under attack.”

To this, I would add betrayed.

The same old political bargain was made between the governing establishment and working class Ulster Scots in Ireland (and later Northern Ireland) as was struck in the early US (and later, again, in the Jim Crow South). The deal: Fight for and defend the political establishment and you’ll disproportionately benefit from it on account of creed if not class.

And fight for the establishment the Ulster Scots most certainly did. Much of the fighting was done honorably and with distinction, in armies and wars. Much of it, done in militias and paramilitaries, remains less acknowledged – not least by the very US and British establishments that encouraged it and benefited from it, only to later strike new deals that required distancing itself from it.

With the establishments’ withdrawal of formal systems of discrimination in the US South and in Northern Ireland, followed by that same establishment’s introduction of varying examples positive discrimination that disproportionately hurt working Ulster Scots in both places, there are very good reasons for these transatlantic cousins to feel under attack. And betrayed.