The dead are not yet buried in Charleston, yet the South Carolina legislature is to meet in special session Tuesday to debate the removal of the Confederate battle flag from the Capitol grounds, reportedly at the behest of Gov. Nikki Haley. Whether the flag belongs there or not–and I would argue that it does not–the flag had nothing to do with the nine murders in a church last week. To tear it down in such haste is to dishonor the dead–and to accept a collective guilt that knows no end.
As I write this, MSNBC is going through every flag of every Southern state, targeting those that commemorate elements of Confederate history. No doubt, these will be the next targets for the media and the Democrats, who have found a way to put Republican presidential contenders on the back foot. (Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee, will not face similar questions about her husband’s Confederate pandering in Arkansas, nor about the segregationist past of her party.)
The argument for removing the Confederate flag is that it may have inspired the murderer, who posed with it in several photographs he left behind.
Yet millions of South Carolinians have not felt similarly inspired to take up arms against each other; in fact, they recently elected a black U.S. Senator (a Tea Party Republican) and re-elected a female Indian-American governor (also a Tea Party Republican). In his own words, the murderer said he acted precisely because no one else would.
He also said that his inspiration was the media coverage of the Trayvon Martin controversy–a case in which the accused, George Zimmerman, was falsely portrayed as “white” by Al Sharpton, and in which the contrived racial themes of the case were played up by every Democrat from President Barack Obama on down.
It would be just as obscene, but more accurate, to blame the media for the Charleston murders. Instead, the people of South Carolina are to perform this act of penance.
The conservative “line” on South Carolina is that the people there must decide what to do with the flag–and no one else. If they decide it must come down, fine.
Yet there are appropriate ways to revisit history–ways that acknowledge the pain that the flag causes to some, the heritage it symbolizes to others. Reconciliation is built through deliberative processes in which citizens confront and listen to each other–not through rushed votes to placate politicians and journalists with agendas.
Since the terrible, racist attack, there has been an ugly rush to exploit the Charleston deaths. President Obama blamed guns.
A writer at Salon.com blamed over-policing. Hillary Clinton blamed remarks by Donald Trump. The New Yorker‘s David Remnick suggested that the supposedly racist Republican political opposition was to blame. The only cause missing (so far) is climate change, which we have been told could exacerbate terrorism.
Please: Bury the dead first. Then debate.