I’ve been wanting to draw the above cartoon for at least a year or two, after first having the idea and sketching it out during a David Horsey lecture. I figured I wouldn’t have the chance to use it until deep into the 2016 election, representing the cries of “States’ Rights!” that periodically emanate from the Conservative masses, and often serve as a major theme for Republican Presidential campaigns.
I certainly did not expect the Confederate (battle) flag itself would become relevant any time soon, and even once it did, I didn’t think it would hang around the news cycle this long: Though the mass-shooting which first brought the topic into focus occurred several weeks ago, the South Carolina Senate only passed a bill to officially remove the flag from the grounds of the state capitol just yesterday, and that bill still has to make its way through the state House.
The South Carolina Senate has been praised in the media for its “bipartisan” action. Republican Governor Nikki Haley has even been talked-up as Vice Presidential material for the leadership and courage (or whatever) she has displayed by standing up to the anachronistic piece of cloth. Hey, I guess it’s more than Sarah Palin ever did, right?
Everyone giving the South Carolina state government more than a cursory nod about this seems to have ignored that it took a literal act of mass-murder for them to do something that should have been taken care of years or even decades before anyone in that government was elected to office in the first place.
As most Americans know, at issue is just what the flag symbolizes: some believe it represents slavery and racism, while many Southerners (and also dumb Northerners who usually happen to be pretty racist) feel it represents “Southern heritage.”
Now, if you must choose one or the other, you’d think it would be as simple as identifying which of those has relatively objective, measurable historical meaning, and which is merely a nebulous concept, but I don’t see the two as mutually-exclusive. Perhaps “Southern heritage,” insofar as what the Confederate flag represents, is inherently racist, or at least pro-slavery?
People who argue that the Civil War wasn’t “just” about slavery (if they’re intellectually-honest enough to at least include that qualifier, even) may be technically correct, but they’re either forgetting or intentionally glossing over the fact that the “States right(s)” and “Southern heritage” over which it primarily occurred all had to do with the defense of slavery. You don’t have to take my word for it: just look at the Confederate Constitution, which prioritizes the enshrinement of slavery as a fundamental right above all other differences with its Union counterpart.
It is certainly likely that most Confederate soldiers were more concerned with the defense of their homeland, families, and friends from foreign(ish) invasion than they were the defense of slavery, but it ultimately remains that even the most well-intentioned were, at best, therefore duped into sacrificing life and limb protecting their economic superiors’ ability to oppress others; a “right” few of the soldiers in question would ever be wealthy enough to directly enjoy even if they wanted to, and which in all likelihood was personally harmful to them, in the meantime.
Of course, this still doesn’t fully explain my cartoon, and in light of the above-mentioned action by Nikki Haley and the South Carolina Senate, some may take issue with my conflation of the modern Republican Party and the Confederate flag. My explanation for that would be to cite the last 30+ years the Republican party has spent actively courting racists, and recent public polling: Americans in general seem to be evenly split on whether the flag symbolizes racism or “Southern heritage/history/pride/et cetera,” probably with a slight edge towards the latter, but when broken down along partisan lines, a clear majority of Republicans appear to support the flag, while a clear majority of Democrats are against it.
And as I mentioned at the top of this post, Republicans (or people for whom the Republican party isn’t right wing enough) are usually the ones shouting loudest about “States’ Rights,” and are most likely to claim Lincoln as a rhetorical symbol while outright rejecting or fighting against everything he stood for.
Yes, the Confederate flag symbolizes Southern history – but a shameful chapter of it, which ought to be remembered as such. That includes putting it in history books and Holocaust Museum-like exhibits to generally be regretted and jeered at, not flying it over capitol buildings and naming counties, streets, and universities after its greatest champions.
It’s certainly not something about which any Southerners should be “proud.” Besides, I believe there’s a well-known saying – from the Bible, no less – about what often follows from pride, something which would seem to contradict what Confederate flag-waving rednecks and hillbillies are always saying the South is going to do again, at some point… ?