Saturday, June 20, 2015

A short note on the Confederate battle flag, addressed to Republicans

The Confederate battle flag, the ole "stars and bars," stands for all the things that a rebellion long ago asserted as its just cause. Yes, a few of those things -- particularly as they relate to resistance to urban, federal power, and to a "lost cause" literally memorialized over much of the country -- exert a certain gauzy and romantic attraction even today, even to me. We are allowed a certain attachment to the traitors of the Confederacy -- who we dignify as "rebels" instead -- because in the binding of our national wounds we decided not demonize a people who, after all, were but a generation or two behind many northerners in their attitudes about slavery and racial supremacy. But there cannot be any doubt that today, in 2015, and for many decades now, most Americans perceive the Confederate battle flag to stand for white supremacy and slavery, without which there would have been no rebellion and no civil war.

This is an especially treacherous subject for politicians in the Republican Party, which has since 1970 or so tried to be both the "party of Lincoln" and the heir to the traditions of the Old South, some wonderful and worth preserving and, unfortunately, some deeply malign and simply unworthy. You see certain Republicans struggle with this when they point out that Democrats were the great segregationists back in the day. Well, that was true, but none of those Democrats would be Democrats today, and everybody knows it.

Loathe as I am to quote a tweet in the making of any argument, this today from an apparently black conservative makes the point most eloquently:

Exactly. The Republican Party not only needs to end its support for the Confederate battle flag on those rare occasions when the controversy arises, but it must also stop justifying or defending any of the symbols and legacy of the Confederate States of America. There are far better ways to resist urban and federal power than by romanticizing a slave state, which conservatives have long understood when they correctly denounced liberals who defended the slavery of Communism as the mere failure of good intentions.

And if you need a lost cause, root for the Cubs.


The Conservative Wahoo said...

I was interested in Mitt Romney's statement yesterday, in that he tied it to "honoring the victims of Charleston". In a rare moment of disagreement with Mitt, I found myself thinking, "no, get rid of it because it is the right thing to do, and it was the right thing to do years ago."

To quote my friend Tigerhawk..."release the hounds"....

TigerHawk said...

Agreed, although tweets are notoriously short on nuance.

"The Hammer" said...

Most Southerners would defend the battle flag (not the actual CSA flag) as heritage not hate. But it's true, we have allowed the inbred KKK types to appropriate this symbol of Southern independence and pride, and it should be put to rest (for official business).
Here's the thing, we feel our Yankee brethren have never acknowledged THEIR role in the too often shameful racial history of America. We didn't invent slavery, and we didn't conjure up slaves from the Ivory Coast. They were provided to us by Yankee slavers. How many Jews ( will own up to their ancestor's role in propagating this brutal institution? Can you spell NONE? Not to single out Jews necessarily, but they have been among the most vocal critics of Southern attitudes (their hypocrisy is astounding). But let me ask you, how would the issue have played out had the Northern elites been dependent on slavery for their wealth and Southerners were the abolitionists?
For me the Confederate flag is a symbol of tragedy. For Southern elites is was indeed about slavery, but for the men who fought and died in the war it was about self determination. But there was plenty of tragedy to go around in that war. Perhaps the worst is one we're still living with, and that is the war paved the way for a strong centralized government. The Constitution was amended to provide direct election of Senators upsetting the balance of powers and now anytime a legitimate concern about federal overreach into state and local affairs is brought up we get the Civil War argument against "States Rights" ( THAT is the enduring tragedy of the Civil War in my view.
So if I had my way we would retire the flag, if that's what you want. But how about cutting us a little slack and own up to YOUR role in all this? Your hands aren't exactly clean either. I attentively await your silence.

Maple Curtain said...

As the cultural wars progress into open civil war, you will find that it is an easy choice between Lincoln and the Confederacy - one destroyed the Republic, and one defended the people of the South against Northern Aggression. Northern progressives like the writer of this blog may get to keep their Republican Party but not the title of "conservative."

TigerHawk said...

I suppose it should be said that I have Southern roots, and the only ancestor I know of who fought in the Civil War fought for the Confederacy. It might also be said that my family still owns land "south of the James" in Virginia granted originally in colonial days. Not only do I therefore have at least some Southern credentials, but I am definitely drawn to the romantic part of the Southern story. I should also say that I had a Confederate battle flag on my wall for one year of my youth around 30 years ago, before I thought better of it. Fortunately, the only person who commented thought it was a Union Jack, which says something about how little people actually know.

Regardless, there is a good argument that even many of the men who "fought and died" in the war did so to preserve white supremacy, the same reason that animated many of the northerners who opposed the war. Why die in battle so a bunch of freed slaves can compete at the bottom of the job market?

As for the many roots of slavery, we ought to resist corruption of blood in assigning guilt. Slavery has a deep tradition in human behavior in many (if not most) cultures going back thousands of years, and the world came around to opposing it over the course of a couple of generations. The English industrialized it, then led the charge to abolish it, and the American South clung to it for at least a generation longer than it ought to have done, all things considered.

Indeed, the intransigence of the South on the question of slavery had at least two severe consequences that even "American greatness" conservatives ought to deplore. First, it directly led to the massive substitution of federal power for the states that we still labor under. Without the Civil War, the New Deal would have looked quite different. Second, it led to the Senate rejecting Polk's settlement of the Mexican War, which would have resulted in a vastly larger United States with a far shorter southern border.

Anyway, this is not a discussion about "cutting slack." Rather, it is about realizing that whatever the many meanings of the CSA battle flag, today most Americans, including at least some of the people who display it, understand it as a symbol of white supremacy. What good comes of insisting that is all just a misunderstanding?

Tom de Plume said...

whatever happened to the art of compromise?I understand that a portion of our populace sees the flag as a symbol of hate. I see the black power salute, the Nation of Islam, and MSNBC the same way. But since we are talking about symbols and symbolic fixes are in order, since the Obamaphone is a symbol of welfare parasitism and welfare spending run amuck, how about doing away with that AND the Stars and Bars at the same time? Everyone's happy.

The Conservative Wahoo said...

Sorry to disappoint by breaking the silence of the North....but I fear that you have a reasonable point here. There is a serious historical blindness afoot in the heart and mind of the average "Yankee", and that blindness leads to a smug superiority that is historically unsupported. Lincoln went to war to save the Union, though he ultimately did make the war about ending slavery, an institution which--as you point out--had serious Northern roots (and which benefited Northern industry handsomely through cheap cotton picked by slave labor).

You have a point, and I herewith, own up to the North's role in "all this".

TigerHawk said...

Lincoln needed to justify the war on terms that would maintain support for the war in the North, and the abolition of slavery could not be at the top of that list because (in particular) of fear among the working classes of the north that the freed slaves would compete with them (and, in fairness, the fear they would die in a civil war that as immigrants they may not have bargained for). Again, there is a great deal of "corruption of blood" guilt to go around if we look for it, but today's Irish-Americans do not (in general) imply that the anti-war position of their forefathers is somehow worthy of veneration.

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