While acknowledging it’s just symbols and there are still real battles to fight, I am finding the sudden political retreat on symbols of the Confederacy fascinating, if only as a socio-cultural phenomenon. Josh Marshall wrote —
I still cannot believe the Charleston Massacre has triggered quite this total a collapse of support, not just for flying the Confederate battle flag in places of honor at Southern state capitols, but for public display and honor for the Confederacy and the War of the Rebellion in almost any form. Whatever the precise cause or convergence of under-noticed trends, there now seems like no doubt that we are witnessing a watershed in the country’s long, wretched and denial-ridden wrestling with the public memory of the Civil War.
As the song says — There’s somethin’ happenin’ here; what it is ain’t exactly clear —
For years, most of the American Right has defiantly refused to give up the Confederate flag and all symbols of the Lost Cause. Now, all of a sudden, it’s like some of them can’t put the Confederacy behind them fast enough. What happened?
Someone writing from Charleston made the point that one of Dylann Roof’s victims, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, was also a state senator, and he was a well-known and popular figure. The writer continues,
I have been pleasantly surprised by the number of Republican Senators who have come forward to release very personal statements about Sen. Pinckney’s death, especially among the Lowcountry delegation. The statements made about him strike me as more than just the generic nice things one is supposed to say.
Put another way, Roof made the very amateur mistake of killing people who couldn’t be turned into “thugs” by right-wing media. Every single outrageous harming or killing of a black citizen in recent memory has been followed by an avalanche of smears of the victim. Even the petite teenage girl roughed up by a cop at a Texas pool party was smeared on Fox News, I understand. Maybe I’ve missed it, but I haven’t heard any such smears this time.
It was a Bible study group, after all, killed by a teenage punk who had been planning it for months. No excuses this time.
The Confederate battle flag — that bellicose assertion of a Southern “heritage” otherwise known as “white supremacy,” that defiant, “fuck you” of a symbol in whose honor the blood of far more than nine people has been shed — it wasn’t suddenly toxic because of last week’s massacre in Charleston. Multinational corporations, and the politicians they keep on retainer, weren’t disowning the flag because of a popular movement. The people hadn’t had the time to organize. The pavement on this road to Damascus was still wet.
Instead, what was actually happening, behind the scenes, wasn’t nearly so romantic. No one was breaking from their usual habits. Everyone, in fact, was doing what they always did. The profit-seeking entities were trying to maximize future earnings; and the state-level politicians were following their demands. This wasn’t a case of the powers-that-be doing something they resented. No one was pushed here; everyone was ready to jump.
In other words, all that white supremacy stuff is bad for business.
Not for the first time in 2015, the conservative movement has found itself on the losing side of a culture war battle it once routinely won. And just as was the case in Indiana, when a petty and combative anti-gay law inspired national boycotts and a business-sector backlash, movement conservatives cannot fathom how liberals aren’t to blame. It’s conservatives, after all, who man the ramparts to protect capitalism and big business. As he was ranting about “the left’s” war on the Confederate flag on Tuesday, one could almost hear Rush Limbaugh transform into Walter Sobchak from “The Big Lebowski,” bellowing, “Has the whole world gone crazy?!”
The conservative movement fancies itself to be pro-business, just as it fancies itself to be pro-national security. But, increasingly, their ideas are out of touch with reality on both fronts.
Yet for all the right’s professed belief in “common sense,” the reason why businesses were, metaphorically, setting the flag to the flame continued to elude conservatives, even when it was staring them in the face. As CNN, the Associated Press and others reported, the Amazons, eBays, Sears and Walmarts of the world weren’t acting out of fear or sentiment. Their motivations were straightforward, cold, and rational. Walmart wants to shed its reputation as a Red State phenomenon; Sears wants to prove it’s not exclusively for dads; Amazon’s politics are, if anything, probably “liberaltarian”; and it’s hard to imagine eBay’s pro-Confederate market was ever that big.
To paraphrase the Dao De Jing — Capitalism is not sentimental; it treats all things as straw dogs. Ironically, and incomprehensibly to the fellow quoted in the New York Times yesterday, the route of Confederate symbols isn’t the beginning of Communism. It’s Capitalism that decided Confederate symbols had to go.
So it’s probably not true, as someone else said, that Dylann Roof is pretty much singlehandedly responsible for the fall of the Confederate Flag. However, he did help create the moment that made the Route possible.