Any connection between the massacre at the Emanuel AME Church and the Confederate flag is, of course, indirect. So don’t consider this article about that vile act. People have been talking about the Confederate flag and that’s a good thing. But I will repeat what I’ve said many times over the last several years: I hate the Confederate flag. As I wrote back in January, “Martin Luther King Jr was born and raised in Georgia. Yet I’ve never seen anyone wearing a t-shirt with his image as an act of ‘southern pride.’ No. ‘Southern pride’ is always expressed with the Confederate flag, Stonewall Jackson, or Robert E Lee.”
There is no doubt that the Confederate flag is a racist symbol. But again, let’s leave that aside. As we all know, most of the people fighting for the Confederacy were not slave owners. But beyond slavery, the Civil War was the answer to a great question: is our allegiance to our state or our country? And the answer to that was resounding: it is to the country. States have lots of nice things and they have control over certain aspects of government. But we are all Americans and to put South Carolina above the United States is an act of treason.
But like I said, that was an arguable question 150 years ago. And that’s perhaps why the liberals of that time said to the south, “Welcome back!” There was no punishment. Even the President of the Confederacy — a man who under most circumstances would have been hanged along with many others — spent just two years in federal custody and then went on to have a successful life, dying rich and having a huge public funeral. This was the early version of Obama’s looking forward. And the conservatives responded to that the same way they responded to Obama’s mercy.
As the Union moved on and forgot about the Civil War, the south did not move on. Instead, it wrapped itself in the flag of the Confederacy. It created myths about the righteousness of its cause. And so every time southerners bring out the flag, they are saying, “We were right!” It is not even a question of them trying to claim that they weren’t traitors — which they most clearly were. That would be understandable — especially if people commonly talked about the treasonous Robert E Lee. But they don’t. In fact, he is widely seen as a hero, much to my personal disgust. And these people are not asking for absolution for their forefathers’ treason.
But the people who continue to wrap themselves in the Confederate flag are the same people who claim to have some kind of a monopoly on the “real” America. Yet they clearly don’t care about America as it is. It is instead “America.” And that’s why we get this nonsense from the supposed Constitutional Conservatives that “the powers not expressly delegated to the United States” are given to the states. Except that isn’t what the Constitution says. That’s what the Articles of Confederation said, and what the south tried to re-establish when it revolted against the United States.
To me, the Confederate flag is very simple: it is the flag of a failed country that attacked the United States and started the most deadly war we have ever had in terms of our own casualties. Almost half the population of North Dakota are people of German descent. Would anyone find it acceptable for the state to fly the Nazi flag? Even apart from its obvious racism and offensiveness to Jews (and basically everyone else), it would be offensive to the very idea of the United States of America. It would be like having a Fort Rommel.
Yet there the Confederate flag is. I live in liberal northern California and I still see it everywhere. I’m not suggesting that people shouldn’t be allowed to display the flag. But I am saying that we should treat people who display it the same way we treat people sporting Nazi tattoos.