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“Take Down The Confederate Flag—Now”: The Heritage Of White Supremacy Endorsing Violence

Last night, Dylann Roof walked into a Charleston church, sat for an hour, and then killed nine people. Roof’s crime cannot be divorced from the ideology of white supremacy which long animated his state nor from its potent symbol—the Confederate flag. Visitors to Charleston have long been treated to South Carolina’s attempt to clean its history and depict its secession as something other than a war to guarantee the enslavement of the majority of its residents. This notion is belied by any serious interrogation of the Civil War and the primary documents of its instigators. Yet the Confederate battle flag—the flag of Dylann Roof—still flies on the Capitol grounds in Columbia.

The Confederate flag’s defenders often claim it represents “heritage not hate.” I agree—the heritage of White Supremacy was not so much birthed by hate as by the impulse toward plunder. Dylann Roof plundered nine different bodies last night, plundered nine different families of an original member, plundered nine different communities of a singular member. An entire people are poorer for his action. The flag that Roof embraced, which many South Carolinians embrace, does not stand in opposition to this act—it endorses it. That the Confederate flag is the symbol of of white supremacists is evidenced by the very words of those who birthed it:

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth…

This moral truth—“that the negro is not equal to the white man”—is exactly what animated Dylann Roof. More than any individual actor, in recent history, Roof honored his flag in exactly the manner it always demanded—with human sacrifice.

Surely the flag’s defenders will proffer other, muddier, interpretations which allow them the luxury of looking away. In this way they honor their ancestors. Cowardice, too, is heritage. When white supremacist John Wilkes Booth assassinated Abraham Lincoln 150 years ago, Booth’s fellow travelers did all they could to disassociate themselves. “Our disgust for the dastardly wretch can scarcely be uttered,” fumed a former governor of South Carolina, the state where secession began. Robert E. Lee’s armies took special care to enslave free blacks during their Northern campaign. But Lee claimed the assassination of the Great Emancipator was “deplorable.” Jefferson Davis believed that “it could not be regarded otherwise than as a great misfortune to the South,” and angrily denied rumors that he had greeted the news with exultation.

Villain though he was, Booth was a man who understood the logical conclusion of Confederate rhetoric:


Right or wrong. God judge me, not man. For be my motive good or bad, of one thing I am sure, the lasting condemnation of the North.

I love peace more than life. Have loved the Union beyond expression. For four years have I waited, hoped and prayed for the dark clouds to break, and for a restoration of our former sunshine. To wait longer would be a crime. All hope for peace is dead. My prayers have proved as idle as my hopes. God’s will be done. I go to see and share the bitter end….

I have ever held the South were right. The very nomination of ABRAHAM LINCOLN, four years ago, spoke plainly, war—war upon Southern rights and institutions….

This country was formed for the white, not for the black man. And looking upon African Slavery from the same stand-point held by the noble framers of our constitution. I for one, have ever considered if one of the greatest blessings (both for themselves and us,) that God has ever bestowed upon a favored nation. Witness heretofore our wealth and power; witness their elevation and enlightenment above their race elsewhere. I have lived among it most of my life, and have seen less harsh treatment from master to man than I have beheld in the North from father to son. Yet, Heaven knows, no one would be willing to do more for the negro race than I, could I but see a way to still better their condition.

By 1865, the Civil War had morphed into a war against slavery—the “cornerstone” of Confederate society. Booth absorbed his lesson too well. He did not violate some implicit rule of Confederate chivalry or politesse. He accurately interpreted the cause of Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee, men who were too weak to truthfully address that cause’s natural end.

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.

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.


By: Ta-Nehist Coates, The Atlantic, June 18, 2015

June 19, 2015 Posted by | Civil War, Confederacy, White Supremacy | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Tea Party Will Never Understand The Constitution”: What The Right Misses About Its Favorite Document

With the 2016 election cycle having kicked into first-gear already, any American who hasn’t inured themselves to the monotonous (and often ultimately meaningless) repetition of the word “Constitution” is advised to get to self-desensitizing — and quick.

Sens. Rand Paul and Ted Cruz have already made a fetishized version of the U.S.’s supreme governing document central to their campaign rhetoric; and even politicians less beloved by the supposedly Constitution-crazy Tea Party, like Jeb Bush or Hillary Clinton, are likely to soon follow suit. That’s how American politics functions now, in the era of the NSA, Guantanamo Bay, lethal drone strikes and endless war.

But as that list of questionable policies suggests, there’s an unanswered question lurking behind so much of our happy talk about the Constitution — namely, do we even understand it? As dozens of polls and public surveys will attest, the answer is, not really. And that’s one of the reasons that Yale Law School professor Akhil Reed Amar has decided to write a multi-book series about the Constitution so many Americans claim to love, but so few seem to understand. “The Law of the Land: A Grand Tour of our Constitutional Republic,” released earlier this month, is that project’s latest addition.

Recently, Salon spoke over the phone with Amar about the Constitution, his books, and why he sees Abraham Lincoln as perhaps the United States’s real founding father. Our conversation is below and has been edited for clarity and length.

So this book is part of a larger, multi-book project on the Constitution. The first was a biography of the document, the second was about its “unwritten” provisions, and this is the third. What’s your focus this time?

The third book in this project is a geographical slicing of the story; ours is a vast republic of massive diversity, and the Constitution looks a little different in different states and regions. I try to show all of that that through 12 stories … each of which says something general about the United States Constitution but does so through the window of a particular state. It discusses a person or an idea or a case or an event particularly associated with that region that also casts light, more generally, on our Constitutional project.

So how did what you call “brute geography” influence the way we understand the Constitution today?

The very breadth of the American landmass and its distance from the old world were huge elements in the American founding and in the Civil War experience. The idea of creating an indivisible union in the 1780s, the idea of forming a more perfect union, was an idea powerfully influenced by these two geographic factors: a wide moat between the Old World and the New World (known as the Atlantic Ocean) would be able to protect Americans from Old World tyranny in the same way the English Channel protected Britain from much of the militarism of the European Continent…

But in 1787, as Americans looked around the world, they saw that Britain was free, and Britain was free because England and Scotland had merged, had formed an indivisible, perfect union that would protect liberty because they had gotten rid of land borders on the island and only needed a navy to protect themselves. That worked for England and that would work for America even better, because we’d have an English Channel times 50.

This will become manifest destiny and the Monroe Doctrine; we’ll control our hemisphere and we’ll be protected from Europe … Our Constitution largely succeeds because there’s no major standing army in peacetime for most of American history, and that fact is created by some brute geographic realities.

I’m speaking to you now right around the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s assassination. He looms very large in your book; you describe him in some ways as almost prophetic. What made Lincoln’s understanding of the country and the Constitution so profound?

We live in Lincoln’s house. The Framers’ house was divided against itself; and, because of slavery, it fell. That failure is called the Civil War, and Lincoln rebuilt [the country] on a solid anti-slavery foundation, a foundation that would be strengthened after his death by the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment (which abolished slavery everywhere, irrevocably), the Fourteenth Amendment (which promised racial equality) and the Fifteenth Amendment (which promised equal voting rights).

I begin the book with Lincoln because he transformed the Union. He saved it and transformed it and … his story was very much influenced by, literally, where he came from. He has a vision of the Constitution that’s very much influenced by Illinois, in particular, and by the Midwest more generally. He comes from a part of the country that was the Northwest Territory, that was always free soil even before the Constitution, and he has a very free-soil vision.

How so?

The language of the 13th Amendment is borrowed, word-for-word, from the language of the Northwest Ordinance. Lincoln thinks that the nation created the states, which, of course, Robert E. Lee … could never buy into. Robert E. Lee would say that the states created the Union; but the Midwest [perspective] would say … before Illinois was a state, it was a territory; the Union created these new states out of nothing. That’s a very Midwestern perspective on the Constitution.

Lincoln is, far and away, the most important constitutional decision-maker of the last two centuries; and arguably the most important constitutional decision-maker and interpreter ever.

But Lincoln was never a judge nor a constitutional scholar. He was a politician.

Most people are taught in high school that the most important constitutional decision is Marbury v. Madison, but that’s not even the most important constitutional decision of 1803. The Louisiana Purchase was far more important than Marbury v. Madison, because it doubled the landmass of America and made sure that the country would survive. When you understand that, you understand that many important constitutional decisions are made not by judges but by presidents.

The two most important constitutional decisions ever are Lincoln’s decision to resist [the South’s] unilateral secession, and Lincoln’s decision to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, which would lead to an end of slavery — that is transformative, and Lincoln made those decisions unilaterally as president. Had these issues reached the U.S. Supreme Court, controlled as it was [during Lincoln’s time] by Roger Taney, a fierce opponent of Lincoln, the Court might very well have tried to invalidate Lincoln’s projects.

We live in a Constitution utterly transformed by the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments, and we would have none of those but for Lincoln.

Lincoln aside, though, you also argue that geography has played a big role in the Supreme Court — which, of course, is supposed to be the chief interpreter of the Constitution. How did geography influence the Court’s history?

Let’s take the most infamous judicial ruling of all time, the Dred Scott decision of 1857. It emerges from a Supreme Court that’s profoundly malapportioned: five of the nine justices on the Dred Scott court come from the slave-holding South, even though only a third of the population lives in that region.

Part of that is because entire antebellum system is skewed towards the South because of the three-fifths clause, which gives slave states extra clout in the House of Representatives and therefore the Electoral College. Presidents are picking justices, and the presidency tilts towards the South because of the three-fifths clause; almost all your early presidents are either slave-holding Southerners or “Northern men of Southern sympathies” — that is, pro-slavery Northerners.

If we view the Constitution and American history with more of a focus on the role played by geography, what are some the implications for U.S. politics today and in the near-future?

One of the things I’m trying to tell you in this book is how we can see presidential elections and our political polarization in new ways if we’re attentive to states and regions.

Our parties are polarized geographically; that this is not the first time that’s so (early on, it was the South against the North; Jefferson against Adams). The geographic alignment is remarkably similar to the geographic alignment in Lincoln’s time with this interesting twist: the Democrats have become the party of the North and the coasts and the Republicans have become the party of the former Confederacy. The parties have basically flipped, but it’s the same basic alignment…

One of the other big things I want you to see is how regions and states are hugely important in, for example, presidential politics. I talk about the significance in this book, in particular, of Ohio and Florida in the Electoral College and also of Texas. Is it a coincidence that Marco Rubio comes from Florida? That Jeb Bush is the governor of Florida who was born in Texas and whose father and brother had their political bases in Texas? That Rand Paul was born in Texas and his father ran for president from Texas? That Ted Cruz is from Texas? That Rick Perry is a former governor of Texas?


By: Elias Isquith, Salon, April 21, 2015

April 22, 2015 Posted by | Tea Party, U. S. Constitution, U. S. Supreme Court | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Lose That Cause”: Don’t Name Streets Or Army Bases For Confederate Leaders

Alexandria, Va., is finally getting around to deinstitutionalizing the celebration of Confederate military leaders – maybe the U.S. Army can get around to following suit?

I probably shouldn’t be surprised, but I have to admit to being taken aback when I learned – thanks to the Old Town Alexandria Patch – that the city where I reside still has a law on its books requiring that when streets are named, those “running in a generally north-south direction shall, insofar as possible, bear the names of confederate military leaders.”

I understand that the Confederacy generates a certain amount of romanticism down here below the Mason-Dixon line, but let’s keep some perspective: This was a cause dedicated (a) to preserving the right to own other human beings as chattel and (b) to violently overthrowing the United States government and sundering this country. The idea that we should honor the leaders of this attempt to destroy the United States is offensive and absurd. It boggles my mind that I live a stone’s throw from Jefferson Davis Highway and just a few minutes’ drive from (Robert E.) Lee Highway.

As the Patch’s Drew Hansen notes, the bit of municipal code in question was enacted during the 1950s when legal segregation was entering its final, dismal throes. And good for Alexandria Councilman Justin Wilson for introducing an ordinance which would repeal the Confederate naming mandate. (His bill would also take off the books Alexandria’s law against unwed couples living together.)

Hopefully when the council considers this bill later this week, the South won’t rise again. And maybe the U.S. Army will take note.

As an anonymous active-duty U.S. Army officer argued in a guest post at Tom Ricks’ blog, it’s “ridiculous” and “absurd” that U.S. Army bases bear the names of Confederate generals. These men, after all, led troops in battle against U.S. forces. Ricks’ anonymous correspondent in turn refers back to a New York Times op-ed by Jamie Malanowski from last spring detailing the list of Confederate-named bases. Malanowski wrote:

Yes – the United States Army maintains bases named after generals who led soldiers who fought and killed United States Army soldiers; indeed, who may have killed such soldiers themselves. Only a couple of the officers are famous. Fort Lee, in Virginia, is of course named for Robert E. Lee, a man widely respected for his integrity and his military skills. Yet, as the documentarian Ken Burns has noted, he was responsible for the deaths of more Army soldiers than Hitler and Tojo. … Now African-Americans make up about a fifth of the military. The idea that today we ask any of these soldiers to serve at a place named for a defender of a racist slavocracy is deplorable; the thought that today we ask any American soldier to serve at a base named for someone who killed United States Army troops is beyond absurd. Would we have a Fort Rommel? A Camp Cornwallis?

Seriously. Let’s honor American heroes with our streets and military installations, not people who tried to destroy this country.


By: Robert Schlesinger, U. S. News and World Report, January 21, 2014

January 22, 2014 Posted by | Confederacy | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Misplaced Honor”: Whitewashing The Actions Of The Rebels

In the complex and not entirely complete process of reconciliation after the Civil War, honoring the dead with markers, tributes and ceremonies has played a crucial role. Some of these gestures, like Memorial Day, have been very successful. The practice of decorating the graves arose in many towns, north and south, some even before the war had ended. This humble idea quickly spread throughout the country, and the recognition of common loss helped reconcile North and South.

But other gestures had a more political edge. Equivalence of experience was stretched to impute an equivalence of legitimacy. The idea that “now, we are all Americans” served to whitewash the actions of the rebels. The most egregious example of this was the naming of United States Army bases after Confederate generals.

Today there are at least 10 of them. Yes — the United States Army maintains bases named after generals who led soldiers who fought and killed United States Army soldiers; indeed, who may have killed such soldiers themselves.

Only a couple of the officers are famous. Fort Lee, in Virginia, is of course named for Robert E. Lee, a man widely respected for his integrity and his military skills. Yet, as the documentarian Ken Burns has noted, he was responsible for the deaths of more Army soldiers than Hitler and Tojo. John Bell Hood, for whom Fort Hood, Tex., is named, led a hard-fighting brigade known for ferocious straight-on assaults. During these attacks, Hood lost the use of an arm at Gettysburg and a leg at Chickamauga, but he delivered victories, at least for a while. Later, when the gallant but tactically inflexible Hood launched such assaults at Nashville and Franklin, Tenn., his armies were smashed.

Fort Benning in Georgia is named for Henry Benning, a State Supreme Court associate justice who became one of Lee’s more effective subordinates. Before the war, this ardent secessionist inflamed fears of abolition, which he predicted would inevitably lead to black governors, juries, legislatures and more. “Is it to be supposed that the white race will stand for that?” Benning wrote. “We will be overpowered and our men will be compelled to wander like vagabonds all over the earth, and as for our women, the horrors of their state we cannot contemplate in imagination.”

Another installation in Georgia, Fort Gordon, is named for John B. Gordon, one of Lee’s most dependable commanders in the latter part of the war. Before Fort Sumter, Gordon, a lawyer, defended slavery as “the hand-maid of civil liberty.” After the war, he became a United States senator, fought Reconstruction, and is generally thought to have headed the Ku Klux Klan in Georgia. He “may not have condoned the violence employed by Klan members,” says his biographer, Ralph Lowell Eckert, “but he did not question or oppose it when he felt it was justified.”

Not all the honorees were even good generals; many were mediocrities or worse. Braxton Bragg, for whom Fort Bragg in North Carolina is named, was irascible, ineffective, argumentative with subordinates and superiors alike, and probably would have been replaced before inflicting half the damage that he caused had he and President Jefferson Davis not been close friends. Fort Polk in Louisiana is named after Rev. Leonidas Polk, who abandoned his military career after West Point for the clergy. He became an Episcopal bishop, owned a large plantation and several hundred slaves, and joined the Confederate Army when the war began. His frequently disastrous service ended when he was split open by a cannonball. Fort Pickett in Virginia is named after the flamboyant George Pickett, whose division was famously decimated at Gettysburg. Pickett was accused of war crimes for ordering the execution of 22 Union prisoners; his defense was that they had all deserted from the Confederate Army, and he was not tried.

Other Confederate namesakes include Fort A.P. Hill in Virginia, Fort Rucker in Alabama and Camp Beauregard in Louisiana. All these installations date from the buildups during the world wars, and naming them in honor of a local military figure was a simple choice. But that was a time when the Army was segregated and our views about race more ignorant. Now African-Americans make up about a fifth of the military. The idea that today we ask any of these soldiers to serve at a place named for a defender of a racist slavocracy is deplorable; the thought that today we ask any American soldier to serve at a base named for someone who killed United States Army troops is beyond absurd. Would we have a Fort Rommel? A Camp Cornwallis?

Changing the names of these bases would not mean that we can’t still respect the service of those Confederate leaders; nor would it mean that we are imposing our notions of morality on people of a long-distant era. What it would mean is that we’re upholding our own convictions. It’s time to rename these bases. Surely we can find, in the 150 years since the Civil War, 10 soldiers whose exemplary service not only upheld our most important values, but was actually performed in the defense of the United States.

By: James Malanowski, Contributor, The New York Times’s Disunion, The New York Times, May 25, 2013

May 27, 2013 Posted by | Civil War | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Government Shutdown: A Hostile Act Against A Civil Society By A “Band Of Rebels”

Shutting down the federal government is a hostile act against civil society.

The Civil War started 150 years ago in April 1861, and we are still getting over it, still talking about it, still writing about it. Some in the South have still not made peace with the end of the Civil War and hold fast to “heroes,” notably General Robert E. Lee. President Abraham Lincoln showed what he thought of Lee when he seized Arlington, Lee’s stately home and slave plantation across the Potomac River, and started burying the dead Union soldiers in the ground there.

Lincoln’s message could not be clearer: Leading an assault on the Union was not a Sunday picnic in the country. Serious consequences followed, hitting home.

Now we have a band of rebels—87 of them newcomers—in the House Republican majority, who are fixin’ for a fight. Spoiling to see the Capitol Dome go dark. Acting as if that’s the mission, the reason they crossed lines to come into the heart of the enemy. Washington is a staging ground for their defiant anger at the Union. The republic is under a new kind of siege.

If they have their way, the federal government will be closed this time next week, not what we need right now with so many American households hanging by a thread. 

Now a few facts to concentrate the mind. First, the Tea Party is part of the problem. But hold the whole lot of House Republicans and their leaders responsible. If there are any grown-ups in the House, they are allowing their most radical element, unschooled freshmen, to dominate in a delicate showdown looming with the Senate and the White House.

Second, remember the Senate is controlled by a Democratic majority, a fact conveniently forgotten by the lower chamber, whose members often brag about the last election. The 2010 outcome was actually an evenly divided government, with a Democratic president to play his part in final outcomes, laws, and budgets. That’s the way it should be, if Senate Democrats and President Obama will only stand up to the rebels.

Third, the scope of the House Republican “defunding” demands is tantamount to waging war on our civil society as we know it. I don’t mean just NPR. Some of the priceless “commons” are at risk, in the proposed degradation of environmental programs. Social programs like family planning and women’s health are on the chopping block in an offensive against women’s health and reproductive rights. Chris Van Hollen, a House Democrat from Maryland, reads it right: Across the aisle is an extreme agenda to impose a right-wing ideology on town and country, using budget cuts as a vehicle.

Fourth and finally, whether $33 billion or $60 billion is cut from the budget, it will be too much. For the collective health of the nation, either number is like going on a diet when you’re starving. It’s really no use the two congressional chambers meeting in the middle, because the rebels can say they won the day—and they might be “right” in more ways than one. They skewed the debate by passing their draconian budget early and talking it up every day since.

What the GOP House freshmen lack in knowledge, they make up with sophomoric enthusiasm. They are so gung ho to camp out in the dark. Remembering Lincoln, don’t let the rebels take over and turn the lights out on us.

By: Jamie Stiehm, U.S. News and World Report, April 4, 2011

April 5, 2011 Posted by | Democracy, Federal Budget, Government Shut Down, Health Care, Ideologues, Politics, President Obama, Senate, Teaparty, Women's Health | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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