Hans Noel via Jonathan Bernstein explained an issue that a lot of people have no doubt found puzzling, The Flag Was No Fluke. The question at hand is why did the murders at the Emanuel AME Church end in political action about the Confederate flag and not the more obvious gun control. I’ll tell you what I had assumed: everyone is tired of gun control.
After Sandy Hook, even the smallest changes to our gun laws were out of the question. To even talk about them, we were told, was to politicize the tragedy — as though telling people not to talk about guns is a less political act. So it isn’t surprising that for a lot of liberals, it doesn’t make sense to start talking about guns when even many Democrats will be against doing even the smallest things.
What Noel highlighted was that the gun control movement and the African American community are two constituencies of the Democratic Party. But the African American community is far more important. The truth is that although most Democrats would like to see more reasonable gun laws, it is at the top of the list for very few. So when the Charleston massacre happened, and there were two possible responses, the Democrats followed with the stronger and better organized group.
The Confederate flag has been a big issue for activists for decades. I don’t consider racism to be one of my core issues and yet I’ve written about the Confederate flag obsessively over the last five years. It isn’t personally offensive to me the way it is to many African Americans. But it is such an obvious offense. I’m sure there are a lot of white liberals like me, but who haven’t given the issue much thought. And when it was brought up in such a barbaric way, it’s clear, “Get rid of that flag!”
The other side, of course, is that there are people in the Republican Party who have long wanted to get rid of the flag. It is not welcoming to African Americans, or for that matter, anyone except for those who fetishize the flag. And those people are already big Republican boosters. It goes back to Lee Atwater’s idea that racist appeals have to be made more subtle over time. Well, the Confederate flag ain’t subtle.
We’ll see how far this goes. I’d like to get rid of it completely. Clearly, it should be scrubbed from state grounds and courthouses. But I’d like to see more. I would like to see the display of the Confederate flag be treated with the same public distaste as the display of the Nazi flag. But we can start with the Confederate flag at the South Carolina capital.