After the Charleston Church shooting last year Confederate Flags and iconography suffered tremendous backlash. Most notable of which was the removal of the Confederate Battle Flag (CBF) from the grounds of the South Carolina State House. Naturally, with every backlash comes the counter-backlash. One year later in the midst of a Presidential election, the flag and those that wield it have found a new ally…Donald Trump.
A recent article at POLITICO noted the apparent correlation between the rise of the flag and the rise of Trump. The CBF and Trump have an interesting relationship. In the wake of the Charleston shooting, Trump joined many commentators on both sides of the aisle in urging the flag’s removal. Later in the year, the Trump campaign officials kicked a man carrying a Confederate Flag out of a campaign event. [Granted, Trump officials later suggested the man was a “rat,” or some sort of Democratic plant]. However, Trump’s condemnation seems to be rather short lived. Aside from allegedly tweeting support for the Confederate Flag, Trump has remained silent on the flag issue since last year. In that time, support for Trump among the flag waving community has grown.
It should come as no surprise that proponents of the Confederate Flag usually fall in the neo-conservative spectrum of political ideology. More often than not, the “Southern Heritage” advocates who carry the flag run afoul of presentism, with the flag representing their current political beliefs more than history. Trump’s vitriolic message resonates with these “flaggers.” His message that America is too “politically correct,” depicts a government as corrupt, elitist, and out of touch with the American public. A message which smacks of 19th century populism. Trump’s message against political correctness is typically linked to inflammatory remarks towards minorities, women, immigrants, and the LGBT community. His bigoted statements at public rallies and on social media are almost always defended and quickly passed over. In the midst of this message, we find the Confederate Flag, casting its racist legacy over the campaign. The author of the POLITICO article states that:
That fog of meaning that inherently comes with the Confederate battle flag now is extending to Trump’s presidential campaign. For every white supremacist he retweets, every mumble-mouthed disclaimer of racists, the murk around him grows thicker.
In that respect, the debate over the Confederate flag echoes in many ways the larger debate over Trump’s candidacy. When he criticizes the judge in the Trump University case, Gonzalo Curiel, for for his “Mexican” heritage, is Trump practicing “textbook racism,” the phrase used by his fellow Republican, House Speaker Paul Ryan? Many Americans would probably say so. And yet to Trump’s supporters, he’s getting an unfair rap for simply defying what they see as a PC culture that has unfairly demonized a part of their history.
Trump reassures us that “[he’s] the least racist person,” but his stances certainly attract a lot of racists to be sure; support that Trump readily accepts. It’s of little wonder that a message of hate inspires so many to wield a symbol of hate.
Yesterday at cwmemory.com, Kevin Levin blogged that he has had it with those who wield the Confederate Flag, In his post Levin stated:
I am finished with innocently approaching people who fly Confederate battle flags to inquire into their motivation. From now on I am going to assume the worst or at least that its display has nothing to do with remembering a Confederate ancestor or the soldiers more generally. In fact, the vast majority of stories that I have tracked over the past year, involving the Confederate battle flag, have nothing directly to do with history.
As long as people use such a toxic symbol in order to embrace such an inflammatory demagogue in political discourse, why should anyone assume anything but the worse?