Old Ghosts in the Grand (cough) Old Party

As an aesthetic object, the Confederate battle flag is kind of cool, what with that vivid blue field and the concise yet assertive “X” of stars. Its worth to civilization ends there, however, because it was flown by traitors and villains who sought to destroy the American republic so that some rich people could keep making money from an abomination. Even as a Southern boy, raised along the Virginia-West Virginia border, I have to say, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson and their men betrayed the country. Yet you still get dongs like this guy, people who don’t seem to grasp that flying that flag means you don’t like America.

But as a Southern boy raised inside that ridge-and-valley moonshine truckstop range of the east Appalachians, dongs like that guy don’t surprise me. At least twenty cars in my high school’s parking lot (school pop. 950) had the Stars and Bars somewhere: on a bumper sticker or a rear window, tied around an antenna, on a trucker hat jammed on the dash, or translated via a custom horn blast. One could arrange for “Dixie” to sound whenever you leaned on your used F-150’s wheel: DOH I WISH I was in the land of DERP DERP.

Yeah, I know. Real catchy. I’m sure the ninety or so black students at my school liked it even more than I did, given that the near-universal understanding of Confederate paraphernalia is something along the lines of “I’m a country person who doesn’t much like nonwhites who aren’t from the country.”

While most Tea Party . . . uh, people . . . won’t do anything so crass, the Republican Party’s reactionary mood that they’ve stoked and embodied has roots in some gross racialized politics, as Jelani Cobb points out over at the New Yorker: “The Tea Party–inspired eruptions that have recurred throughout Obama’s Presidency represent something more complicated than a reactionary backlash to the sight of a black President; they are a product of the way he so tidily represents the disparate strands of social history that brought us to this impasse. The problem isn’t that there’s a black President; it’s that the country has changed in ways that made Obama’s election possible.” She’s one of their best new writers. Go read now, you.

Nativist racial angles aside, the Tea Party–deeply white, very rural–is appalling in another way, one that is ultimately more dangerous than simple wailing about the Kenyan guy and his coastal pals. Radicals like Ted Cruz and the Bachmann ghoul might call themselves conservatives, but traditionally, conservatives don’t try to tear down constitutionally functional governments in order to destroy the world’s economy. Ta-Nehisi Coates gets at this:

But the Confederate flag does not merely carry the stain of slavery, of “useful killing,” but the stain of attempting to end the Union itself. You cannot possibly wave that flag and honestly claim any sincere understanding of your country. It is not possible.

If politics comes up in whatever situation, I tell most people that I’m a conservative just like Barack Obama. If I need to bob and weave with a subsequent justification, it goes like so: “[Person], the Conservative/conservative party in every other industrialized democracy on the planet is OK with socialized health care, gay humans, solid public education, and organized, rational approaches to climate change.” I tell them that I fear any faction whose spinal impulse is to malign modern science, disdain art and literature and other pillars of civilization, and sabotage the global economy.  Then I start talking about Andrew Sullivan and try to explain that Burkean conservatism as a philosophical orientation toward historical change is compatible with beliefs that are typed as progressive in the contemporary USA. Then I try to chill out and talk about sports, like, for example, the wonderful 2013 Boston Red Sox.

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