Moral cowardice requires choice and action. It demands that its adherents repeatedly look away, that they favor the fanciful over the plain, myth over history, the dream over the real. Here is another choice.That's not going to happen. It's not going to happen in Fox-addled red America, where racism, if anything, has new respectability, reframed as a rebuke to a black president and rank-and-file social justice activists who are said to be the real bigots. It's not going to happen at a time when Republicans nationwide agree that the appropriate way for them to govern is to enforce ideological purity rather than work with liberals and moderates. It's just not going to happen -- at least not on the initiative of the people who run South Carolina now, or who are likely to run it in the near future.
Take down the flag. Take it down now.
Put it in a museum. Inscribe beneath it the years 1861-2015. Move forward. Abandon this charlatanism. Drive out this cult of death and chains. Save your lovely souls. Move forward. Do it now.
The only way it might happen is if outraged Americans impose an economic penalty for keeping the flag aloft. That's how the flag was moved from the Capitol dome fifteen years ago:
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People first threatened economic sanctions against South Carolina, aimed at forcing the Confederate battle flag's removal from the Statehouse, in 1994. That same year Columbia Mayor Bob Coble sued to force the flag's removal.The state lost some business, and that got through to some in the state's government. But there was still strong support for the flag. (Governor Beasley lost a reelection bid in 1998, and a major reason for that loss was his opposition to flying the flag.)
After efforts by Coble and by Gov. David Beasley failed to bring down the flag, in 1999 the National NAACP called for a tourism boycott of South Carolina, and some groups responded by cancelling conventions and meetings in the state. The boycott took hold in 2000, prompting rallies at the Statehouse by the opposing sides.
In 2000, a compromise was reached:
... as sporting events were being canceled due to the boycott, lawmakers led by then-senators Glenn McConnell and Robert Ford, of Charleston, crafted a compromise. The seemingly odd couple -- McConnell, a white Republican and Civil War buff, and Ford, a black Democrat and civil rights activist -- agreed that the flag would be moved, and the state would recognize both Confederate Memorial Day and Martin Luther King Jr. Day as holidays.It was a big fight, and it resulted in only a partial victory for anti-flag forces. So we need to finish the job.
Since then, lawmakers have taken the position that the battle flag controversy was settled.
Progressives were very quick to announce boycotts of Indiana earlier this year when the state enacted its anti-gay Religious Freedom Restoration Act. So why not revive a widespread South Carolina boycott right now? When is the right time, if not at this moment?
It would be an ugly fight. It would inspire a nasty backlash. But we elected a black president twice. Maybe now we could resist the force of that backlash.
Effects of the original boycott are still being felt, but the effectiveness is limited. (The NCAA still bans tournament games in South Carolina, but bent the rules to permit one this year.)
So let's bring the boycott back, full force.
And while I'm no fan of South Carolina's governor, Nikki Haley, I'll note that the 2000 compromise left her literally unable to lower the flag yesterday, under state law, as Slate's Rachel Gross notes:
... in 2000, the state passed a bill banning the Confederate flag from being flown over the State House dome as well as in the chambers of the Senate and House of Representatives. It was moved to the south side of the Confederate Soldier Monument, where it stands now. Along with the move came a new statute. “This flag must be flown on a flagpole located at a point on the south side of the Confederate Soldier Monument, centered on the monument, ten feet from the base of the monument at a height of thirty feet,” it reads.The 2000 compromise is woefully inadequate. So let's finish the job. Let's boycott the damn state.
What that means is that in South Carolina, the Confederate flag abides by its own rules. While governors -- as well as the president -- can usually order that all state and national flags within their jurisdiction be flown at half-staff, this one is exempt. Instead, the Confederate flag’s location can be changed only by a two-thirds vote by both branches of the General Assembly. "In South Carolina, the governor does not have legal authority to alter the flag,” said a press secretary for Haley. “Only the General Assembly can do that."
UPDATE: If you think a twinge of conscience will strike South Carolina anytime soon, read this.