In a long overdue decision, lawmakers in Mississippi voted on June 28 to strike the Confederate battle flag from the state’s official banner, where it has been displayed for 126 years. Mississippi was the last American state to feature Confederate imagery on its state flag.
Georgia’s former flag, which depicted the Confederate battle flag alongside the state’s seal, was retired in 2001 after bitter opposition by neo-Confederate “flaggers” against the administration of Democratic Gov. Roy Barnes, who had advocated changing the Georgia state flag. Barnes lost his re-election bid to Republican Sonny Perdue, but the Confederate battle flag no longer appears on this state’s flag.
The latter-day Confederacy also lost another recent skirmish when officials of NASCAR banned the battle flag from races that have for decades drawn huge crowds throughout the South. More and more politicians and citizens of a nation that is supposed to be the United States of America are seeing the Confederate flag as a symbol of disunity, an embarrassing ensign, and an emblem of sore losers then and now. The Confederate flag has become so intertwined with reactionaries and racists like the Ku Klux Klan and American Nazis that it is now as emblematic of evil as the swastika of Hitler’s Reich.
Nowhere did this collusion between the old Confederacy and modern-day hatred become more obvious than when carnage came to a church in South Carolina five years ago. On June 17, 2015, a young white racist named Dylann Roof gunned down nine black worshipers at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. When President Barack Obama visited the church to offer words of hope and healing after the massacre, he surprised his audience in the church and across the nation when he broke into the words of the old hymn, “Amazing Grace.” Five years after his senseless spree, Roof now sits on Death Row at the federal prison in Terre Haute, IN—the same prison where another American terrorist, Timothy McVeigh, was executed in 2001 for his role in the infamous Oklahoma City bombing of a federal building that killed and injured scores of men, women and children in 1995. Roof had idolized the treasonous cause of the Confederacy and posed for photos with its flag.
Some say that the Confederate flag flies for “heritage, not hate,” but hatred is the heritage of Southern white supremacists like Roof. The flag of the Confederacy waved over soldiers and sailors who fought for a government based on the plantation plutocracy of slavery and racism. In 1861, Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens made the Southern heritage of hate abundantly clear when he said, “Our new government’s foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests upon the great truth that the Negro is not equal to the white man, that slavery—subordination to the superior race—is his natural and normal condition.”
Such a “master race” mentality later became a foundation of Nazi Germany’s murderous militarism in the 1930s and ’40s. This mentality is still around today, as hate groups like the Klan and American Nazis have seen a resurgence during the years of the Donald Trump presidency.
Trump is an expert carnival barker and con man who uses flags and uniforms to boost his ego and bamboozle his benighted base. He appeals to those who still wave the Confederate flag, and he also tries to wrap himself in the American flag as this year’s presidential election draws near. At his less-than-inspiring rally in Tulsa last month, Trump again called for prison sentences for Americans who burn or deface the flag during protests, despite the fact that the Supreme Court has twice ruled that flag desecration is indeed a form of free speech, since protection of expression that may be unpopular and offensive is a bedrock principle of the First Amendment. Even conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia agreed with the high court’s decisions that the substance of America—the Constitution—shouldn’t be sacrificed to protect a mere symbol of America.
As Election Day gets closer, look for President Trump to do more flag-waving in an effort to distract the electorate and win a second term for his scandalous administration. Trump is enough of a showman to know what another song-and-dance man named George M. Cohan meant when he said, “Many a bum show has been saved by the flag.”
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