No Longer May It Wave!

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So there’s a reason for the grotesque fact that even as the US and South Carolina flags were lowered to half-mast in recognition of the murderous terrorist attack on Emanuel AME Church, the Confederate Battle Flag in front of the Statehouse continued to fly at its full height (per Schuyler Kropf of the Charleston Post and Courier):

Officials said the reason why the flag has not been touched is that its status is outlined, by law, as being under the protected purview of the full S.C. Legislature, which controls if and when it comes down.

State law reads, in part, the state “shall ensure that the flags authorized above shall be placed at all times as directed in this section and shall replace the flags at appropriate intervals as may be necessary due to wear.”

The protection was added by supporters of the flag to keep it on display as an officially recognized memorial to South Carolinians who fought in the Civil War.

So it would take a full act of the legislature to bring the Confederate flag down.

I tell you what: If I were in charge of the Statehouse grounds, I’d be real tempted to bring down that flag to half-mast and defy anyone to do anything about it. But then if it were really up to me this emblem of treason and racism would be pulled all the way down, permanently, and consigned to a museum. We’ve just witnessed another deadly data point for burying the Lost Cause beneath a mountain of opprobrium so high and so heavy that it will be no more acceptable an emblem for gun-toting “loners” and “drifters” than a swastika.

Ta-Nehisi Coates is demanding that step as a small token of historical honesty in the service of long-delayed justice for African-Americans. I’m demanding it even more basically as a gesture of southern self-respect. No, we cannot ensure that people like Dylann Roof won’t find inspiration in the Confederacy for the evil in his heart. But we can deny him respectable company. That’s particularly important in South Carolina, where the disastrous moral and material failure of the Confederacy began.

UPDATE: WaPo’s Justin Moyer adds two details to the flag story: (1) the law protecting the Confederate Battle Flag stipulates that it can only be repealed by a two-thirds vote (!); and (2) the flag on the Statehouse grounds is not raised and lowered daily on pulleys, but is permanently affixed to the flag pole.

This doesn’t move me much. Just as the flag was attached to the pole at some point, it can be unattached, and if the whole rig doesn’t allow for half-mast displays, the people of South Carolina can do without a Confederate Battle Flag for a few days or weeks.

As for the law: again, who’s going to enforce it if Nikki Haley orders the flag down? There’s also something inherently screwy about legal protections for a symbol of rebellion and lawlessness.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.