Sunday, June 28, 2015

To Flag, Or Not To Flag? That Is The Confederate Question

As I stated in my previous post, the tragic shootings in Charleston have produced one sign of hope for race relations in this country--the willingness of public officials in South Carolina, including this one, to remove the Confederate battle flag from the state's official flag, and the subsequent willingness of other southern states, such as Mississippi, to follow suit.  Even more surprising was watching this willingness morph from the public to the private sector, with companies such as Amazon and Wal-Mart refusing to sell merchandise using or displaying some version of the flag.

But, of course, the Newtonian nature of our politics dictates that, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.  As the ban-the-flag movement started to pick up serious steam, it was predictable that the die-hards on the other side would start to draw a line in the shifting sands.  And draw they have.  As a consequence, it did not take long for their allies in the Republican Party to push the overstatement of their stance to ridiculous levels.

Before I offer my take on how far this should go, let's get a few things out of the way.

The Confederate battle flag is not a emblem of regional pride, or "heritage."  It is, without a doubt, historic.  But it is a flag of treason, a treason that was committed in the defense of racism.  Any defense of the flag, for any reason, is ultimately an attempt to deny that history and, in the process, to perpetuate a vicious and destructive lie about the history of this country that led up to, and resulted in, the Civil War.  That's the truth.  Full stop.

As a consequence of that truth, no state that is a part of the United States of America should have any trace of a Confederate emblem of any sort on any flag or other public structure, uniform, building, sign, or anything else that carries with it the power and the authority of government.  We are not two nations.  We are one nation.  The Civil War answered that question for all time.  It is past time for the citizens of southern states to acknowledge and make peace with that fact.  It's a never-ending source of perverse amusement to me that many of those citizens are prominent among those who advocate having an official language.  Well, if we should all be required to speak one language, shouldn't we all pledge allegiance to one flag?

But that said, private displays of the flag should not be banned.  I say that in part as a First Amendment advocate, but I also say it as someone who does not want to feed the persecution complexes of those who do not deserve to feel persecuted.  I also say it as someone who thinks that private displays of Confederate symbols, apart from museums and other repositories of history, serve a rather useful purpose.  It's good to be able to know who the bigots are in your midst.  It dilutes and ultimately destroys their power.  Turning the Confederate battle flag into "forbidden fruit" simply drives racism underground--and gives the racists an anti-government weapon they do not deserve to have.

On the other hand, as long as the ban is limited to State-sponsored displays, it serves a very useful purpose.  It denies the Republican Party an easy push-button mechanism for votes.  That, in turn, may force us once again to have a politics of ideas, and not identities.  One can only hope.

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