The Great Gifting

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July 7, 2015 9:19 a.m.
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When did the final moment come in your mind? There are so many contenders. For me it’s the cultural destruction of the Dukes of Hazzard or perhaps the announced decision of golfer Bubba Watson, who bought the original ‘General Lee’, that he will paint over the Confederate Flag on the 1969 Dodge Charger’s roof and replace it with an American flag. But whatever the breakthrough moment is, there’s no way not to stand in awe at the rapidity of the change. Across the country, or more specifically across the South, one-time supporters of the Confederate flag, supporters of flying it over state capitols or in other places of reverence, have suddenly decided that the flag’s day is done. But there’s a parallel movement afoot.

In the days since South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley got the ball rolling with her decision to support removing the flag from the state capitol, there’s been something else going in the North or at least in parts of the country outside the former Confederacy.

First there was GOP State Central Committee member Scott Veley of Berlin, Connecticut who started flying the Confederate flag outside his home. Veley said he was flying the flag so as “not give in to this Politically Correct absurdity — Flying the ‘Stars & Bars today in protest.” To their credit, state Republicans roundly condemned him. Then there was the firefighter in Minnesota who got in trouble for flying the flag on a fire engine in a Fourth of July parade. “I’m sick of the politically correctness,” said Brian Nielsen, “because they are trying to change too much in the United States. Me raising that flag had nothing to do with slavery. It had nothing to do with disrespect towards our vets. It was more of a statement against the PC.”

Though flag critics are right that the flag is inseparable from the history of slavery and white supremacy (indeed, its 20th century prominence is directly tied to being a symbol of ‘massive resistance’ to integration), there has always been a tension between the flag’s role as a symbol of sectional identity and explicit attachment to white supremacy. But with worthies like Veley and Nielsen in action we’re seeing something either genuinely new or at least with a decidedly new prominence: the flag shorn of all sectional affiliation, perhaps even a specific connection to slavery and boiled down to a pure, unalloyed expression of trans-sectional rightwing assholery.

Things reached full flower yesterday when Marine Corps vet Jon Ritzheimer staged an armed protest with his friends in front of an Arizona Walmart over the store’s decision to stop selling Confederate flag merchandise. (In case you’re wondering, no, Arizona was not part of the Confederacy.) Ritzheimer and Co. waved the Confederate flag and the U.S. flag to chants of U-S-A, U-S-A, etc.

Remember that name? Right. Ritzheimer was last seen staging a Muhammad cartoon drawing contest outside the Arizona mosque frequented by the two men who tried and failed to shoot up Pam Geller’s Muhammad cartoon drawing contest in Garland, Texas and later begging for $10 million to protect his family and/or run against John McCain for Senate.

History is full of cultural appropriations, one symbol dropped or dying a natural death with one group then picked up by another with a new meaning. Here the meaning isn’t that different, admittedly. But it is distinct. Here we have the cultural conservatives of the South surrendering up their beloved symbol and bequeathing it to these men of the North and non-South as a new symbol of right-wing assholedom entirely cut off from history and region.

Late Update: We have yet another example.–dk

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