They would not listen, they're not listening still
Perhaps they never will.
-- Don McLean, Vincent (Starry, Starry Night)
I commend to your attention Ta-Nehisi Coates' excellent article in the Atlantic entitled "What This Cruel War Was Over -- The meaning of the Confederate flag is best discerned in the words of those who bore it." Mr. Coates is a strong and eloquent writer whose command of the subject of race + culture + history is incomparable. His facts will always be accurate and I can count on him to eschew off-ramping away from America's actual, painful history in favor of some gauzier, more comforting fairy tale,
But I would like to spare a few words to describe what Mr. Coates is doing.
You see, every few months for as long as I can remember, something terrible or cyclical or trivial kicks off another national 'round-and-'round of denial as Confederate Regime dead-enders find one occasion after another to roll out their armies of revisionists and apologists and distractionists --
In an angry call to arms just a block away from the site of the Charleston massacre, former New Black Panther Party chairman Malik Zulu Shabazz told a group of about 200 African American Charlestonians that they need to “finish the mission” of killing “slave masters” and their families
-- and just-plain-trolls to explain why the Civil War wasn't what it was, why Jim Crow wasn't what it was, why their idolatry of "heritage" should outweigh anyone's discomfort over seeing the American Swastika flying on government land and why the last 50 years never happened.
And then, ritually, we on the Left wearily pull history back off the shelf and once again lay out, clearly and carefully, why everything that comes pouring out of the Confederate Regime dead-enders' mouths is the filthiest kind of lie.
This is the national service Mr. Coates has so ably performed this week:
...Roof’s belief that black life had no purpose beyond subjugation is “sick and twisted” in the exact same manner as the beliefs of those who created the Confederate flag were “sick and twisted.” The Confederate flag is directly tied to the Confederate cause, and the Confederate cause was white supremacy. This claim is not the result of revisionism. It does not require reading between the lines. It is the plain meaning of the words of those who bore the Confederate flag across history. These words must never be forgotten. Over the next few months the word “heritage” will be repeatedly invoked. It would be derelict to not examine the exact contents of that heritage.
Here is Howard Fineman explaining for the millionth time that the Southern Strategy was a real thing that really happened and is happening still:This examination should begin in South Carolina, the site of our present and past catastrophe. South Carolina was the first state to secede, two months after the election of Abraham Lincoln. It was in South Carolina that the Civil War began, when the Confederacy fired on Fort Sumter. The state’s casus belli was neither vague nor hard to comprehend:...A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery. He is to be entrusted with the administration of the common Government, because he has declared that that “Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free,” and that the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction. This sectional combination for the submersion of the Constitution, has been aided in some of the States by elevating to citizenship, persons who, by the supreme law of the land, are incapable of becoming citizens; and their votes have been used to inaugurate a new policy, hostile to the South, and destructive of its beliefs and safety.In citing slavery, South Carolina was less an outlier than a leader, setting the tone for other states, including Mississippi...
Here is Paul Krugman, pulling on the same oar:
Yet racial hatred is still a potent force in our society, as we’ve just been reminded to our horror. And I’m sorry to say this, but the racial divide is still a defining feature of our political economy, the reason America is unique among advanced nations in its harsh treatment of the less fortunate and its willingness to tolerate unnecessary suffering among its citizens.Of course, saying this brings angry denials from many conservatives, so let me try to be cool and careful here, and cite some of the overwhelming evidence for the continuing centrality of race in our national politics....
And here, for the record, is a snip of one one of my own humble contributions to the genre (from 2010):...“Many issues of the Civil War are still being debated today,” said Brag Bowling of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, which led the push to get that proclamation in Virginia. That seems extremely depressing, as if we were Serbs stewing about what the Turks did at the Plain of Blackbirds in 1389.Actually, a national discussion of Civil War history sounds fine — as long as we could start by agreeing that the whole leaving-the-union thing was a terrible idea. In the proclamations, it generally sounds as if everything went swimmingly until the part where the South lost and grudgingly rejoined the country.Virginia has been making big leaps lately in the category of general craziness. We all remember the Legislature’s heroic work in passing a bill to protect Virginia citizens from having microchips planted in their bodies against their will. And that the sponsor said he was concerned the chips could be a “mark of the beast” that would be used by the Antichrist at the end of days.Confederate History Month was promoted by former Gov. George Allen, who was fond of Confederate flag-décor and suffered from a sense of history so imperfect that he did not discover his mother was half-Jewish until he was 54. Allen’s proclamation celebrated the Civil War as “a four-year struggle for independence, sovereign rights and local government control,” with such cheer that you would really think the fight was all about zoning....
A Brief History of Sham
The Conservative History of These United StatesChapter 1: From the Big Bang through 1964 -- When everything was awesome.Chapter 2: The 1980s -- Reagan and Jesus single-handedly destroy the Commies and Evil Big Gummint with tax cuts. (In the interest of being Fair and Balanced, this chapter includes end-notes on a crazy, discredited Leftist theory that the Commies are actually stronger than ever. That Reagan raised taxes more than any other President ever. And that Reagan left us with bigger deficits than ever.)Chapter 3: January 20, 2009 -- The Kenyan Usurper destroys American.Chapter 4: 2012 --
-- A New Hope.Sigh.What is enervating is not merely that Conservatives lie, constantly, and about almost everything: it is that they lie so fucking in-comp-e-tent-ly.This is because they long ago became a cult, living inside a hermetically sealed bell jar, forever rebreathing Rush Limbaugh’s beer farts and regurgitating RNC talking points back and forth into each other mouths.Like the slaveholding goons out of whose cultural Petri dish they crawled, they have built themselves an impenetrable welter of self-referential, self-deluding, self-aggrandizing lies behind which they hide: People who claim to know (with an Absolute Caps+LOCK Categorical Authority that only comes from a steady diet of Glenn Beck's ass pudding) the Secret Motives behind every Liberal thought and opinion and the secret Marxist plots and conspiracies behind the Kenyan Usurper's every "seemingly" Centrist move...are the same people who clearly haven't got the first fucking clue about their own movement's ridiculously well-documented history, leadership or ideology.Dixiecrats? I think I ate there once. Loved the shrimp.The Southern Strategy? Is that some sweet NASCAR move?Lee Atwater? Who ‘dat?[As aside -- on the subject of why anyone would believe that the institution of Slavery was the proximate cause of the Civil War -- I apparently need to re-print this every few months, just to keep it handy (with emphasis scattered in here and there by me in a fit of Liberal trickery):Well, the Vice President of the Confederacy sure thought so (From three years ago…)Until I finally realized that the hard-core Modern Conservative is simply not curable by facts and reason, I used to keep a copy of the “Cornerstone Speech” handy. It is the perfect Anti-Second Inaugural: one of the most famous public declarations of Confederate ideology and intent, delivered by the Vice President of the traitorous CSA himself -- Alexander H. Stephens -- on March 21, 1861.I kept it on hand as an easy and instant rebuttal to grubby, little wingnut revisionist who wanted to blat on about the abstraction of “state’s rights” being the real cause for the Civil War, and not the concrete and evil manifestation of Original American Sin that was slavery.Stephens obligingly laid that ridiculous notion to rest over 140 years ago when he said:
“The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution—African slavery as it exists amongst us—the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. Jefferson in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the "rock upon which the old Union would split." He was right. What was conjecture with him, is now a realized fact.
…”The long dead and unlamented Stephens could not possibly have been any clearer: These were butchers, terrorists and fascists who were fighting for their right to remain unapologetically malevolent and to reap the substantial economic and psychological windfalls of their evil system forever.…But what makes the speech an epic American tragedy is how its loathsome themes have remained a clear and constant refrain for the same people, fighting for some mutation of the same cause, with the same fervor almost a century and a half later.It is, for [Modern Conservatives], always a crisp, pre-battle dawn on the Plaines of Meggido, Georgia.“I was remarking that we are passing through one of the greatest revolutions in the annals of the world. Seven States have within the last three months thrown off an old government and formed a new.”And God is always on their side of their filthy enterprise.
“They [The North] were attempting to make things equal which the Creator had made unequal.”
“With us, all of the white race, however high or low, rich or poor, are equal in the eye of the law. Not so with the negro. Subordination is his place. He, by nature, or by the curse against Canaan, is fitted for that condition which he occupies in our system. The architect, in the construction of buildings, lays the foundation with the proper material-the granite; then comes the brick or the marble. The substratum of our society is made of the material fitted by nature for it, and by experience we know that it is best, not only for the superior, but for the inferior race, that it should be so. It is, indeed, in conformity with the ordinance of the Creator.”The President of the Confederacy also certainly thought so (From Jefferson Davis’ address to the Congress of the Confederate States of America, Montgomery, April 29, 1861.):... "In the meantime, under the mild and genial climate of the Southern States and the increasing care and attention for the well-being and comfort of the laboring class, dictated alike by interest and humanity, the African slaves had augmented in number from about 600,000, at the date of the adoption of the constitutional compact, to upward of 4,000,000. In moral and social condition they had been elevated from brutal savages into docile, intelligent, and civilized agricultural laborers, and supplied not only with bodily comforts but with careful religious instruction. "Under the supervision of a superior race their labor had been so directed as not only to allow a gradual and marked amelioration of their own condition, but to convert hundreds of thousands of square miles of wilderness into cultivated lands covered with a prosperous people; towns and cities had sprung into existence, and had rapidly increased in wealth and population under the social system of the South; the white population of the Southern slaveholding States had augmented form about 1,250,000 at the date of the adoption of the Constitution to more than 8,500,000 in 1860; and the productions of the South in cotton, rice, sugar, and tobacco, for the full development and continuance of which the labor of African slaves was and is indispensable, had swollen to an amount which formed nearly three-fourths of the exports of the whole United States and had become absolutely necessary to the wants of civilized man."And from Mississippi --"...Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery-- the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. ..."-- to Alabama --"...Years ago I was convinced that the Southern States would be compelled either to separate from the North, by dissolving the Federal Government, or they would be compelled to abolish the institution of African Slavery. ..."-- to Texas --"...In all the non-slave-holding States, in violation of that good faith and comity which should exist between entirely distinct nations, the people have formed themselves into a great sectional party, now strong enough in numbers to control the affairs of each of those States, based upon an unnatural feeling of hostility to these Southern States and their beneficent and patriarchal system of African slavery, proclaiming the debasing doctrine of equality of all men, irrespective of race or color-- a doctrine at war with nature, in opposition to the experience of mankind, and in violation of the plainest revelations of Divine Law. ..."-- all the Confederate states for some reason felt obliged to prominently mention Slavery in their Declaration of Causes of Seceding States.-- End of Aside.]In this sense, the Right really hasn’t changed much in the last,few decades, except that amplifiers and exploiters like Hate Radio, Regnery Press, the Moonie Times, Fox News, a dozen wingnut welfare “think tanks” and a whole tribe of political grifters and prostitutes have figured out how to generate record profits by turning the age-old demagogic trick of telling ignorant, hateful nutjobs that ignorant, hateful nutjobism is actually noble and patriotic...into a multi-billion dollar business empire.,,
In Charleston, the ground will be opened nine times, nine caskets will be lowered, prayers and farewells will be offered, and the ground will be closed again. Laying to rest these nine murdered citizens will be over in a matter of days, and so, on this sad occasion it is also proper to ask why, 150 years after the end of our American Civil War, has it been impossible to lay to rest the lies and madness which led to the murder of those nine Americans?
The answer, sadly, is that our current political system and the livelihoods of tens of thousands of professional politicians, pundits and think-tankers and the self-regard of tens of millions of our fellow Americans all still depend on the ongoing cultivation of those lies and that madness.
Which is why, year after year, very little changes. Sometimes, after a national tragedy such as the one we witnessed in Charleston, the needle will budge a little, but not very much. And that is how history usually moves: a little, but not very much.
Which is why, in addition to voting and otherwise materially supporting good causes, each time something terrible or cyclical or trivial kicks off another national 'round-and-'round of denial, it will always be our duty to set a place at the table, read the words and open the door in the hopes that one day better days will come inside and stay for good.