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[Photo by Jacquelyn Griffin)

Monday, June 22, 2015

Lowering the Flag: Conservatives Doing the Right Thing



So, today, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley took a large symbolic step:
Flanked by a bipartisan group that included both of her state’s United States senators, Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina on Monday called for removal of a Confederate battle flag from the State Capitol grounds, taking sides on a symbol embraced by the white man accused of killing nine black people last week.

Some in the state will continue to fly the flag on private property, as they have every right to do, “but the State House is different, and the events of this past week call upon us to look at this in a different way,” Ms. Haley said at the State Capitol. “We are not going to allow this symbol to divide us any longer. The fact that people are choosing to use it as a sign of hate is something we cannot stand.”

***

“Today, we are here in a moment of unity in our state, without ill will, to say it’s time to move the flag from the Capitol grounds,” she said, to a long, loud burst of applause and cheers.

The governor and both senators had declined to take a stand on the flag in the days after the massacre Wednesday at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, a crime that rocked this state and prompted renewed calls to remove a flag that has often been flown by white supremacists and segregationists. But Ms. Haley said it would be debated again, and Mr. Graham said that “in light of what has happened, that has to be revisited” because the suspect in the shooting is closely “associated with the flag.”
Meanwhile, on the blogs, two days ago, social conservative Rod Dreher, with some pain, anticipated her:
Yesterday, all that came to mind again, and I concluded that the Confederate flag has become impossible for most people to see as symbolizing anything other than white supremacy. Therefore, it cannot be redeemed. Therefore it should be retired from public display, except in clearly historical settings (e.g., museums, Civil War cemeteries, historical re-enactments), and then only in a limited way.

In South Carolina, by act of the state legislature, the Confederate battle flag flies over a Confederate War Memorial on the state Capitol grounds. I can see how some white Southerners genuinely regard the flag and its display as nothing more than honoring the Confederate dead, something that is noble even as the cause for which those soldiers died is not. I think about the one ancestor I know of who fought for the Confederacy. He was a poor country farmer, and almost certainly didn’t carry in his head the idea that he was fighting to preserve slavery (though he ultimately was); chances are he only thought that he was fighting for the people of his state, defending his land against invaders. He really did fight bravely, records show. I cannot and will not be ashamed of that man’s battlefield courage, though I wish he had not devoted his courage to the Confederate cause — which was not solely about maintaining slavery, but which undeniably included that evil end.

The widespread use of the Confederate battle flag during the Civil Rights era, to defend white supremacy, removed the benefit of the doubt that might have been extended to those displaying the flag in memory of the war dead. In other words, modern white supremacists robbed the flag, as a symbol, of a plausible claim of innocence. True, Dylann Roof did not display the Confederate battle flag in his rampage inside the church, but it can’t be denied that the Dylann Roofs of the Civil Rights era, and their fellow travelers, did openly associate that flag with their cause. In light of what just happened in Charleston, and considering things from the point of view of black Southerners, I believe that the Confederate battle flag is simply too tainted as a symbol to be displayed in good conscience anymore.
Look, I'm generally pretty unsympathetic to those who constructed an identity steeped in the "Lost Cause"; I believe it to have been the worst cause, except perhaps for that of the Third Reich, in all recorded history. But, hold on a second.

Read the comments to Dreher's post; he's taking a pounding from many fellow conservatives, in part for giving one to "the other side", in part for abandoning the comforting myth that Dreher's own people fought, as one commenter put it, "for republican principles." (Some of the comments are appalling, and Dreher deserves credit for letting them stand to show the terrible reasons put forward in defense of leaving the flag flying.)

Nikki Haley is quite the conservative. I agree with her on very little. She's likely gonna catch hell for this from her natural base.

She deserves credit. She's doing something right, that may cost her.

This is how we move forward. One side makes a concession that is painful and even risky. They open their heart, and empathize with the other.

The other side--well, I won't presume to speak for African Americans.

But it's also we liberals, who've been complaining and condemning this flag for decades. I myself was jarred at the fact that, while Old Glory and the South Carolina state flag were at half mast, the Confederate flag was at full staff--by statute, it could not be lowered absent a supermajority vote. It looked almost as if it were triumphant in the wake of the devastation at the Emanuel AME Church.

So what is our part in this?

Make it easy for Governor Haley to do the right thing. Don't crow.

Yes, it's a symbolic surrender for them--and Haley's words show that it doesn't come easy--but symbols have meaning. Symbols express truths.

Let this one go, fellow liberals. Progress is rare; let's not add disincentives for it.

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