To see ourselves as others see us can be… disconcerting

I was kind of puzzled by a piece in The Washington Post over the weekend describing the ceremony Friday taking down the flag. An excerpt:

The elaborate ceremony Friday to remove the Confederate battle flag from the grounds of the South Carolina statehouse threatened to overshadow the very act of removing a symbol that had caused so much tension and testimony over the state of race relations in recent weeks.

The color guard, the phalanx of elected officials, and the cheering — and sometimes jeering — crowd of spectators all made the event feel at turns like both a state funeral and a pep rally. Neither seemed an entirely appropriate tone for the occasion, given the horrifying circumstances that led South Carolina lawmakers to finally retire the banner that, in spite of controversy, had defiantly held an official place of honor for more than 50 years.

Huh? The nature of the event felt perfect to me: A combination of the pomp that is sort of reflexive to Southerners and the bubbling, giddy joy at something many of us thought would never, ever happen.

Since I’m a South Carolinian, and I knew how I felt on the issue, and how lots of my fellow citizens felt, the event felt just right to me.

So I decided, as I read, that the problem was that Vanessa Williams must not be from around here. That seemed confirmed by this passage:

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) has been widely praised for leading the charge to take down the flag, even after she balked at doing so last year…

Say what? “Even after she balked last year?” Even after? That’s inside-out thinking. She was widely and happily congratulated because she hadn’t been for it before. And I’m not picking on Nikki in saying that; I am currently running for president of her fan club! No, she was never for it (as opposed to merely “balking” on one occasion) because she was a South Carolina Republican.

Which made her normal. The only South Carolina Republican I had ever heard express an interest, even halfheartedly, in getting the flag moved was Ted Pitts, years before he was the governor’s chief of staff, and he walked it back really, really quickly once the backlash hit him.

Not having been for bringing the flag down before doesn’t say anything about Nikki Haley as an individual, but the fact that she got out front on it this time very much counts to her credit — and to the credit of the great majority of Republicans who rose up and decided to do the right thing, without amendments, qualifications, ifs, ands or buts.

That’s the news here, folks. Republicans not being interested in getting the flag down has always been a dog-bites-man thing. This astounding conversion is man-bites-dog. It’s an amazing thing. And Jenny Horne’s raging speech was an amazing thing, and wonderful. This is not the kind of thing that happens to us every week.

So you bet the governor is being widely praised, and she deserves it. As do all of those Republicans who responded to her call to get this done. And if you don’t think they’re going to pay a price for it back home, and therefore don’t realize that they can use all the encouragement we can give them, then you haven’t read the comments on this Meet the Press item yesterday.

It worries me when people write about stuff, and they don’t get what’s going on, on a fundamental level…

13 thoughts on “To see ourselves as others see us can be… disconcerting

  1. Lynn Teague

    Yes indeed. Republicans who voted to take the flag down will hear about it from constituents, at the very least with threats of primary competition. Even those who supported amendments to substitute a different Confederate flag or delay action but ultimately voted to take the flag down will face anger back home. We must appreciate that.

    1. Mark Stewart

      Lynn, I don’t often disagree with you about SC politics, but I think you and the politicians have it all wrong this time. What should be appreciated is that the playing field has been reconfigured; not that politicians will be facing the same wall of what appeared as immutable truth. The “truth” itself has been flipped. That is a permanent alteration of the political/social landscape.

      Those who voted for the amendment will not have to explain their vote to the electorate. Those who blow the dog whistle, however, will instead find apathetic listeners; not all of course, but a clear majority. Even among Republican primary voters in 2016 This will hold true I would be willing to wager today.

      The direct, relevant, parallel as I see it is with the demise of the mob as a political force. The same servile mentality is at play among Confederate flag sympathizers and other apologists. Yes, the hard core flag advocates are still out there – and within the legislature. They always will be, most likely. Their power, however, has been negated.

      I moved to SC in 2004. Even then I felt that the people were ready for the flag to come down, but were resigned to the politicians being in the pocket of the flag advocates. It took this long, and this Charleston tragedy (and its graceful aftermath), for the politicians to realize that their servility to the flag advocates was what really gave the advocates power. Once the politicians were convinced that they could cast off their yokes it was a done deal.

      1. Lynn Teague

        We don’t disagree on a statewide level, just on how complete the shift in public attitudes has been. I definitely agree that there has been a major change on a statewide level, and that flag proponents have lost much of the power that they had in this state as public attitudes have changed – finally, at long last. South Carolina as a whole has changed, decisively. However, legislators are concerned about their own districts and their own voters, and at the voters who are highly motivated in those districts. I posted on Facebook a map from the 1947 McDavid study of linguistic variation and lynching in South Carolina, along with a map of those voting against taking the flag down. The areas that were most prone to lynching in the early 20th century are the same areas that produced votes against taking the flag down: basically a strip through the upcountry, Horry County, and a strip running from Lexington over to the Savannah. The differences in attitude within South Carolina are very deeply embedded. What is wonderfully true on a statewide level, that South Carolina has broken free of legislative servility to flag advocates, is not true in every district, and that is what matters most to politicians.

        1. Kathryn Fenner

          Some of the pro-flag deference may have been Wikiality, as Stephen Colbert dubbed it. Something that is true b/c enough people believe it is true. Did David Beasley get ditched b/c of SCV voters? Maybe. Will non-SCV voters turn out now that the scales have fallen from their eyes and they can no longer exist in denial? I hope so.

        2. Kathryn Fenner

          I am curious about the Aiken no votes. I am from there. Do you suppose it is b/c of some blowback b/c of all the folks from away–first the winter colony, then the SRS educated transplants and now, wealthy retirees? I know that growing up, I was snobbish about the original, long-time southerners. I can imagine they felt it frequently.

  2. Kathryn Fenner

    Yes, national media coverage missed it, as far as I have read.
    I’ve heard “pomp and circumstance” thrown around–really? a color guard–no music, no speeches.

  3. David Carlton

    Bizarre, indeed. I was dumbfounded at the spartan simplicity of the ceremony. Not a single speech? No mutual back-slapping? Careful attempts to avoid what could have been a inflammatory situation? Who’d a thought? Yes, the crowd was a little rowdy, in a good-natured way; guess they didn’t realize their performance would be reviewed by a drama critic.
    Actually, I think this stems from the long-trending practice of confusing political reporting with theater criticism, going back to when Maureen Dowd and Frank Rich teamed up to cover the 1992 Democratic Convention. A lot of politics *is* theater, of course–but this sort of snark utterly fails in the face of plain old spontaneity.

  4. Bill

    They got it right.’We’ brought a flag down over nine dead bodies,but lack the insight to realize we’re redneck bigots,too

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