Nothing is as flexible as Republicans’ opinions about the Confederate flag. Last week, when asked if the flag should be removed from the grounds of South Carolina’s capitol, US Senator Lindsey Graham said: “It’s part of who we are.” Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, a profile in courage, dodged the question by saying that it was another state’s matter he didn’t have an opinion about, and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee said that precisely because it is a state matter the question should not even be posed to presidential candidates, adding that if any outsider told Arkansas to change its flag that state’s good citizens would tell him where to put the pole. But the mood quickly changed after a series of pictures of Emanual Church killer Dylann Roof posing with the flag emerged, and Mitt Romney tweeted that it was about time that the flag be removed. Suddenly all kinds of information became available, for instance that the flag had been placed on top of the capitol in 1961, in protest against the upcoming federal Civil Rights legislation, and after it had become too much of a provocation there was later given a ‘permanent’ place at a Confederate monument on the capitol grounds.
Countering Graham, US Representative Clyburn spoiled the memories of South Carolina’s ‘Sons and Daughters of the Confederacy’ by reminding everybody that the flag flying at the capitol is the Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia, and that South Carolina troops during the Civil War fought under the flag of the Citadel. Yesterday South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, who had remained mum on the issue until then, finally gave a speech urging that the flag be taken down, while simultaneously trying not to alienate the South Carolinians who revere it. She was flanked by Lindsey Graham, now apparently willing to let a piece of Northern Virginia’s history go. Today the South Carolina House of Representatives, where a two thirds majority was required, voted overwhelmingly to start the process of removing the flag, followed by the state’s Senate, where the son of Dixiecrat Strom Thurmond is a surprising champion of removal and showed none of Governor Haley’s hesitance in condemning what the flag represents. And the purging of Civil War symbols doesn’t stop there. In Texas a law was just upheld that residents cannot have car license plates decorated with the Confederate flag, and Virginia’s Governor Terry McAuliffe is pursuing similar legislation.
Of course there were reactions from the usual suspects. White supremacists, united in the ‘Council of Conservative Citizens,’ condemned Dylann Roof’s ‘murderous action,’ but stated that the Council can hardly be held responsible for his behavior just because Roof gleaned ‘accurate’ information from its website, referring to a blatantly racist text about black on white violence that had inspired Roof. A NRA board member blamed the minister of the Charleston church where Roof killed nine African-Americans, State Senator Clementa Pinckney, for the killing, because he would not allow people to carry concealed weapons into his church.
Following the Council’s statement it became public knowledge that four Republican candidates, Cruz, Paul, Santorum and Walker, had accepted campaign donations from its president. They didn’t know how fast to get rid of the money, but it is very troubling that they accepted it in the first place, knowing the source. For these candidates, the removal of the flag will pre-empt one question, but many others remain.
Although the signs from South Carolina today are very positive, it is to be hoped that all the sudden efforts to get rid of Confederate symbols in the south and in department stores like Walmart don’t distract from other issues, such as the mass incarceration of African-American men, bureaucratic racism practiced by the Republican Party and the lack of gun control in the US. The victims of the Charleston massacre certainly deserve better than that.