Battle Flag used during Pickett's Charge on the third day at Gettysburg, Museum of the Confederacy, Richmond, VA
(Image by pablo.sanchez) Permission Details DMCA
I'm talking about the amazing speed with which, in the past several days, America -- most definitely including many leaders on the American right -- are turning away from some of the long-celebrated emblems of the Confederate States of America.
The Confederate Battle Flag is being rejected in some places that have long held out for this supposedly guiltless icon of that part of the country that launched the Civil War to defend the rights of white people to own and exploit black people, and that resisted with defiant passion being compelled two generations ago to abandon the regime of Jim Crow oppression of the descendants of those slaves.
The Republican governor of South Carolina says it's time that the Stars and Bars cease flying over the South Carolina state house. The governor of Tennessee has called for the removal from his state house a bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest, Confederate general and one of the founders of the Ku Klux Klan.
(My wife went to Nathan Bedford Forrest High School in Jacksonville, Florida--and a couple of years ago her white classmates greatly resented the school board's decision to abandon that name, even though the student body was by then majority black.)
In Kentucky, there's talk of removing a statue of the president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis -- after whom so much in the South is named, including the junior high school my wife went to, and a highway in the Arlington area).
As the New York Times article put it in a headline, "Calls to Drop Confederate Emblems Spread Nationwide".
Who would have imagined such a wave of transformation, just a week and a half ago.
Of course, that was before the grotesque and heart-rending murder, by a young racist white man, of nine black churchgoers, attending a Bible class in a historic African-American Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
But even given such an event, I would never have predicted this kind of reaction.
Here we are, in a time when the politics of the right have been shameless for years, when one disgrace after another has failed to call the Republicans to the better angels of their nature. Why -- after all the lies, all the cruelties, all the thefts of power and wealth, all the degradation they have inflicted on our nation--has this event triggered so profound a change, almost like those gratifying but unbelievable Hollywood movie redemption stories.
And we need to recognize how core to today's Republican Party is the spirit of that Confederacy whose icons are now being repudiated.
Almost two years ago, I published here a brief series under the title, "The Spirit That Drove Us to Civil War is Back." (The striking evidence of the re-emergence of that spirit in today's Republican Party is also one of the themes woven into my new book WHAT WE'RE UP AGAINST. The parallels include, but go way beyond, the obvious--like the assertion of the right of nullification (asserting the right of states to disregard federal laws they don't like), like the racism, like even some talk of secession.)
So a movement away from, say, the Stars and Bars -- a movement toward recognizing the long-denied meaning of that flag as a symbol of racial terrorism -- is not a trivial thing.
After all the other killings of defenseless, unarmed blacks by whites in recent years, after all the other terrible things that have elicited no apologies, no admission of the deeply wrong things the right has done since George W. Bush took office, and through the obstructionism of the Obama era, why this sudden and uncharacteristic willingness to back away and change directions?
What are the crucial elements in this picture that sparked this surprising scenario?