The debate over the meaning of the Confederate battle flag is not a new phenomenon. Symbols are appropriated and re-defined constantly.
There is great power in symbols, especially in an era when so many people have been taught to emote rather than thinking. The quick surge of emotion people feel upon viewing a potent symbol can be bottled and used in politics.
In the course of debating whether the Confederate battle flag can preserved as a symbol of anything positive, Jonah Goldberg at National Review mentions what may stand for a long time to come as the paramount example of a stolen symbol: the swastika. “The swastika was for thousands of years a benign spiritual symbol – until it wasn’t. Some even want to restore its old meaning, which may one day succeed, many, many, many generations from now – I hope,” he writes.
That would be a nice little coda to the defeat of Nazism, wouldn’t it? Take the swastika back from them. Leave them without a single square yard of intellectual real estate. It will, however, be a long uphill climb for the swastika restoration crew, if they can pull it off at all.
It’s excessively charitable to call the current flag battle a “debate,” because it mostly consists of one side screaming that anyone who hesitates to dump that flag into the wood chipper of historical oblivion is either a racist, or an accessory to racism in the first degree. There isn’t much in the way of measured reason involved here. Would anyone like to try making the case that banning display of the flag ten or fifteen years ago would have prevented the monstrous Dylann Roof from opening fire in that Charleston church?
Still, to take the long view of history, it’s not unprecedented for the value and meaning of symbols to change over time.
Democrats raised the Confederate battle flag over the South Carolina state house, and now Republicans will take it down. It’s curious that so many people seem so eager to allow the worst forces in society to define the meaning of this particular symbol – they’re effectively accepting Dylann Roof’s interpretation of it, and telling those who view the flag as a symbol of military valor, Southern pride, independence, or even difficult history that should be understood in full that they must accept Roof’s judgment as well. You can’t have that symbol for anything except white supremacy? Personally, I’d rather not give white supremacists that victory, but here we are.
The end of Jonah Goldberg’s piece advances a laudable case for good manners, which are a subset of what I’ve long regarded as the goodwill necessary for society to flourish:
Indeed, I wish this debate could focus more on manners: the chief mechanism by which diverse people in a diverse society get along. The flag is justifiably offensive to many, not least because of people like Dylann Roof who do not want its meaning to evolve and are willing to murder innocents towards that end. But treating every southerner with a Confederate flag on their bumper as if they support Roof’s ideology — or are too stupid to realize they do — is offensive as well.
The flag shouldn’t fly on public lands on Jeffersonian grounds: “To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical.” Beyond that, I think good manners should rule.
Jonah is very wise to say this… and rather naive to have expected it. There was never any chance the Left was going to conduct this battle over the battle flag as a genteel exercise in statesmanship and good manners. That’s not how they work. They go for blood, they never argue in anything other than bad faith, and they view polite statesmanship from their adversaries as a weakness to be exploited.
It quickly became clear that this was never going to end with Democrats applauding as Republican Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina gave an inspiring speech, the legislature took a few votes, and the Confederate banner came down from the state house. There would be no congratulations for reaching a consensus quickly and taking action so that the people of South Carolina, and America, could return their attention to the many pressing issues of the day.
The attack on the flag was an act of political opportunism from the beginning, and more targets of opportunity were quickly looped in. Without even pausing to wait for the state of South Carolina to stop officially flying that flag, the movement surged into a total ban on anyone displaying or selling one. The very significant line between the state government raising the flag – the “contributions of money for the propagation of opinions” many of the taxpayers “disbelieve and abhor” business Goldberg mentioned – and private citizens doing so was obliterated under the feet of a stampeding mob. In the blink of an eye, retailers were refusing to sell anything with the flag on it… right down to Warner Brothers discontinuing production of “Dukes of Hazzard” toys, because the famous car from the show is called the “General Lee,” and it’s got the Confederate flag on its roof.
It won’t stop with the flag, either.
Within a matter of hours, the Left was drawing up target lists of Confederate war memorials and statues of figures like Jefferson Davis and General Lee – the man, not the car, although I suppose the ritual smashing of orange Dodge Chargers will not be out of the question before this thing burns itself out. In the blink of an eye, a discussion about whether it was proper for state governments to fly a flag that some citizens have come to view as offensive became a creepy ideological purge intended to burn down History and replace it with a modern political Narrative.
It also didn’t take long for other political issues to be patched into the flag debate. It was fashioned into a pure wedge issue against Republicans, while Hillary Rodham Clinton was graciously allowed to dodge any uncomfortable questions about her husband’s relationship with the verboten symbol.
The indefatigable John Nolte of Breitbart News caught the socialist munchkins at CNN scrambling to loop gun control and video games into the Confederate flag debate. (If the latter sounds odd to you, you should know the Left long ago decided video games were a hot new form of mass media that should be politicized, fast and hard – not banned, but used as a delivery system for socialist ideas.)
We’ve even got Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Pat Toomey (R-PA) talking about using Charleston to revive their defeated gun-control bill, which as a matter of objective fact would have done absolutely nothing to prevent the church shooting, since the killer passed the sort of background check gun-control zealots make a fetish of.
Here’s hate network CNN connecting rebel flag to guns. See how Zucker operates? pic.twitter.com/ZTocs5vZrt
— John Nolte (@NolteNC) June 23, 2015
Wal-Mart saw the light and stopped selling Confederate flags, but they still sell guns? What’s up with that? Tune in to CNN for the latest hard-hitting commentary on how corporations that don’t toe the lefty line are crazy and should be punished!
A thousand left-wing screeds about the appalling racist evil of Southern Man were launched, a collective sneer designed to enforce precisely the sort of collectivized guilt Jonah Goldberg described as “offensive.” It’s an offensive, all right, and it was never going to end with a tiny patch of ground conquered around the flag pole at the South Carolina state house.
We are dangerously short on goodwill, and its expression through good manners, in America today.
Goodwill means people voluntarily granting one another courtesy, respect, and cheer. It makes the coercive power of the State unnecessary, and indeed offensive, for people who treat each other well and cooperate voluntarily for mutual benefit don’t need to be surrounded by a squad of regulators and enforcers with subsidy carrots and penalty sticks.
The Left therefore has an active interest in keeping our national reserve of goodwill as low as possible, teaching good people to hate and fear one another. The good people of Charleston gave those who sow divisiveness for fun and profit very little to work with, so they quickly latched onto something tangential, and now there are tangents emanating from that. In a matter of days, a story of Christian fellowship and forgiveness, which began with a black church welcoming the very creepy Dylann Roof into an evening prayer service, has been twisted into another vicious racial argument. Nice work, “liberals.”