Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The REAL Lost Cause? The Confederate Flag

The Omnivore is stunned at how quickly the GOP and major retailers have moved to ban the Confederate Battle Flag. To date:
  1. Most of the GOP people who were on-the-fence two days ago are now firmly behind Niki Haley's call to take down the Confederate Battle Flag from the South Carolina State House.
  2. Sears, Walmart, Ebay, and now Amazon have decided to stop selling Confederate flags. Until then, though, the Confederate Flag is surging on Amazon. Get them while you can!
  3. Calls to de-flag some of the States (which incorporate it) and a suggestion from Matt Bevin to remove the Jefferson Davis statue from South Carolina's capitol have begun.
The Lost Cause
The term The Lost Cause is a specific interpretation of the Civil War by the losers to romanticize it and cast it in the best possible light. These are the tenants:
  • Secession, not slavery, caused the Civil War.
  • African Americans were "faithful slaves," loyal to their masters and the Confederate cause and unprepared for the responsibilities of freedom.
  • The Confederacy was defeated militarily only because of the Union's overwhelming advantages in men and resources.
  • Confederate soldiers were heroic and saintly.
  • The most heroic and saintly of all Confederates, perhaps of all Americans, was Robert E. Lee.
  • Southern women were loyal to the Confederate cause and sanctified by the sacrifice of their loved ones.
It appears to The Omnivore that what's actually going up in smoke here, though is the Lost Cause itself: the narrative that the South and the Civil War was a virtuous thing. This is something that has lived--and in some respects even grown--over a hundred and fifty years. Just days ago the Confederate Battle Flag was an integral part of a lot of people's identities and a significant part of the culture and government in some Southern States.

To jettison it that quickly is . . . unprecedented. The Omnivore offers a few observations:

Hillary Gets A Pass
Noah Rothman at Commentary sees that Hillary, who has said nothing about this incident that is flag-related gets a complete pass and, indeed, praise from a compliant press corps. In the meantime, Republicans have to struggle with actually potentially offending their base:
Republicans like Haley, Senator Tim Scott, and Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn who are telling their voters that they are wrong, that they have made a virtue of vice, and to suffer the associated consequences is truly courageous. To preach shibboleths before roomfuls of the already converted is something else entirely. For reporters in desperate need of a story that paints Clinton in a favorable light, however, the latter will do in a pinch.
While Rothman's observations are on-target, The Omnivore thinks he's ignoring the fact that today the Republicans do pretty much own the flag issue. To an extent they own the flag itself so much as anyone can--and in terms of symbolism. Yes, Bill Clinton did dedicate a star on the AK state flag to the Confederacy and yes, Hillary's statement on the flag was a tepid 2007 event--but really? Does anyone think there's ambiguity about what Obama or Hillary think on the matter?

There isn't. It isn't a Democratic Party issue. It is a Republican party issue--and we're seeing rapid action on it. That might be praiseworthy--but The Omnivore doesn't think that's how it'll go down.

The Confederate Flag and A Hard Left Turn
Most of the right-wing think-pieces The Omnivore sees start like this: 
I used to think the war was a bit more complicated than I do now, having had my mind changed thanks to some relatively recent guided readings of President Abraham Lincoln. But long story short, the Confederacy was wrong. For whatever it’s worth, I have no nostalgia for the Confederacy and zero positive feelings for flags that reference the Confederacy, save the one painted on the General Lee or, perhaps, the one painted on RuPaul.
 And finish thus:
And how we manage these processes of disapproval truly is important for civil society. To quote Heinrich Heine, a man who definitely knew of what he spoke, “Where they have burned books, they will end in burning men.” Mobs aren’t actually the best judges of such processes, no matter how righteous they feel or certain of their cause.

Listen, it’s great that we’re aiming to be an anti-racist society. That’s very, very good! But it’s bad that we are slowly forgetting how to dislike something without seeking its utter destruction. Somehow we’ve abandoned the aesthetic of Abraham Lincoln for that of Mao Tse-Tung.
The Omnivore would liken this change to something akin to the speed which which Gay Marriage has become socially accepted--just a lot faster. If you felt Southern Pride three days ago, most Southern politicians were nominally on your side and your confederate flag was a legit personal statement.

Hours later the Internet is about to be bereft of such iconography and your local government has sided with Obama in scouring that symbol of your identity from, well, everything they can. That's a pretty hard shift.

On the other hand, if we take Mollie Hemingway's piece (quoted above) at her words, is de-flaging the State House a move towards an anti-racist society? If so then, uh, is the Confederate Battle Flag racist? Okay--and if that's true then how cool are we supposed to be with racist? Like: "It's just your opinion, maaan?" It seems like she's not exactly going there--The Omnivore presumes she finds the Confederate Battle Flag at least ambiguously racist. Maybe not full-on racist.

Fair enough--but she notes in the beginning that there was, indeed, some haziness around the Civil War itself which some reading cleared up for her. Maybe the flag isn't as ambiguous as all that either.

Will This Break The Party?
The evolution of Democrats from The Party of the KKK to the party of 95% of the Black Vote--and almost none of the Southern State's electoral votes--happened over time. The shift included events like Truman (D) integrating the military and was notable for spinning off groups like The Dixiecrats and George Wallace. These were Southern phenomena that didn't play well nation-wide (both were failures) but spoke explicitly to the segregationists and the remnants of The South.

What happens next will be very interesting: if the Southern Identity still holds up--stronger than party politics--then this could fracture the party in a way that even acceptance of Gay Marriage doesn't do for Evangelicals. Evangelicals don't have a history of breaking off and going their own way in a doomed charge. The Confederacy . . . did.

The Omnivore doesn't think that this will shatter the Southern Pride contingent--it seems unlikely that the hardest of the hard-core southern racists were all that thrilled about voting for Jeb Bush--or northerner Scott Walker--anyway. For people who like the flag, well, they can still fly it themselves--and they may well think "What choice did those those politicians have?" There's some truth to that too.

Still, The Omnivore will be watching closely to see what happens in the next few weeks as these changes take hold.

The political flip-flops are fairly unsurprising as these things go: the political winds have always blown people this way and that. The major retailers dropping the goods, however, is fairly new. This speaks to a level of toxicity which didn't exist. Racism has always been especially toxic--if you are a TV personality you can be sexist, anti-gay, or even pro-Christian (ha!) and not get fired. Say something racist and out you go. If that level of damage has spread to the Confederate Battle Flag, might it also spread to, oh, the Council of Conservative Citizens (the group that shooter Dylann Roof got his news from--and which has the initials of CoCC--definitely not three letters with the 'k' sound). Certainly they have some plausible deniability today--but so did the Confederate Flag.


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