The Great Awakening

America has had one Great Awakening after another – a sudden wave of religious enthusiasm, usually with widespread revivals led by thundering evangelical ministers. Everyone starts talking about religion, and about conviction and redemption and whatnot. Evangelical church membership jumps up, and sometimes we get new religious movements and denominations. The Third Great Awakening gave us the YMCA – and we seem to have had five of these awakenings. Then we fall asleep again, or things get back to normal. These recurring waves of piety and denunciation – with their calls to transform the nation into a nation that would make Jesus proud – break on the rocks of everyday secular life. Go to work, pay the bills, wash the car, get the kids to their soccer game – and save the God stuff for Sunday. Salvation is an abstraction – and the only thing that will transform the nation is those fools in Washington finally doing something useful for a change, for the common good, not their own good.

Many of them say they’re Right with Jesus. Who cares? The problems are secular – the stalled economy, except for the rich, the crumbling infrastructure, college out of reach unless the kid is willing to take on a hundred-thousand-dollar debt, at a minimum, with no job after graduation. One fifth of the population is living in poverty. There seems to be a mass murder every other week. Cops seem to think they can shoot anyone they want, usually unarmed black kids. There are terrorists out there too. None of this has to do with religious conviction and sweet redemption. Talking about that is falling asleep, not awakening. What we need is a political Great Awakening of some sort.

We may have just had one of those. This was the week that America woke up from its long conservative slumber. Things went bad for the Republicans after the skinny white kid – high on dreams of starting a race war to rid America of those black folks who were taking over and raping our women – murdered nine folks in the most historic black church down in Charleston. This was racial resentment of the kind Nixon had stirred up with his Southern Strategy – that Lee Atwater stuff – that has won Republicans many an election since and is now a staple on Fox News. “Those people” are the reason that your lot in life is miserable. The skinny white kid had that whole argument down cold, and he took it to its logical end. There was no getting around this. That’s what Republicans had been saying too – so they shut up. Racial resentment suddenly lost its aggrieved noble glow. Folks woke up.

Then things got worse with the Confederate flag. The skinny white kid had that Confederate flag thing going and was into that that Cause of the Confederacy thing too. There was a sudden nationwide movement to strip symbols of the Confederacy from public parks and buildings, license plates, internet shopping sites and retail stores – because the Confederate flag is directly tied to the Confederate cause, and the Confederate cause was white supremacy. That finally sunk in. The Republicans then collectively admitted, one after another, that the Civil War had been a bad idea in the first place. Go ahead. Dump the flag. Remove the statues. They are the de facto party of the South and they walked away from the South. They threw away the Bubba vote. Folks woke up and saw what they had been up to.

The Supreme Court then ruled that four misplaced words in the massive Affordable Care Act didn’t negate the whole thing. The final attempt to get rid of Obamacare failed, and it’s working just fine. The Supreme Court wasn’t asleep, and they also saved the Fair Housing Act of 1968 – Texas cannot use its tax subsidies for housing development to keep “those people” (blacks and Hispanics) out of the “good” parts of town, claiming they meant no harm – and this was the same Supreme Court that gave them Citizens United and two years ago gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965, allowing them to make sure none of “those people” ever voted again. They didn’t expect that – but there was an awakening, again from the nation’s long conservative slumber. It had all been a bad dream.

The week of America’s political Great Awakening finally ended with the biggest eye-opener of all:

A deeply divided Supreme Court on Friday delivered a historic victory for gay rights, ruling 5 to 4 that the Constitution requires that same-sex couples be allowed to marry no matter where they live. The court’s action rewarded years of legal work by same-sex marriage advocates and marked the culmination of an unprecedented upheaval in public opinion and the nation’s jurisprudence.

Marriages began Friday in states that had previously thwarted the efforts of same-sex couples to wed, while some states continued to resist what they said was a judicial order that changed the traditional definition of marriage and sent the country into uncharted territory.

Yeah, that may be so, but it was time to wake up:

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who has written all of the court’s decisions recognizing and expanding gay rights, said the decision was based on the fundamental right to marry and the equality that must be afforded gay Americans.

“Under the Constitution, same-sex couples seek in marriage the same legal treatment as opposite-sex couples, and it would disparage their choices and diminish their personhood to deny them this right,” Kennedy wrote. He was joined in the ruling by the court’s liberal justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

All four of the court’s most conservative members – Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. – dissented, and each wrote a separate opinion.

The common theme in their dissents was that judicial activism on the part of five members of the court had usurped a power that belongs to the people.

“If you are among the many Americans – of whatever sexual orientation – who favor expanding same-sex marriage, by all means celebrate today’s decision,” wrote Roberts, who for the first time in his tenure marked his disagreement with a decision by reading part of his dissent from the bench.

“Celebrate the achievement of a desired goal. Celebrate the opportunity for a new expression of commitment to a partner. Celebrate the availability of new benefits. But do not celebrate the Constitution. It had nothing to do with it,” he wrote.

Scalia called the decision a “threat to American democracy,” saying it robs citizens of “the freedom to govern themselves.”

They didn’t like the morning light, but someone else did:

In a statement in the White House Rose Garden, President Obama hailed the decision: “This ruling is a victory for America. This decision affirms what millions of Americans already believe in their hearts. When all Americans are truly treated as equal, we are more free.”

And Justice Kennedy was clear about that:

Kennedy did not respond directly to the court’s dissenters, but he addressed the argument that the court was creating a constitutional right. The right to marriage is fundamental, he said. The difference is society’s evolving view of gay people and their rights, he said.

“The limitation of marriage to opposite-sex couples may long have seemed natural and just, but its inconsistency with the central meaning of the fundamental right to marry is now manifest” he wrote. “With that knowledge must come the recognition that laws excluding same-sex couples from the marriage right impose stigma and injury of the kind prohibited by our basic charter.”

The Chief Justice went the other way:

Roberts rejected a comparison to Loving v. Virginia, in which the court struck down bans on interracial marriage. That did not change the age-old definition of marriage as between a man and a woman, he said. He raised concerns that the decision could lead to polygamous marriages – he mentioned a married threesome of lesbians called a “throuple.”

He noted that voters and legislators in only 11 states had authorized same-sex marriages, and said it was better for gay marriage to be adopted through the democratic process than by judicial order. He said religious leaders could take little comfort from the majority opinion that their beliefs would be respected.

That theme was picked up by Alito in his dissent. He said there could be “bitter and lasting wounds” from the decision and warned that the decision will be “exploited by those who are determined to stamp out every vestige of dissent.”

Jeffrey Toobin, the staff writer at the New Yorker and the senior legal analyst for CNN, suggests much of this has to do with conservatives and religion:

In the late nineteen-fifties, Richard Loving and Mildred Jeter met and fell in love amid the sleepy small towns and picturesque horse farms of Virginia’s Caroline County. Loving was white and Jeter black (as well as Native American), which meant that the state’s Racial Integrity Act of 1924 forbade them from marrying each other. So, in 1958, they stole off to Washington, D.C., to tie the knot, and then returned home to live as husband and wife. Soon after the couple moved back to Virginia, however, the local police, acting on an anonymous tip, raided their home and arrested them for violating the ban on what was called miscegenation. The Lovings challenged the basis for the prosecution, but the trial judge, Leon Bazile, explained why the case against them should stand. “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, Malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents,” he wrote. “And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.” In light of this ruling, the Lovings decided to plead guilty and accept, in lieu of a prison sentence, banishment from Virginia for the next twenty-five years.

They took that to the Supreme Court and won, but Toobin is more interested in the underlying confusion:

The gritty business of passing laws is left to the people’s representatives, who answer, in the first instance, to their constituents, and defer, at least in theory, to the Constitution. The record of politicians who claim, in anything more than a general way, to be doing God’s will is dubious. Too often, assertions of divine guidance spoken in state capitols (as well as in the Capitol) have turned out to be little more than bigotry dressed in clerical garb. This is why, at least in theory, we have a Supreme Court. In their best moments, the Justices apply the careful scrutiny demanded by the Fourteenth Amendment – for equal protection of the laws – against any government official’s clairvoyance about God’s intent. That is what happened in 1967, when the Supreme Court finally heard Loving v. Virginia and ruled that all anti-miscegenation statutes must fall.

And that is what the Court did on Friday, in Obergefell v. Hodges, a case that is, in every sense except ease of pronunciation, the modern analogue to the Loving case. In the current opinion, the Justices ruled five-to-four that states may no longer bar same-sex marriage, just as in Loving they said that states could no longer forbid interracial marriage. Justice Anthony Kennedy’s opinion features a good deal of the fulsome rhetoric for which he is known, but it also contains a core of decency that leads to the resolution. Ultimately, though, the case is pretty simple.

The government confers a bundle of rights on individuals who choose to marry. The constitution’s guarantee of equal protection forbids any state from withholding those rights from the class of people who happen to be gay. End of story.

Someone needs to wake up:

The four dissenters in the case work themselves up, in varying levels of frenzy, in disagreement, but their position is also fairly simple to understand. They say that the issue of same-sex marriage should be left to voters, not to unelected judges. As Chief Justice Roberts wrote, in a seemingly Wikipedia-assisted dissent, “the Court invalidates the marriage laws of more than half the States and orders the transformation of a social institution that has formed the basis of human society for millennia, for the Kalahari Bushmen and the Han Chinese, the Carthaginians and the Aztecs. Just who do we think we are?”

We think we are judges, Kennedy replies, doing our job to make sure that the law treats everyone equally.

And that’s where this turns religious:

Supporters of marriage equality have won the political and legal argument by such an overwhelming margin that opponents have chosen to conduct a religiously themed retreat into victimology. Their theory is that, by living in a society where there is marriage equality, their right to practice their religion is being violated. After the Court’s decision, Texas Governor Greg Abbott said, “Despite the Supreme Court’s rulings, Texans’ fundamental right to religious liberty remains protected. No Texan is required by the Supreme Court’s decision to act contrary to his or her religious beliefs regarding marriage.” Bobby Jindal, the Louisiana Governor and Presidential candidate, asserted that the decision “will pave the way for an all-out assault against the religious-freedom rights of Christians who disagree with this decision.”

We should be clear about the “liberty” interest being asserted here. Abbott, Jindal, and their allies are positing a right to discriminate – for local officials to refuse to conduct same-sex weddings, for photographers and bakers to refuse to do business with gay people, for wedding planners to advertise that no gay couples need apply. Their actions are the linear descendants of the Virginia officials who claimed divine guidance for their prohibition on interracial marriage.

Toobin is not impressed:

The First Amendment allows individuals to believe anything they want, but it does not allow them to use their beliefs as a license to discriminate in ways that would otherwise be limited by law. No one, at this late date, would claim a religious inspiration for a florist to refuse to sell flowers to an interracial wedding or for a magistrate to perform one; they should not have the right to refuse to do business for a same-sex wedding, either.

In all likelihood, many of these rear-guard actions against marriage equality will soon fall of their own weight. Like so many of their fellow-Americans, wedding photographers and the like will make their peace with the new rules that guarantee their neighbors an equal chance at happiness. (Besides, they need the business.) The story of same-sex marriage is one of the great civil-rights successes in American history, and the protests of a few dead-enders shouldn’t dampen the celebration.

In short, the nation woke up. That was happening all week, but in this case Antonin Scalia was having none of it:

In the course of just nine pages, Scalia calls the opinion of Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, with whom he has served on the court for 28 years, “a judicial Putsch,” “pretentious,” “egotistic,” “silly,” and filled with “straining-to-be-memorable passages.”

“This is a naked judicial claim to legislative – indeed, super-legislative – power; a claim fundamentally at odds with our system of government,” Scalia wrote. “A system of government that makes the people subordinate to a committee of nine unelected lawyers does not deserve to be called a democracy.”

In unusually personal terms, even for Scalia, he mocked Kennedy’s opening sentence.

“If, even as the price to be paid for a fifth vote, I ever joined an opinion for the court that began: ‘The Constitution promises liberty to all within its reach, a liberty that includes certain specific rights that allow persons, within a lawful realm, to define and express their identity,’ I would hide my head in a bag,” Scalia wrote in a footnote. “The Supreme Court of the United States has descended from the disciplined legal reasoning of [legendary former Chief Justice] John Marshall and [former Justice] Joseph Story to the mystical aphorisms of the fortune cookie.”

And there’s more:

“Today’s decree says that my ruler, and the ruler of 320 million Americans coast-to-coast, is a majority of the nine lawyers on the Supreme Court. The opinion in these cases is the furthest extension in fact – and the furthest extension one can even imagine – of the court’s claimed power to create ‘liberties’ that the Constitution and its amendments neglect to mention.”

In what seems like an attack on the very institution of the court, Scalia derides its makeup, including where the justices studied, where they go to church, where they come from – all by way of saying they have no right to make social decisions for the population.

“Take, for example, this court, which consists of only nine men and women, all of them successful lawyers who studied at Harvard or Yale Law School. Four of the nine are natives of New York City. Eight of them grew up in east- and west-coast States. Only one hails from the vast expanse in-between. Not a single south-westerner or even, to tell the truth, a genuine Westerner (California [where Kennedy hails from] does not count). Not a single evangelical Christian (a group that comprises about one quarter of Americans), or even a Protestant of any denomination. The strikingly unrepresentative character of the body voting on today’s social upheaval would be irrelevant if they were functioning as judges…” …

“To allow the policy question of same-sex marriage to be considered and resolved by a select, patrician, highly unrepresentative panel of nine is to violate a principle even more fundamental than no taxation without representation: no social transformation without representation,” Scalia wrote.

“The opinion is couched in a style that is as pretentious as its content is egotistic. It is one thing for separate concurring or dissenting opinions to contain extravagances, even silly extravagances, of thought and expression; it is something else for the official opinion of the court to do so. Of course the opinion’s showy profundities are often profoundly incoherent.”

And then his head exploded. Robin Abcarian saw that happening to another Justice:

Every civil rights victory seems to produce a new, imaginary class of victims.

You might have thought that today’s landmark Supreme Court decision represented the end of discrimination against gays who want to marry. But according to one dissenting justice, the decision instead represents a threat to another group of citizens.

Who might they be? People who oppose gay marriage.

Incredibly, Justice Samuel Alito fretted that it won’t be safe to knock gay marriage anymore.

“I assume that those who cling to old beliefs will be able to whisper their thoughts in the recesses of their homes,” he writes, “but if they repeat those views in public, they will risk being labeled as bigots and treated as such by governments, employers, and schools.”

She says that this is hardly an argument against gay marriage:

Instead, it’s an apt description of how social pressure works: If you worry about being labeled a bigot for expressing the view that certain people should not be entitled to their civil rights, then perhaps you should keep your views to yourself. Or rethink your position.

Alito also worries that “By imposing its own views on the entire country, the majority facilitates the marginalization of the many Americans who have traditional ideas.”

But gays who want to marry have exceedingly traditional ideas; otherwise they wouldn’t have fought so hard for the right to participate in one of society’s most common and revered rituals.

These guys are amazing:

Justice Scalia is getting a lot of attention today for his loopy dissent – implying that California is not part of the Western United States, invoking hippies as experts on intimacy and insulting his colleagues as “pretentious,” “egotistic” and “incoherent.”

But Alito veers dangerously close to Scalia-style hysteria when he worries that legalizing same-sex marriage will unleash an urge for retribution among gays and lesbians, who will – what? – raise their tasteful pitchforks against the conservatives who have thwarted them for so long?

“Recalling the harsh treatment of gays and lesbians in the past, some may think that turn-about is fair play,” writes Alito. “But if that sentiment prevails, the Nation will experience bitter and lasting wounds.”

How can he fail to grasp that the nation has already experienced bitter and lasting wounds from the despicable way it has treated its gay citizens? The affronts, insults and murders over the last half century are far too numerous to recount.

Someone needs to wake up, but at least President Obama did:

Wrapping his words in the cloak of a church sermon, deploying the inflections and oratorical rhythms of a pastor, Barack Obama delivered one of his most searing speeches on modern race relations in America at a funeral service in Charleston on Friday.

In the course of eulogizing Reverend Clementa Pinckney, the pastor of the Mother Emanuel African American church who was shot dead in his own sanctuary along with eight of his flock last week, Obama addressed several of the most contentious debates that have erupted since the shooting.

He referred to the gun rampage by an avowed white supremacist as an act of terrorism, linking it to America’s long history of racist church bombings and arsons.

He said the shooting was not a random act, “but a means of control, a way to terrorize and oppress”. He said the alleged shooter, who he did not name, had imagined his deed would “incite fear and recrimination, violence and suspicion”, as “an act that he presumed would deepen divisions that trace back to our nation’s original sin”.

It was time to wake up:

In the course of a eulogy in which Obama had the audacity to sing Amazing Grace in front of a rapt audience of 5,500 mostly African Americans in the College of Charleston TD Arena, the president also made a robust case for the tearing down of the Confederate flag. As debate continues to rage over the enduring presence of the old secessionist symbol across much of the Deep South, Obama said bluntly that the flag was a “reminder of systemic oppression and racial subjugation”.

The flag did not cause the murder of nine churchgoers at a Bible-study meeting on 17 June, Obama said. “But as people from all walks of life – Republicans and Democrats – have acknowledged, the flag has always represented more than just ancestral pride.”

He said taking down the flag from the grounds of South Carolina’s state capitol in Columbia “would not be an act of political correctness, it would not be an insult to the valor of Confederate soldiers, it would simply be an acknowledgement that the cause for which they fought – the cause of slavery – was wrong.”

And there was more:

He also touched on police brutality towards black communities, endemic poverty in many African American neighborhoods and Republican attempts to introduce new voting laws that would make it more difficult for people to cast their vote.

“None of us can or should expect a transformation in race relations overnight,” Obama said, adding that whenever a tragedy happened such as the massacre at the Mother Emanuel church in Charleston there were calls for a debate.

“We talk a lot about race,” he said. “There is no short cut, we don’t need more talk. People of goodwill will continue to debate the merit of various policies as our democracy requires. There are good people on both sides of these debates. Whatever solutions we find will be incomplete. But it would be a betrayal of everything Reverend Pinckney stood for if we allow ourselves to slip into a comfortable silence again. To go back to business as usual as we so often do.”

We cannot ever go back to sleep:

He said that after a week of reflection on the Charleston shooting he had concluded that what was required now was “an open heart.”

“That, more than a particular policy or analysis, that’s what I think is needed.”

Then, after what must be one of the longest pauses he has ever held in the middle of a public speech, the president of the United States began to sing Amazing Grace. The arena burst into song alongside him.

That may or may not mark our sixth Great Awaking here in the United States, but it was the first Great Political Awakening we’ve had. We’ve been listening to the conservatives, assuming they made some sort of sense, since the Reagan years. Then all this happened. This was the week the whole nation woke up.

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The Republican Slump

Baseball is the American game, and it’s full of the inexplicable. Even the best players fall into a slump now and then. They can’t buy a hit and they don’t know why. The batting coach doesn’t know why. The manager doesn’t know why – and no adjustments help, and a different bat doesn’t help. Even if the star-in-a-slump connects with that perfect pitch and wallops the ball, it screams right at the shortstop, who grabs it and smiles. There’s that old advice – “Hit it where they ain’t.” What kind of advice is that? Sometimes a few days off helps, and sometimes it doesn’t. The fans’ sympathy turns to disgust and then the booing starts. That only makes things worse – but there are those times where it’s one strikeout after another, game after game, week after week. Nothing that worked before works now. Baseball is a cruel game.

Yeah, well, life is cruel. There are slumps, and the Republicans are in one. Not to belabor the point, things went bad for the Republicans after the skinny white kid – high on dreams of starting a race war to rid America of those black folks who were taking over and raping our women – murdered nine folks in the most historic black church down in Charleston. All the Republicans running for president, or about to, and the folks at Fox News, and conservative taking heads everywhere, tried to spin this. This wasn’t about race. The kid must have hated Christians, so this could have happened at a white church. It was chance, or it was inexplicable – no one knows why these things happen. And then the kid’s manifesto surfaced – he explained it well enough. This was racial resentment of the kind Nixon had stirred up with his Southern Strategy – that Lee Atwater stuff – that has won Republicans many an election since and is now a staple on Fox News. “Those people” are the reason that your lot in life is miserable. They take your money – welfare – and they’re living large and laughing at you. They have to be put in their place, or at least they have to learn some sense of personal responsibility – a white thing they just can’t seem to get. The skinny white kid had that whole argument down cold, and he took it to its logical end.

There was no getting around this. That’s what Republicans had been saying too. This was going to happen sooner or later. The chickens had come home to roost and now the squirming began. The 2016 election is at stake. Racial resentment just lost its aggrieved noble glow. So, what else have they got? They’re working on that.

That was the first strikeout, and then things got worse with the Confederate flag. The skinny white kid had that Confederate flag thing going and was into that Lost Cause of the Confederacy thing too. Southern nobility fought bravely and fairly, for a good cause. Is that so? What began as scattered calls for removing the Confederate battle flag from a single state capitol intensified with extraordinary speed and scope into a passionate, nationwide movement to strip symbols of the Confederacy from public parks and buildings, license plates, internet shopping sites and retail stores – because the Confederate flag is directly tied to the Confederate cause, and the Confederate cause was white supremacy.

That finally sunk in. The Republicans then collectively admitted, one after another, that the Civil War had been a bad idea in the first place and the North had been right all along, and the North had won the thing anyway. Go ahead. Dump the flag. Remove the statues. They were okay with that, and with that they threw away a big chunk of their base. They are the de facto party of the South and they just walked away from the South. They threw away the Bubba vote. That was the second strikeout.

Could things get worse? Of course they could. They’re in a slump and it was time for the Supreme Court to hand down their end-of-term decisions, and that would be two more strikeouts with a third to come. The Supreme Court ruled that four misplaced words in the massive Affordable Care Act didn’t negate the whole thing. Now no one knows why they even decided to hear the case. That was another strikeout. The Supreme Court also saved the Fair Housing Act of 1968 – Texas cannot use its tax subsidies for housing development to keep “those people” (blacks and Hispanics) out of the “good” parts of town, claiming they meant no harm. Intention doesn’t matter. The net statistical effect of your decisions matters, whether your heart is pure or not – and this was the same Supreme Court that gave them Citizens United and two years ago gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965, allowing them to make sure none of “those people” ever voted again. They didn’t expect that. That was another strikeout. The ruling on gay marriage may be another, if, as expected, the nine rule that gay marriage seems to be constitutionally protected, as a right. Sometimes you can’t buy a hit.

The odd thing was that the Affordable Care Act ruling was fairly straightforward:

The Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that President Obama’s health care law allows the federal government to provide nationwide tax subsidies to help poor and middle-class people buy health insurance, a sweeping vindication that endorsed the larger purpose of Mr. Obama’s signature legislative achievement.

The 6-to-3 ruling means that it is all but certain that the Affordable Care Act will survive after Mr. Obama leaves office in 2017. For the second time in three years, the law survived an encounter with the Supreme Court. But the court’s tone was different this time. The first decision, in 2012, was fractured and grudging, while Thursday’s ruling was more assertive.

“Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote for a united six-justice majority.

He knew bullshit when he saw it, but this was curious:

In dissent on Thursday, Justice Antonin Scalia called the majority’s reasoning “quite absurd” and “interpretive jiggery-pokery.”

He announced his dissent from the bench, a sign of bitter disagreement. His summary was laced with notes of incredulity and sarcasm, sometimes drawing amused murmurs in the courtroom as he described the “interpretive somersaults” he said the majority had performed to reach the decision.

“We really should start calling this law Scotus-care,” Justice Scalia said, to laughter from the audience.

That didn’t matter:

In a hastily arranged appearance in the Rose Garden on Thursday morning, a triumphant Mr. Obama praised the ruling. “After multiple challenges to this law before the Supreme Court, the Affordable Care Act is here to stay,” he said, adding: “What we’re not going to do is unravel what has now been woven into the fabric of America.”

And the gist of it all was this:

The case concerned a central part of the Affordable Care Act that created marketplaces, known as exchanges, to allow people who lack insurance to shop for individual health plans. Some states set up their own exchanges, but about three dozen allowed the federal government to step in to run them. Across the nation, about 85 percent of customers using the exchanges qualify for subsidies to help pay for coverage, based on their income.

The question in the case, King v. Burwell, No. 14-114, was what to make of a phrase in the law that seems to say the subsidies are available only to people buying insurance on “an exchange established by the state.”

A legal victory for the plaintiffs, lawyers for the administration said, would have affected more than six million people and created havoc in the insurance markets and undermined the law.

Chief Justice Roberts acknowledged that the plaintiffs had strong arguments about the plain meaning of the contested words. But he wrote that the words must be understood as part of a larger statutory plan. “In this instance,” he wrote, “the context and structure of the act compel us to depart from what would otherwise be the most natural reading of the pertinent statutory phrase.”

This is over now. There’s nothing more to say. The umpire called that third strike. You’re out. Roberts, in his confirmation hearing, had said this:

Judges and justices are servants of the law, not the other way around. Judges are like umpires. Umpires don’t make the rules; they apply them. The role of an umpire and a judge is critical. They make sure everybody plays by the rules.

But it is a limited role. Nobody ever went to a ball game to see the umpire. … And I will remember that it’s my job to call balls and strikes and not to pitch or bat.

Barack Obama, a senator at the time, voted not to confirm him. Irony is fun, but so is arguing with the umpire:

After the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 to reject an existential challenge to Obamacare on Thursday, conservatives took direct aim at the author of the decision: their one-time hero Chief Justice John Roberts. Their sentiments were channeled by several Republican presidential candidates, who lashed out at the Roberts Court for its purportedly activist pro-Obamacare ruling.

“Roberts told everybody he was just going to be an umpire and call strikes and balls, but now as justice he’s got two results-oriented decisions that go far beyond that role,” said Club For Growth President David McIntosh, suggesting his group will seek to avoid future nominations like Roberts. “What the Club does, in picking candidates, is look at their record, and look at not just what they have stood for on economic issues but what they’ll do in the future.” …

Elsewhere on the right, Roberts’s decision was being interpreted as a failure of Republicans to properly vet nominees – or worse. Phil Kerpen, whose group American Commitment had popularized videos of Obama administration consultant Jonathan Gruber appearing to make the plaintiffs’ case in King, directed followers to a 2005 column that decried Roberts as a “political” appointee who would not rely strictly on the Constitution. ….

Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, a former lawyer who has argued cases before the Supreme Court, came out swinging against the ruling as “judicial activism, plain and simple,” and swiped the majority as “robed Houdinis” who made a “nakedly political” move.

“These judges have joined with President Obama in harming millions of Americans,” he said. “Unelected judges have once again become legislators, and bad ones at that. They are lawless, and they hide their prevarication in legalese. Our government was designed to be one of laws, not of men, and this transparent distortion is disgraceful.”

Unelected judges have once again become legislators? Roberts wouldn’t strike down legislation that has passed, fair and square – he didn’t rewrite the law, he simply read it – but there was Mike Huckabee:

“Today’s King v. Burwell decision, which protects and expands Obamacare, is an out-of-control act of judicial tyranny,” he said. “Our Founding Fathers didn’t create a ‘do-over’ provision in our Constitution that allows unelected, Supreme Court justices the power to circumvent Congress and rewrite bad laws.”

Was anyone listening to Mike? No matter:

The anger at Roberts spanned generations, uniting all manner of conservatives in distrust aimed at the Republican establishment. David Limbaugh, the author and brother of radio host Limbaugh, asked why Republicans “end up with so many Trojan Horse Supreme Court appointments.” Sean Davis, a senior editor at the conservative web site The Federalist wrote bitterly that “every fancy conservative legal foundation said Roberts was the most amazing nomination ever.”

On the more conspiracy-minded end of the spectrum, libertarian author Wayne Root wondered in the website The Blaze: “Has Supreme Court Justice John Roberts been blackmailed or intimidated? I would put nothing by the Obama administration that lives and rules by the Chicago thug playbook.”

All the man did was call that third strike, and the Washington Post’s Karen Tumulty wonders about the outrage:

Even as Republicans rose in a chorus of outrage Thursday over the Supreme Court’s refusal to gut the Affordable Care Act, party leaders were privately relieved. Republicans were spared the challenge of having to come up with a solution for the 6.4 million Americans – most of them in conservative states – who might have found their health insurance unaffordable had the court gone the other way. …

At the same time, the court’s second ruling in favor of the five-year-old law has increased the pressure on Republicans to tell the country how they would fix the health-care system.

That’s the problem:

“A Republican nominee for president will have to have a plan to replace the law,” said former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie, who in his failed Senate campaign in Virginia last year was virtually the only nationally prominent member of his party to come up with one.

David Winston, a pollster who advises the GOP congressional leadership, said, “Ultimately, the challenge for Republicans is not just how to deal with this law, but where’s the direction? Where are the alternatives?”

Republicans do have some ideas. They support, for example, the law’s provision preventing insurance companies from denying coverage to people with preexisting conditions and requiring them to allow parents to carry their young adult offspring on their policies. Most also argue for allowing insurers to sell policies across state lines.

Winston also pointed to a bipartisan proposal, advanced by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and ranking committee Democrat Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), that aims to accelerate the pace of medical breakthroughs.

But none of the GOP proposals would go as far as the Affordable Care Act has in guaranteeing coverage, and many health experts say that a piecemeal approach would send health-care costs soaring.

They’ve got nothing, but oddly, that’s okay now:

The practical effect of taking government assistance from people who bought their coverage on the federal ­exchanges could have made the entire law unworkable because so many consumers would have found their new insurance policies unaffordable, many health-care experts said. Republicans would have been in a difficult spot if the court had struck down federal subsidies in the majority of states.

The decision was “a bad legal outcome but a good political outcome” for Republicans, Gillespie said.

“Today Democrats, and my guess is Republicans, are breathing one gigantic sigh of relief,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.).

They can talk and do nothing, and Chris Cillizza adds this:

Politically speaking, most Republican strategists and even most GOP politicians have privately acknowledged for quite some time that the chances of ripping the law from its roots legislatively was a nonstarter for two reasons. First, with Obama in the White House, he would veto any measure that would substantially change the law that bears his name. Second, the longer the law is, well, the law, the harder it becomes to drastically change it. Whether or not people initially liked Obamacare, they have begun to get used to it. Trashing the law in place of something else – that would, inevitably, have its own set of issues and problems – becomes a harder sell every day it remains law.

Given that, the only route to invalidation or major overhaul of Obamacare in the minds of savvy Republicans was through the courts. That first took the form of the case dealing with the individual mandate. When that was lost, most anti-ACA forces rallied to the Burwell case, which was decided today. Now, whether they want to admit it or not, a significant amount of the air has come out of their balloon. …

Already many Republicans are seeking to drive the remaining energy aimed at getting rid of the law toward next November – insisting that now, controlling the presidency is the only way to make fundamental changes to it.

But in a general election context, that will be a far harder sell. Why? Because Hillary Clinton will now be able to make the very strong case that the law has been fought judicially, legislatively and through campaigns and, in each instance, has survived those challenges. “This is old news,” you can hear Clinton saying. “The Affordable Care Act is the law of the land. I know some Republicans might not like that, but the fight is over.”

That’s a compelling argument, especially to voters not closely affiliated with either party who are likely to be swayed by the sheer amount of validation Clinton can point to regarding the law.

This is over. Who wants to watch the guy who just struck out, again, argue with the umpire?

As for that other strikeout, the other ruling that was lost in the shuffle, the Los Angeles Times editorial board is all over that:

The decision involves a lawsuit by a nonprofit housing organization claiming that a state agency in Texas steered tax credits for the development of low-income housing to black inner city neighborhoods in Dallas. That policy, according to the plaintiffs, even if wasn’t designed to segregate the races, nevertheless had that effect and was therefore the “functional equivalent” of intentional racial segregation – and thus violated the Fair Housing Act. The state agency countered that the law didn’t authorize “disparate impact” lawsuits.

The Supreme Court disagreed. Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy placed the Fair Housing Act in the context of other civil rights laws that allow lawsuits based on disparate impact, a concept enunciated by the Supreme Court in a 1971 decision involving employment discrimination and later ratified by Congress (including in amendments to the Fair Housing Act).

Discrimination is discrimination even if it’s not intentional:

In employment cases once a job test or other requirement has been shown to have a disproportionate outcome on workers of a particular race, the burden shifts to the employer to prove that the requirement is job-related. Likewise, Kennedy wrote, a showing of a racial disparity in a housing program requires an agency or developer to show that a particular policy (such as steering low-income housing to a black inner city neighborhood) is necessary to serve a “valid interest.” Often, Kennedy suggested, that burden will be met. He left open the possibility that a lower court might conclude that the tax-credit program in Texas was reasonable.

The decision preserves a valuable tool for remedying segregation. Kennedy recognized that it’s naive to believe all housing segregation can be attributed to conscious bias. Rather, he said, the vestiges of legally mandated segregation remain “intertwined with the country’s economic and social life.”

Or not:

In his dissent in this case, Justice Clarence Thomas complained: “In their quest to eradicate what they view as institutionalized discrimination, disparate-impact proponents doggedly assume that a given racial disparity at an institution is a product of that institution rather than a reflection of disparities that exist outside of it.”

The Times’ board addresses that:

Institutionalized discrimination isn’t a figment of liberals’ imagination. It’s a reality that obstructs the achievement of the “color-blind” society conservatives profess to desire. Dismantling such discrimination is a legitimate purpose of civil rights laws, including the Fair Housing Act. The court was wise to recognize that fact.

And it wasn’t Scalia’s day, or the Republicans’ day:

The U.S. Supreme Court said people who file housing-discrimination suits don’t have to show they were victims of intentional bias, in a blow to lenders and insurers and a surprise legal victory for the Obama administration.

The 5-4 ruling upholds a category of U.S. Fair Housing Act lawsuits that civil rights groups said are especially important – and business groups consider particularly onerous. The court said plaintiffs can base their suits on statistical evidence that a disputed policy has a “disparate impact” on a minority group.

The Obama administration has relied on the disparate-impact approach to get hundreds of millions of dollars in fair-lending settlements with Bank of America Corp., Wells Fargo & Co. and other financial companies.

It seems there were other forces at play here – lenders and insurers, and the big banks, seeking relief from pesky consumers and those who whine about fairness – you know – the people. This Supreme Court suddenly sided with the people. Republicans must have felt betrayed, again. This was more surprising than the Obamacare ruling. They were caught looking at a curveball right over the plate – strike three. The Republican slump continues. These things happen.

Posted in Fair Housing Act of 1968, Obamacare | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

On the Possibility of Revolution

Something slipped by. Everyone was consumed with what happened after the skinny white kid, high on dreams of starting a race war to rid America of those black folks who were taking over and raping our women, murdered nine folks in the most historic black church down in Charleston. All the Republicans running for president, or about to, and the folks at Fox News, and conservative talking heads everywhere, tried to spin this. This wasn’t about race. The kid must have hated Christians, so this could have happened at a white church. It was chance, or it was inexplicable – no one knows why these things happen. And then the kid’s manifesto surfaced – he explained it well enough. This was racial resentment of the kind Nixon had stirred up with his Southern Strategy – that Lee Atwater stuff – that has won Republicans many an election since and is now a staple on Fox News. “Those people” are the reason that your lot in life is miserable. They take your money – welfare – and they’re living large and laughing at you. They have to be put in their place, or at least they have to learn some sense of personal responsibility – a white thing they just can’t seem to get. The skinny white kid had that whole argument down cold, and he took it to its logical end.

There was no getting around this. That’s what Republicans had been saying too. This was going to happen sooner or later. The chickens had come home to roost and now the squirming begins. The 2016 election is at stake. Racial resentment just lost its aggrieved noble glow. So, what else have they got? They’re working on that.

Then things got worse with the Confederate flag. The skinny white kid had that Confederate flag thing going and was into that Lost Cause of the Confederacy thing too. Southern nobility fought bravely and fairly, and Northern generals were crude and vile and had no sense of fair play, as seen in Sherman’s March to the Sea – and Ulysses S. Grant was a damned alcoholic too. It just wasn’t fair. The South had a proud heritage.

Bullshit – what began as scattered calls for removing the Confederate battle flag from a single state capitol intensified with extraordinary speed and scope into an emotional, nationwide movement to strip symbols of the Confederacy from public parks and buildings, license plates, internet shopping sites and retail stores – because the Confederate flag is directly tied to the Confederate cause, and the Confederate cause was white supremacy. That finally sunk in. The Republicans then collectively admitted, one after another, that the Civil War had been a bad idea in the first place and the North had been right all along, and the North won the thing anyway. Dump the flag. Remove the statues. And with that they threw away a big chunk of their base. They have just walked away from the South, the Bubba vote. This was the actual end of the Civil War – and a major shift in American thinking. The nation would no longer turn its lonely eyes to Bill O’Reilly and the rest.

That was the big news, but this slipped by:

Legislation vital to securing the largest U.S. trade deal in decades was passed by the Senate on Wednesday by a comfortable margin, advancing President Barack Obama’s efforts to strengthen U.S. economic ties around the Pacific Rim.

After a six-week congressional battle including two brushes with failure, some fancy legislative footwork and myriad backroom deals to keep the legislation alive, the Senate voted 60 to 38 to grant Obama “fast-track” power to negotiate trade deals and speed them through Congress.

The bill next goes to the president for his signature.

Done, but with some unhappiness:

That could propel the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a central element of Obama’s foreign policy pivot to Asia, over the finish line, while also boosting hopes for completing an ambitious trade deal with the European Union.

U.S. labor groups, which fought fast-track, said they will redouble their efforts. “We will vigorously oppose TPP if it continues on its current course,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka wrote in a letter to lawmakers.

The TPP, potentially a legacy-defining achievement for Obama, would be the biggest free trade agreement in a generation and rank with the North American Free Trade Agreement, which liberalized trade between the United States, Canada and Mexico, while also serving as a counterweight to the rise of China.

That was the problem. The Washington Post’s Jonathan Capehart had previously discussed this:

The concerns about the effect another trade deal will have on the American worker are real. The opposition roaring out of the House Democrats is understandable. After 21 years, the bitter aftertaste of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) remains. Shuttered factories and the lost jobs that ensued led many Americans, Democrats and Republicans, to turn inwards to protect their livelihoods. That’s why Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) said in a statement last month that past trade deals “put the American Dream out of reach for countless working families.” Even the president acknowledges that “past trade deals haven’t always lived up to their promise.”

But as I read and do my own reporting on TPP, I keep coming back to a reported conversation between Obama and the late Apple maestro Steve Jobs. According to the New York Times, at a 2011 dinner in Silicon Valley, the president asked Jobs why iPhones couldn’t be made in the United States.

Mr. Jobs’ reply was unambiguous. “Those jobs aren’t coming back,” he said, according to another dinner guest.

Free trade is good – we get to sell a whole lot more of our stuff around the world – but someone is going to get hurt. That’s just the way things are. Some people will get eaten alive, but not everyone. Obama will save who he can. He may be aligned now with Mitch McConnell and John Boehner and Paul Ryan on this trade agreement, against Elizabeth Warren and most of the Democrats, but is he the bad guy here? Do what must be done – but the most effective solution is going to hurt someone, or many. Net economic gain doesn’t do specific workers much good.

That was the news story of the day that wasn’t the big story of the day, because nothing changed. Everyone knows who will end up smelling like a rose – the multinational corporations and the millionaires who run them. The Walton family, importing even more, even more cheaply, for their Wal-Mart stores, will do quite well. Companies like Bain Capital will do well – the company that Mitt Romney founded, which produced no goods or services but made hundreds of millions a pop buying solid but underperforming companies, loading them up with debt and extracting all value, before selling off what was left at a big profit. If there was nothing left they shut the company down and made a ton of money stiffing the creditors in bankruptcy court. He said he had been a job creator but no one saw how that could be – not that it matters. A new free-trade agreement will shake up a lot of solid but underperforming companies, now in need of reconfiguration. Venture capitalists will make out like bandits, and wages will go down. That which can be made here can be made more cheaply overseas, and it’s on its way here. Match those labor costs or find something else to do.

In short, expect even more income inequality and a middle class shrinking to next to nothing, not that we have much of one any longer now. The new trade agreement, this Trans-Pacific Partnership, is now pretty much a done deal – save for assistance to displaced workers, which will be voted on later, if they get around to it. That assistance seems to be an afterthought – something thought up to sweeten the pot to get a few more Democratic votes for the main deal. Don’t expect much now. The news is the same old same old.

People won’t get upset. Paul Glastris in his editor’s note for the new issue of the Washington Monthly, points out that all the discussions of growing inequality and the shrinking middle class end up seeming pointless:

In the back of many people’s minds, certainly mine, is the fear that maybe there aren’t solutions to this problem. Maybe the great American middle class is just not coming back. We are now six years into an economic recovery that has seen next to zero wage growth. As Monica Potts shows in this issue’s cover story (The Post-Ownership Society), even highly educated Millennials in booming Washington, D.C., are having a hard time seeing a path to middle-class financial stability. Millennials generally are also finding it difficult to start businesses, despite their eagerness to do so (see The Lost Entrepreneurial Generation by Matt Connolly), or to buy homes, with some exceptions (see The Young and the Rentless by Jordan Fraade). The mass downward mobility Millennials are experiencing is not a new phenomenon, either. As Phillip Longman documents (Wealth and Generations), every generation born after 1953 has done less well than the one that preceded it.

Looking back at that record, and looking forward, to an economy where globalization and computer algorithms continue to eat away at middle-class jobs while Thomas Piketty’s famous equation “r > g” (returns on capital exceed economic growth) continues to favor the rich, it’s hard to be optimistic. Sure, generational upward mobility was a defining reality for most of American history. But all good things come to an end, right? Perhaps two centuries of egalitarian prosperity is about all a democracy can sustain.

Given those four articles, you may not want to pick up the new issue of the Washington Monthly, but Glastris suggests that all this is not without precedence. He cites Josiah Ober’s The Rise and Fall of Classical Greece – and that seems to show that stable, democratic political institutions and a competitive-but-rules-based economic system produced gentle patterns of growth and wealth distribution for five hundred years or so:

According to calculations by Ober’s Stanford colleague Ian Morris, per capita consumption in ancient Greece grew somewhere between 50 percent and 95 percent from 800 to 300 BC. That works out to an annual per capita growth rate of between .07 and .14 percent. Ober makes the case that the upper range of that estimate is more likely. If so, Greece’s per capita growth rate exceeded Rome’s and would not be matched again until the rise of Holland in the sixteenth century AD.

Of course, lots of other civilizations during this period – Egypt, Persia, Carthage – were wealthy, too. The difference was in the distribution. Though we lack the kinds of detailed economic records for these societies that we have for Greece and Rome, everything we know about them suggests that their wealth was overwhelmingly controlled by a narrow elite who lived in splendor while the masses living meagerly.

Not so in the Greek world. Home sizes… give an indication. Greek settlements “were never characterized by a few mansions and many huts,” Ober writes, but instead were clustered tightly around a mean size, and over time their size grew in lockstep. By 300 BC, he writes, “houses in the 75th percentile of the distribution were only about one fifth again… as large as those in the 25th percentile.”

Greece was far from a classless society. Ober cites the work of Geoffrey Kron of the University of Victoria, who looked at census reports for Athens in 322 BC and other records and calculates that the richest 1 percent of that city’s population owned about 30 percent of all private wealth, with the top 10 percent owning 60 percent. From there, Kron derives a Gini index – the standard measure of inequality – for Athens of 0.708. That is roughly comparable to the United States in 1953-54. To the extent, then, that America was a middle-class society in the 1950s, so too, apparently, was ancient Greece.

There will be a quiz on this:

One lesson conservatives will like is that Greece achieved its amazing mass prosperity with no interference from some distant, centralized government. Each city-state set its own policies, often within voluntary alliances of other city-states.

A couple other lessons liberals will like. First, the most democratic and economically successful poleis kept taxes, on average citizens, low, and put heavy burdens on the rich, through both direct taxation and strong social pressure on the wealthy to make “gifts” to the commonweal, like building warships. Second, these poleis also had extensive social programs, from grain price stabilization to welfare for invalids to state support for the widows and orphans of those who died in war. These programs were crucial, Ober says, in incentivizing citizens to take calculated risks for their own and the community’s benefit.

Isn’t that special? Yes, and it’s quite literally ancient history. The New York Times’ Thomas Edsall points out our times:

“Why aren’t the poor storming the barricades?” asks the Economist. “Why don’t voters demand more redistribution?” wonders David Samuels, a political scientist at the University of Minnesota. The headline on an April 7 National Catholic Reporter article reads: “Why aren’t Americans doing more to protest inequality?”

Edsall is puzzled:

There are legitimate grounds for grievance. For those in the bottom quintile, household income in inflation-adjusted dollars has dropped sharply, from $13,787 in 2000 to $11,651 in 2013. According to the Census Bureau, 64 million Americans currently live in the bottom quintile.

Still, it’s possible that poverty is less grueling than in the past, for several reasons. First, although incomes have declined, the cost of many goods – televisions, computers, air-conditioners, household appliances, cellphones – has fallen, leaving the bottom quintile less deprived than simple income figures might reflect. Second, people nowadays marry and have children later in life than in the past, postponing some financial demands to better earning years. Third, some economists contend that commonly used inflation measures result in excessively high estimates of the real-world cost of goods for consumers, thus making living conditions less dire than they might otherwise be.

He’s not buying any of that:

Society has drastically changed since the high-water mark of the 1930s and 1960s when collective movements captured the public imagination. Now, there is an inexorable pressure on individuals to, in effect, fly solo. There is very little social support for class-based protest – what used to be called solidarity.

Describing a process that sociologists have termed “individualization,” Christopher Ray, a researcher at the University of Newcastle in England, makes the point that individualization is, on one hand, a positive, enabling and democratic phenomenon. On the other hand, the same dynamic generates the conditions of omnipresent and ever-changing risk, perceived as new obligations or burdens, and new forces bearing down on the individual and on local life.

People today, Ray continues, “are not only able to make choices in an ever-expanding range of situations, but they are also compelled to do so.”

In effect, individualization is a double-edged sword. In exchange for new personal freedoms and rights, beneficiaries are agreeing to, if not being forced to, assume new risks and responsibilities.

We can’t protest now, as we’re fighting for our lives, one against the other:

Ulrich Beck, a German sociologist who died earlier this year, noted the obstructions to collective social action. In 2002, in his book “Individualization,” Beck wrote that those who in the past saw co-workers as colleagues and allies now face competitive pressures such that when “a shared background still exists, community is dissolved in the acid bath of competition.” The result is “the isolation of individuals within homogeneous social groups.”

Beck goes on to contend that in advanced nations people have been released “from traditional class ties and family supports.” That has forced people to use their own resources to determine their “fate in the labor market, with all its attendant risks, opportunities and contradictions.”

In a 2007 paper, Beck argues that in the new social order, traditional classes – and traditional bonds of community – are disappearing. In their place, an alternative social hierarchy has emerged with comparable inequities:

“Risk and social inequality – indeed, risk and power – are two sides of the same coin. Risk presumes a decision, therefore a decision maker, and produces a radical asymmetry between those who take, define the risks and profit from them, and those who are assigned to them, who have to suffer the ‘unforeseen side effects’ of the decisions of others, perhaps even pay for them with their lives, without having had the chance to be involved in the decision-making process.”


Insofar as individualization has taken hold in the United States, the prospects for collective action on behalf of the poor are dim, at best.

Collective action on behalf of the poor requires a shared belief in the obligation of the state to secure the well-being of the citizenry. That belief has been undermined by what Beck calls the “insourcing” of risk, transferring obligations from the state to the individual. This reallocation of responsibility has been studied from various angles.

In his book “The Great Risk Shift,” Jacob Hacker, a political scientist at Yale, joins the argument by documenting the economic pressures on individuals resulting from the widespread erosion of social insurance. “For decades, Americans and their government upheld a powerful set of ideals that combined a commitment to economic security with a faith in economic opportunity,” Hacker writes. “Today that message is starkly different: You are on your own.”

Collective social action, in turn, has been supplanted by a different kind of revolt. David A. Snow, professor of sociology at the University of California, Irvine, noted that the top priorities of the specific movements associated with individualization – “the feminist movement, lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender movements, the black power movement, the disability rights movement, and, most recently, the fat-acceptance movement” – do not lend themselves to broad economic demands on behalf of the less well off.

There will be no populist revolution:

The cultural pressures driving inequality are, in addition, reinforced by heightened competition that has accelerated the decline of unions, served to justify the Republican refusal to raise minimum wages and undermined the workplace stature of employees. The result has been not only surging incomes at the top and little or no growth for the rest, but a withdrawal of community from those who need it most.

All of which brings us back to the question of why there is so little rebellion against entrenched social and economic injustice.

The answer is that those bearing the most severe costs of inequality are irrelevant to the agenda-setters in both parties. They are political orphans in the new order. They may have a voice in urban politics, but on the national scene they no longer fit into the schema of the left or the right. They are pushed to the periphery except for a brief moment on Election Day when one party wants their votes counted, and the other doesn’t.

That’s why the news of the agreement on new Trans-Pacific Partnership wasn’t the big news of the day. It was only more of the same. We have fallen into a socioeconomic dog-eat-dog structure that guarantees more of the same, while precluding any sort of populist revolution. Collective social action is now structurally impossible. The Republicans’ generations of race-baiting and their politics of resentment finally blew up in their faces – that was news. Only nine people had to die. Seeing the decisive end of the Civil War, one hundred and fifty years after Appomattox – that was news. There was no noble cause. Cool. But the slow end of how we thought America was supposed to work, for all of us, isn’t cool at all. That may not even be news.

Posted in Trans-Pacific Partnership | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Actual End of the War

Situational awareness is a good thing – originally a military term used in the training of fighter pilots in World War I and the first rule in air combat ever since. Know where everyone is, friend and foe, and note what they seem to be doing, or you’ll get yourself killed. The rest of the military now uses the term too, as do football players – know what play the other guys are likely to run – and basketball players – know who’s open in the corner. Everyone uses the term now, a fancy way of saying that those who know what the hell is going on around them will succeed. Now there are multiple definitions – “the combining of new information with existing knowledge in working memory and the development of a composite picture of the situation along with projections of future status and subsequent decisions as to appropriate courses of action to take” or “the continuous extraction of environmental information along with integration of this information with previous knowledge to form a coherent mental picture, and the end use of that mental picture in directing further perception and anticipating future need” or “adaptive, externally-directed consciousness that has as its products knowledge about a dynamic task environment and directed action within that environment” or “what you need to know not to be surprised.”

That last definition will do just fine, but of course it’s always possible to misjudge the situation. Things have always been the way they are. There are certain things you can rely on. Just before Obama was elected to his first term, John Meacham wrote that now-famous column warning Obama that America was really a center-right nation and Obama had better be careful. If Obama won, which Meacham thought might not happen, Obama would have to govern from the center. Forget Obamacare and all the rest. America wouldn’t stand for it – and everyone believed Meacham, or at least cited him. That became the conventional wisdom.

Meacham was wrong, but he was describing the America he saw, one where everyone said they were a conservative, even if they weren’t. The word sounded good. No one had called themselves a liberal in decades. But Obama got his Affordable Care Act, and won a second term too. The situation was not quite what it seemed, although in the 2010 and 2014 midterms the Republicans, and particularly their Tea Party cohort, cleaned up. Congress would be rigidly conservative and heavily Republican. The situation was mixed. Meacham had been half-right.

In 2008, Michael Lind was saying Relax, Liberals. You’ve Already Won:

Three great accomplishments defined midcentury American liberalism: liberal internationalism, middle-class entitlements like Social Security and Medicare, and liberal individualism in civil rights and the culture at large. For four decades, from 1968 to 2008, the counterrevolutionaries of the right waged war against the New Deal, liberal internationalism, and moral and cultural liberalism. They sought to abolish middle-class entitlements like Social Security and Medicare, to replace treaties and collective security with scorn for international law and U.S. global hegemony, and to reverse the trends toward individualism, secularism and pluralism in American culture.

And they failed. On every front conservatives have failed, completely, undeniably and irreversibly.

That doesn’t explain how the Republicans managed to win big in the two midterms of the Obama years, and clean up at the state and local level for all eight years. Someone’s situational awareness is faulty, or the situation was always politically ambiguous. There was no defining moment that made everything clear – Obama’s stunning election was followed by unprecedented Republican obstructionism, including a government shutdown. The government pretty much stopped working. No one “won” anything. The Republicans were fine with total gridlock and the Democrats couldn’t do a thing about it. We’ve had a stand-off for the last six-and-a-half years, save for Obama’ first two years when the Democrats held the House and Senate too. That made Obamacare possible. That was a small window that closed. That would never happen again.

That’s the situation, and it relied on one key factor, which Matt Lewis explains in his new book, Too Dumb to Fail – with the subtitle “How the GOP Won Elections by Sacrificing Its Ideas (And How It Can Reclaim Its Conservative Roots)” – written because he’s a frustrated conservative:

Regardless of his ethnicity, I think a young urbanite who manages his stock portfolio on his smart phone and then orders an Uber should be a conservative. And he might – if when he thinks of “conservative” he pictures someone like AEI president and author Arthur Brooks – someone who is sophisticated, tolerant, and thoroughly modern. But he won’t if he associates that word with an image of, say, a fat, intolerant redneck.

That’s the problem:

The injection of Southerners into the Republican coalition – a coalition they ultimately came to dominate – couldn’t help but change the image of the GOP. There were racial, cultural, political, and even religious implications. Republicans captured the South, yes, but the South also captured the GOP. There were no doubt many salutary benefits to this arrangement – most obviously, an electoral boon that lasted for decades. But it also guaranteed we would eventually see a day of reckoning.

That would have to come:

You’ve probably heard of The Southern Strategy, but might not know exactly what it means, or how the Republican Party allegedly employed it. The Southern Strategy, As Mike Allen defined it in the Washington Post, “described Republican efforts to use race as a wedge issue – on matters such as desegregation and busing – to appeal to white southern voters.”

Whether or not you accept that this was an intentional strategy, or just how things shook out, this much is true: Around 1964, the once reliably Democratic South started to become a Republican stronghold. We may differ about what this means, and about whether the GOP deserves culpability for stirring up racial animus in order to achieve it.

Racial animus was stirred up either way, and it was useful, and that changed things:

Let’s take George W. Bush, the most successful Republican politician of the post-Southern Strategy, post-Reagan era. After losing a Congressional race, George W. Bush (possibly as a reference to a much worse George Wallace line) vowed “never to get out-countried again.” This was smart politics for Bush, who ultimately went on to become President of the United States, but it helped reinforce the image of a Republicans as someone who, well, looks and talks like George W. Bush. (I realize that Texas is often considered more Western than part of the “Deep South,” but you get my point.)

This brings us to today. As we all know, the demographics of the country are changing rapidly. The electorate is rapidly becoming less white, less rural, and better educated. Yet the GOP is still culturally synonymous with, well, white, rural, less-educated southern whites, who remain a major pillar of the party’s support. And so you get to the point where guys like Scott Walker and Rand Paul spend a week ducking questions about whether the Confederate flag should be flown on government property… in 2015.

So here’s what the GOP has to figure it out: how do they continue to get the Bubba vote while shedding appeals to the cultural symbolism of the past? How do they sell their conservative ideas about free markets, strong national defense, and conservative family values to 21st century Americans?

The seeds of this challenge were partly planted when the GOP became the de facto party of the South – with all the good and bad that that entails.

Matt Lewis has some situational awareness. The situation has changed. Even if it might destroy the Republican Party, it’s time to write off the Bubba vote. The South will not rise again. It’s time to tell Bubba that the Civil War is over. It ended this week:

What began as scattered calls for removing the Confederate battle flag from a single state capitol intensified with striking speed and scope on Tuesday into an emotional, nationwide movement to strip symbols of the Confederacy from public parks and buildings, license plates, Internet shopping sites and retail stores.

The South Carolina legislature, less than a week after nine parishioners were shot to death in a black church in Charleston, voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to debate removing the Confederate flag from its State House grounds.

In Charleston, the board that governs the Citadel, the state’s 173-year-old military academy, voted, 9 to 3, to remove the Confederate Naval Jack from the campus chapel, saying that a Citadel graduate and the relatives of six employees were killed in the attack on the church.

And in Mississippi, the state’s House speaker, Philip Gunn, a Republican, called for taking a Confederate battle cross off the upper corner of his state’s flag, the only remaining state banner to display the emblem.

“We must always remember our past, but that does not mean we must let it define us,” Mr. Gunn said in a statement that stunned many in Jackson, the capital, and was seen as adding a highly fraught issue with statewide elections there this year. “As a Christian, I believe our state’s flag has become a point of offense that needs to be removed,” Mr. Gunn said.

For decades, images of the Confederacy have been opposed by people who viewed them as painful symbols of slavery, racism and white dominance, and supported by those who saw them as historical emblems from the Civil War, reminders of generations-long Southern pride. Yet the new calls, after the church massacre last week, came with surprising force and swiftness. The demands straddled lines of partisanship and race, drawing support even from Southern conservatives who for years had defended public displays of the flag as a matter of regional pride. The movement also reached far beyond the political sphere, and beyond the South itself.

In Minnesota, activists demanded that a lake named after John C. Calhoun, a senator and vice president from South Carolina who was a proponent of slavery, be renamed. Amazon and eBay announced on Tuesday that they would no longer allow the sale of Confederate flags and similarly themed merchandise, joining Walmart and Sears, which had already done so. And messages were painted on Confederate statues in Charleston; Baltimore; and Austin, Tex., that read: “Black Lives Matter.”

“To see all of this happening, all of a sudden, it speaks of some fundamental change in the country,” said Kerry L. Haynie, a political scientist at Duke University.

The situation is entirely new:

On Tuesday, the vote in the South Carolina legislature was procedural, allowing lawmakers to consider a bill, not yet introduced, in the coming weeks. But in a legislature that had previously resisted passionate calls to remove the flag, its passage by huge margins was a watershed. Senator after senator invoked the memory of the Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney, a pastor and state senator who was killed in the church. His Senate desk was draped in black cloth, a single white rose atop it.

The motion to consider a bill on the flag carried by a unanimous voice vote in the Senate, though one senator, Lee Bright, a Republican, said he would vote against removing the flag. In the House, the vote to take up the flag issue was 103 to 10.

“Our ancestors were literally fighting to keep human beings as slaves, and to continue the unimaginable acts that occur when someone is held against their will,” said State Senator Paul Thurmond, a Republican, explaining that he would vote to remove the flag.

“I am not proud of this heritage,” said Mr. Thurmond, the son of Strom Thurmond, the former governor and United States senator who was a segregationist candidate for president in 1948.

Bubba isn’t happy with that:

As proposals emerged to remove Confederate imagery in state after state, members of Confederate veterans’ organizations voiced concern about the flood of demands and said they felt misunderstood. The Confederate statues, the battle flag, even the naming of streets were a matter of remembering family members who had fought in the Civil War, they said.

“This is a feeding frenzy of cultural cleansing,” said Ben Jones, the chief of heritage operations for the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a Tennessee-based group. “It’s hysteria – we just want to fly this flag for family, for Grandpappy. This whole thing is basically insulting and demeaning our respect for our ancestors.”

Some opponents of removing all Confederate symbols from public places also tried to draw a distinction between flying the battle flag at a capitol, and displaying a statue or naming a park to commemorate individual soldiers. “People are calling for removing monuments and boulevard names in the name of racial sensitivity? Where does this end?” said Mr. Jones, who was a member of the United States House of Representatives and an actor on “The Dukes of Hazzard” television show. “This is just dividing people like crazy.”

But there was no stopping this:

The president of the Kentucky State Senate, Robert Stivers, a Republican, said in an interview that in light of the Charleston killings, he believed that a statue of Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy and a native Kentuckian, should be removed from the Capitol rotunda in Frankfort. The statue is near a larger one of Abraham Lincoln, a proximity that made him uncomfortable, he said.

Leaders in Washington, too, weighed in. Senator Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, the minority leader, called for the Confederate flag to be removed from the grounds of the South Carolina State House, but declined to take a position on the mascot of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas: the rebel, whose nickname is “Hey Reb.”

“I believe that the Board of Regents should take that up and take a look at it,” Mr. Reid said at a news conference.

Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, the majority leader, also suggested that the Jefferson Davis statue should be moved.

“I think it’s appropriate, certainly in Kentucky, to be talking about the appropriateness of continuing to have Jefferson Davis’s statue in a very prominent place in our state capital,” he said. “Maybe a better place for that would be the Kentucky History Museum, which is also in the state capital.”

This was a collective final admission – the Civil War was fought to preserve an economic system based on slavery, by white supremacists, against the duly elected government of the United States, which didn’t think either was a good idea. That is treason, and they lost. Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a complete compendium of what these guys said about why they did this and opens with this:

This afternoon, in announcing her support for removing the Confederate flag from the capitol grounds, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley asserted that killer Dylann Roof had “a sick and twisted view of the flag” which did not reflect “the people in our state who respect and in many ways revere it.” If the governor meant that very few of the flag’s supporters believe in mass murder, she is surely right. But on the question of whose view of the Confederate Flag is more twisted, she is almost certainly wrong.

Roof’s belief that black life had no purpose beyond subjugation is “sick and twisted” in the exact same manner as the beliefs of those who created the Confederate flag were “sick and twisted.” The Confederate flag is directly tied to the Confederate cause, and the Confederate cause was white supremacy. This claim is not the result of revisionism. It does not require reading between the lines. It is the plain meaning of the words of those who bore the Confederate flag across history. These words must never be forgotten.

He ends with this:

The Confederate flag should not come down because it is offensive to African Americans. The Confederate flag should come down because it is embarrassing to all Americans. The embarrassment is not limited to the flag, itself. The fact that it still flies, that one must debate its meaning in 2015, reflects an incredible ignorance. A century and a half after Lincoln was killed, after 750,000 of our ancestors died, Americans still aren’t quite sure why.

At least the war is over now. The Republicans just now collectively admitted it had been a bad idea in the first place and the North had been right all along, and won the thing anyway. And with that they threw away a big chunk of their base. They have just walked away from the South. The situation has changed dramatically.

As for George W.Bush and that “country” thing, Grady Smith suspects that may change too:

This cultural shift that finds southern institutions acknowledging that the Confederate flag evokes painful and divisive memories of slavery and rebellion will inevitably manifest itself in country music, a genre often associated with the symbol. For decades, country and southern rock concerts have been among the easiest places to see the Confederate flag still waving, and the banner has remained an occasional lyrical touchstone in mainstream country songs right up until today.

A number of songs in Hank Williams Jr’s repertoire point toward the revival of the antebellum south, including his 1982 track The South’s Gonna Rattle Again, which includes the declaration: “You can bet I’ll brag on that rebel flag.” And Blake Shelton’s 2010 release Kiss my Country Ass opens with the line “Tearin’ down a dirt road/ Rebel flag flying/ Coon dog in the back.” …

More than in lyrics, though, the Confederate flag has thrived as a fashion statement and staging accessory in the live-country experience. It’s become a winking symbol of southern and rural credibility. Redneck Woman singer Gretchen Wilson would flash it on the screen behind her at the peak of her popularity in the mid-2000s. Colt Ford, who wrote Rick Perry’s new hick-hop campaign song, wore Confederate flag boots during at least one show as an opener for Florida Georgia Line in 2013. Trace Adkins donned a shiny Confederate flag earpiece during a live TV performance in 2012.

That may change as these folks develop more situational awareness:

This points to the popularity of southern rock icons Lynyrd Skynyrd, the purveyors of Sweet Home Alabama, who have famously displayed a gigantic Confederate flag on stage for many years. (Kid Rock, who samples Sweet Home Alabama in his song All Summer Long, does the same.) In a TV interview on CNN in 2012, though, the band claimed they no longer wanted to fly the Confederate flag on stage. “Through the years, people like the KKK and skinheads kinda kidnapped the Dixie or southern flag from its tradition,” guitarist Gary Rossington explained. Fans were not happy. Facing a backlash from their fan-base, Lynyrd Skynyrd reneged on their decision and announced that they would continue to fly the Confederate flag because, “[We] are all extremely proud of our heritage and being from the south.”

The “heritage, not hate” ideology is a thorny but understandable perspective for a generation of artists over a century removed from slavery, but that doesn’t mean that the Confederate flag isn’t still a politically and emotionally charged symbol. Brad Paisley learned that the hard way two years ago – with a song about a Lynyrd Skynyrd shirt no less. Accidental Racist, Paisley’s eyebrow-raising duet with LL Cool J, turned both men into temporary internet punchlines despite the song’s good intentions to convey the complex relationship of white and black southerners and their history. Accidental Racist earned jeers and holier-than-thou think pieces from just about every corner of the web for lines like “If you don’t judge my do-rag/I won’t judge your red flag” that appeared to minimize the burden of slavery to a laughable extent. Paisley never performed the song live and quickly moved on to a party-hearty follow-up album and since then no major country star has attempted to broach the subject of race in song – except perhaps Garth Brooks, with his hokey dud People Loving People.

Smith sees this:

Frankly, I don’t believe that any major country artists will be photographed proudly waving Confederate flags anytime soon – there does seem to be a decisive shift away from association with Dixie as an innocent tribute to the South. But it does mean that, moving forward, there are thoughtful decisions that must be made by country stars regarding the flag when it comes to their staging, their music videos, their lyrics, and even their boots. Whether they keep the Confederate flag in their song lyrics or up on stage, country stars will have to acknowledge that doing so can no longer be viewed as a coy statement, but instead as a declaration.

These country stars will have to develop more situational awareness. What should have happened in 1865 finally happened in 2015 – the Civil War actually ended. That’ll take some getting used to.

Posted in Confederate Flag Controversy, Republicans Abandon the South | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Chickens Roosting

This was an agrarian nation once. It isn’t now, but the old sayings persist. Don’t look a gift-horse in the mouth? That seems to have something to do with examining a horse’s teeth to determine its age and general condition – a lost art, if that ever was an art. But the idea is clear enough. It’s a free horse. Don’t get picky. You’re getting a free horse, damn it. On the other hand, something being as easy as shooting fish in a barrel, while dramatic and direct, refers to nothing anyone ever did or would think of doing – unless that’s something eighteenth-century American kids did, before there were video games. As for chickens coming home to roost, there’s this:

The consequences of doing wrong always catch up with the wrongdoer, as in now that you’re finally admitting your true age, no one believes you – chickens come home to roost. The fact that chickens usually come home to rest and sleep has long been known, but the idea was used figuratively only in 1809, when Robert Southey wrote, “Curses are like young chickens, they always come home to roost.”

That’s from The Curse of Kehama – a rather awful bit of preposterous Hindu-Zoroastrian melodrama in the form of a long epic poem, one that few have read since it was published over two hundred years ago – but certain ways of putting things do go viral. This was one of them, before that sort of thing was called going viral. This one stuck, even if chickens don’t roost anymore. There are no roosts – just tiny boxes where the chickens are pumped full of antibiotics and growth hormones from birth to death, and then sent to market. Free-range chickens get to walk around for a few minutes each day – but this does sound like profound agrarian folk wisdom. Raise a whole lot of those little peeps and set them free to grow and prosper, and they come back, big and fat and pissed off – they want their old place back, their birthright. The chickens are coming home to roost. You won’t like it.

The Republicans now have that chicken problem. What was mentioned before, those people who won’t take responsibility for their lives and expect the rest of us to make things all better for them, who are ruining America for the rest of us, probably shouldn’t be discussed right now. Scott Eric Kaufman notes this:

In the days since 21-year-old white supremacist Dylann Roof shot and killed nine people in a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina, it has become abundantly clear that the handlers for the Republican presidential nominees have begged their candidates to avoid the subject of race – in whatever form that conversation might take.

On Thursday, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum and current South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham both claimed that Roof’s primary motivation for gunning down parishioners at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church was a hatred of “religious liberty.” He was, they asserted, just one of many “people out there looking for Christians to kill them.”

On Friday, Florida Governor Jeb Bush followed their lead, speaking about the events in Charleston at length without ever mentioning, for example, that Roof told police that he staged the attack in order to start a race war.

After it was revealed that the blurred out symbol on the front of Roof’s car was a Confederate flag, Sen. Graham unwittingly demonstrated just how confused conservative thinking on race is at the moment, telling CNN that the flag is “part of who we are” in South Carolina, before quickly confessing that to many “it’s a racist symbol.” Whether he meant that cherishing “a racist symbol” is a “part of who” South Carolinians are – or whether he simply excluded African-Americans from the royal “we” and was only referring to white people when he made is statement – Sen. Graham’s statements revealed precisely why the rest of the GOP field is so eager to avoid discussing racially charged issues like its base’s love of the Confederate flag.

And that was before photographs of Dylann Roof posing with it were discovered on Saturday.

That chicken is coming home to roost:

On Sunday, two presidential hopefuls tried proving that they had learned from Sen. Graham’s mistakes when they were asked about the flag. On “Meet the Press,” Chuck Todd asked former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee whether he was “comfortable displaying the Confederate flag in public.”

Huckabee replied that “I don’t personally display it anywhere, so it’s not an issue for me. That’s an issue for the people of South Carolina. Do you display it? I doubt it. Does anyone on your panel display it? I doubt it. For us, it’s not an issue.”

On ABC’s “This Week,” Santorum told Martha Raddatz that he had no position on the issue because “I’m not a South Carolinian.” Unsatisfied with that response, Raddatz pressed him, and Santorum replied by saying that “these are decisions that should be made by people.”

Let’s not discuss this, okay?

It isn’t that easy, as Paul Krugman explains:

America is a much less racist nation than it used to be, and I’m not just talking about the still remarkable fact that an African-American occupies the White House. The raw institutional racism that prevailed before the civil rights movement ended Jim Crow is gone, although subtler discrimination persists. Individual attitudes have changed, too, dramatically in some cases. For example, as recently as the 1980s half of Americans opposed interracial marriage, a position now held by only a tiny minority.

Yet racial hatred is still a potent force in our society, as we’ve just been reminded to our horror. And I’m sorry to say this, but the racial divide is still a defining feature of our political economy, the reason America is unique among advanced nations in its harsh treatment of the less fortunate and its willingness to tolerate unnecessary suffering among its citizens.

Of course, saying this brings angry denials from many conservatives, so let me try to be cool and careful here, and cite some of the overwhelming evidence for the continuing centrality of race in our national politics.

Being cool and careful in this case means, instead of ragging on Republicans and Fox News, he’ll cite two academic papers:

The first, by the political scientist Larry Bartels, analyzed the move of the white working class away from Democrats, a move made famous in Thomas Frank’s “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” Mr. Frank argued that working-class whites were being induced to vote against their own interests by the right’s exploitation of cultural issues. But Mr. Bartels showed that the working-class turn against Democrats wasn’t a national phenomenon – it was entirely restricted to the South, where whites turned overwhelmingly Republican after the passage of the Civil Rights Act and Richard Nixon’s adoption of the so-called Southern strategy.

And this party-switching, in turn, was what drove the rightward swing of American politics after 1980. Race made Reaganism possible. And to this day Southern whites overwhelmingly vote Republican, to the tune of 85 or even 90 percent in the Deep South.

Then there’s the other:

The second paper, by the economists Alberto Alesina, Edward Glaeser, and Bruce Sacerdote, was titled “Why Doesn’t the United States Have a European-style Welfare State?” Its authors – who are not, by the way, especially liberal – explored a number of hypotheses, but eventually concluded that race is central, because in America programs that help the needy are all too often seen as programs that help Those People: “Within the United States, race is the single most important predictor of support for welfare. America’s troubled race relations are clearly a major reason for the absence of an American welfare state.”

Now, that paper was published in 2001, and you might wonder if things have changed since then. Unfortunately, the answer is that they haven’t, as you can see by looking at how states are implementing – or refusing to implement – Obamacare.

That’s where this plays out:

For those who haven’t been following this issue, in 2012 the Supreme Court gave individual states the option – if they chose – of blocking the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of Medicaid, a key part of the plan to provide health insurance to lower-income Americans. But why would any state choose to exercise that option? After all, states were being offered a federally-funded program that would provide major benefits to millions of their citizens, pour billions into their economies, and help support their health-care providers. Who would turn down such an offer?

The answer is, 22 states at this point, although some may eventually change their minds. And what do these states have in common? Mainly, a history of slaveholding: Only one former member of the Confederacy has expanded Medicaid, and while a few Northern states are also part of the movement, more than 80 percent of the population in Medicaid-refusing America lives in states that practiced slavery before the Civil War.

That’s pretty far from the murders in the church, but Slate’s Jamelle Bouie says it really isn’t:

Amid his Wednesday night rampage at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina – killing nine people – 21-year-old Dylann Storm Roof reportedly told churchgoers, “You rape our women, and you’re taking over our country, and you have to go.” …

It’s worth a look at the second part of Dylann Roof’s claim, which informs the first: “You’re taking over our country.” Behind the myth of black rapists was an elemental fear of black autonomy, often expressed by white Southern leaders who unhesitatingly connected black political and economic power to sexual liaison with whites. “We of the South have never recognized the right of the Negro to govern white men, and we never will,” said Sen. Benjamin Tillman on the Senate floor in 1900. “We have never believed him to be equal to the white man, and we will not submit to his gratifying his lust on our wives and daughters without lynching him.”

This fear took its most violent form in the years after the Civil War – when blacks won their freedom – but it’s been with us for centuries. Throughout the antebellum period, whites lived in terror of a challenge to the racial order and believed that black freedom would lead to a world of “Negro domination” where they lived as slaves, or worse. Likewise, during the 1864 election, Northern Democrats attacked Abraham Lincoln as a “black Republican” who sought to debase the white race with miscegenation. Similar accusations were used during the civil rights movement, and in the North, urban whites justified residential segregation – in patterns that still exist – as necessary protection from the violent, sexually aggressive black criminal.

One must deal with these “thugs” of course – white kids are never called that – so not much has changed:

Fetid swamps of Internet racism aside, racist rape accusations have all but faded from American life. But the more elemental fear – of a topsy-turvy world of black dominion – endures in diminished form. You hear it, for instance, in claims that Barack Obama is here to bring “reparations,” to punish a “Colonialist” America, or to build a world where “white kids now get beat up with the black kids cheering.”

Stoke those fears – a staple on Fox News for years now – and the chickens will come home to roost, as they did today:

The head of a white supremacist group cited by accused Charleston, S.C., gunman Dylann Roof made thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to prominent Republican candidates in recent years, including three seeking the GOP presidential nomination.

There is no evidence that the campaigns, including those of former senator Rick Santorum (Pa.), Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) and Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.) were aware of the group’s past statements, and some have already said the money will be returned.

They were moving quickly to disassociate themselves from it, with Cruz’s campaign the first to announce that it would return money it had received. That was followed quickly by a similar announcement from Paul and others who had received contributions.


Earl Holt has described himself as the president of the Council of Conservative Citizens, an organization that Dylan Roof mentioned in the “manifesto” posted on a Web site registered under his name. Roof is accused of killing nine people at Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church last Wednesday night.

But that’s not all:

In addition to donations to the three presidential candidates, FEC records show that Longview, Tex., donor “Earl Holt” or “Earl Holt III” contributed to numerous congressional campaigns, including the 2014 campaigns of Senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Joni Ernst of Iowa. Holt was also listed as giving to the campaigns of Mia Love and Allen West, two African American House candidates.

During 2012, Holt gave more than $25,000 to GOP candidates, according to the FEC. That included $2,000 to Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, $2,250 to unsuccessful Senate candidate Richard Mourdock of Indiana and $3,500 to Todd Akin of Missouri, who made an unsuccessful bid for the Senate.

Most of the two dozen or so donations recorded that year went to candidates who lost. But Holt also provided money to winning GOP candidates – he sent $1,000 to Jeff Flake who won the Senate seat from Arizona that year. And he gave similar amounts to GOP House candidates who won that year, including Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, Steve King of Iowa and Louie Gohmert of Texas.

It was time to scramble:

Before noon Monday, other recipients, including Senators Flake and Cotton, announced they would not accept the funds. “We have initiated a refund of Mr. Holt’s contribution,” Cotton said in a prepared statement. “I do not agree with his hateful beliefs and language and believe they are hurtful to our country.” Flake and Paul both said that the funds would be donated to a charity at the Emanuel AME Church, where the shooting had occurred.

And these were old chickens coming home to roost:

The Southern Poverty Law Center has been tracking the Council of Conservative Citizens for years. It identifies the CCC as a “white nationalist” group that has “evolved into a crudely white supremacist group” that expanded after the collapse of the White Citizens Councils that sprung up in the South to defend school segregation. The organization received little national attention until 1998.

That year, The Washington Post and other news organization revealed that powerful elected officials, including then-Sen. Trent Lott (R) of Mississippi, had spoken to the group in the recent past. Bob Barr, then a Republican congressman from Georgia, delivered the keynote speech at the CCC’s national convention in June 1998. He later said he had “no idea” what the organization stood for.

The Southern Poverty Law Center at the time referred to the organization as a “hate group” that denigrated blacks as “genetically inferior,” complained about “Jewish power brokers,” called gay people “perverted sodomites,” accused immigrants of turning America into a “slimy brown mass of glop,” and named Lester Maddox, the baseball-bat-wielding, arch-segregationist former governor of Georgia, “Patriot of the Century.”

Linda Feldmann reports on the obvious:

“They’re going to have to at least look through their donations, particularly those running for president, to make sure there aren’t more items like this,” says Republican strategist Ford O’Connell. “This is a very time intensive process. It’s not, ‘Let me hit “find” on a Word document.'”…

But even when and if all the Holt money is disposed of – including donations to Bush-Cheney ’04 and 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney – the Republicans’ challenge on racial matters is far from over.

“It’s a big challenge, because the media narrative is that this is the party of old white men, and it’s something they’re trying to get rid of. With that come connotations of racism and sexism,” says Mr. O’Connell. “Even when it’s not true, it still sticks to them.”

Republican strategists now know all about chickens coming home to roost, but at least they fixed the flag thing:

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley called Monday for the removal of the Confederate flag flying on the state capitol grounds, acknowledging that a symbol deeply embedded in state history is today widely seen more as a racist relic than as a proud heirloom.

In urging state legislators to remove the flag from the sky above the birthplace of the Confederacy, Haley joined a chorus of leaders from across the political spectrum and around the country that has grown rapidly in the days since a white gunman killed nine black people at a church in Charleston.

“Some divisions are bigger than a flag,” Haley (R) said during a news conference where she was joined by most of the state’s congressional delegation, including Republican Sens. Lindsey O. Graham and Tim Scott. “We are not going to allow this symbol to divide us any longer. The fact that people are choosing to use it as a sign of hate is something we cannot stand.”

It had to be done:

In Columbia, the Confederate flag emerged as a flash point after the killings, and demands for its removal continued to mount after authorities confirmed that a racist online manifesto littered with references to the Confederacy and images of the Confederate flag belonged to Roof. Even as state officials lowered the U.S. flag and the state’s palmetto flag atop the capitol dome to half-staff in honor of the victims, the Stars and Bars remained at full height.

For now, the rebel flag flies atop a 30-foot pole at a monument to Confederate soldiers on the capitol’s north lawn. For some in South Carolina, the flag is a tribute to the state’s unique place as the first to secede from the Union and as home during the Civil War to some of the Confederacy’s most fervent advocates. The flag was moved to that pole in 2000 by state lawmakers as a compromise after they faced opposition, led by the NAACP, to what had been the flag’s home atop the capitol dome since 1962.

Now they want more, and they’ll get it:

As recently as last year, Haley dismissed calls to move the flag, saying she had not heard complaints from business leaders.

Now she’ll listen to the people, not business leaders, which isn’t very Republican at all:

Haley said she will use her authority as governor to call a special session if lawmakers don’t handle the issue in the coming weeks. State Rep. Todd Rutherford, a Columbia Democrat and the House minority leader, said Republican leadership has assured him that lawmakers will vote on the flag. But he also expects some opposition. “I can tell you that it will be interesting,” he said.

It will be that:

One state senator described the calls for the flag’s removal as a “Stalinistic purge of our history.” Lee Bright, a Republican from one of the most conservative parts of the state, accused “the politically correct crowd” of seizing an opportunity. “One bad person misusing a symbol doesn’t mean the symbol is bad,” Bright said.

Good luck with that:

Wal-Mart, the largest U.S. employer, said Monday evening that it would remove items bearing the Confederate flag from its stores and stop selling them online.

“We never want to offend anyone with the products that we offer,” Brian Nick, a spokesman for the company, wrote in an e-mailed statement. “We have taken steps to remove all items promoting the confederate flag from our assortment – whether in our stores or on our web site.” Sears Holdings made a similar announcement, Reuters reported.

It has quickly become clear that a growing number of people view the Confederate flag as a “symbol of hatred,” as Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley called it Monday when he said the flag should be moved to a museum. U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called for the flag’s removal, as did Tim Cook, the chief executive of Apple.

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, said the flag should be taken down, reiterating a stance he took as a candidate in the 2008 race. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), his running mate in 2012, said Monday through a spokesman that he agreed. …

After Haley’s announcement, Democratic candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton tweeted that the governor was right to call for the flag’s removal, saying it was long overdue. Former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley (D), also a presidential candidate, called for the flag to be taken down. …

In Mississippi, the only state to have the Confederate emblem in its state flag, the top Republican in the state House of Representatives said Monday night that it should consider changing the flag.

“We must always remember our past, but that does not mean we must let it define us,” House Speaker Philip Gunn said in a statement. “As a Christian, I believe our state’s flag has become a point of offense that needs to be removed. We need to begin having conversations about changing Mississippi’s flag.”

This may be over. One part of the damage has been contained, but only one part. President Obama wouldn’t let up:

It was a single word, just six letters long, but one that has not been spoken by an American president in public for generations.

President Obama invoked the word “nigger” in a podcast interview released on Monday to drive home his point that slavery still “casts a long shadow” on American life. But in the process, he touched a raw nerve in a country struggling to confront racism and hatred in the days after nine black parishioners were killed during Bible study in a South Carolina church.

“We’re not cured of it,” Mr. Obama said of racism during an interview for a “WTF with Marc Maron” podcast. “And it’s not just a matter of it not being polite to say nigger in public. That’s not the measure of whether racism still exists or not.”

For part of the hour-long conversation with Mr. Maron, the nation’s first black president patiently explained that race relations had improved in his lifetime. But in acknowledging that racism is still deeply embedded in the United States as a “part of our DNA,” Mr. Obama turned to a racially charged word. His use of it quickly became the focus of daylong commentary online and on cable news.

Yeah, yeah – everyone was upset, but all the chickens have come home to roost now. Now we can talk about what’s really going on. Michael Arceneaux simply says this:

I think I speak for many black people when I say that I’m wonderfully bored with white people’s obsession with policing whether or not it’s ever appropriate for a black person to use “nigger” and all its variances. The majority never really has a right to question the marginalized – but particularly when context is key. And yet, they do it anyway, again and again. This time President Obama is the target, but the intent is the same: to be caught up in a word rather than the crux of an argument about systemic racism. …

This is a thoughtful take on the state of racism in this country, but naturally, cable news chose instead to focus on “nigger.” Earlier today a CNN segment weighing in on whether or not it was okay for Obama to use language that is “offensive to some.” It’s been a question I’ve since noticed has been repeated on the network. Then there is Fox News, which asked the same question with a panel of four white people.

I wish I could be amused by mass media’s disingenuousness. President Obama is not the first president to use “nigger” – he’s merely the first one not to use it as a slur. For all his work on passing civil rights legislation, former Democratic president Lyndon B. Johnson let the word fly freely and routinely from his mouth. The same goes for former Republican president Richard Nixon, and for Harry Truman, when he called Adam Clayton Powell “that damned nigger preacher.”

And, you know, all those other presidents who owned slaves and expressed deep contempt for black people.

So, with that in mind, what purpose does it serve asking whether or not the first black president’s use of “nigger” in the context of a larger reflection on covert versus overt racism relevant? Because a few white people will object? Who cares?

This is fairly simple:

If Fox News anchors continue to argue over semantics, they can get away with ignoring Obama’s point entirely – which is exactly the way they want it.

Ah, but they don’t realize that the chickens are finally coming home to roost, and for Obama, this is like shooting fish in a barrel. But Obama shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth – or something. No, it’s about the chickens. Something is shifting – America is turning liberal – for good reason.

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A Sunday Elsewhere

There is no Sunday evening column – out of town and offline – a family gathering down in San Diego. Monday evening – that’s when there may be something to say.

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That Flag

The map is not the territory. The symbol is not the thing. Alfred Korzybski said so – and this is not a pipe – so don’t get confused. And the Confederate flag is just a flag. Lee surrendered at Appomattox. There is no Confederacy. The South will not rise again. That’s over. That’s just a flag. It means nothing now.

Korzybski was wrong:

On Thursday, hours after a white gunman killed nine people in a black church in Charleston, S.C., a Confederate flag continued to fly over the grounds of the state’s Capitol.

The Supreme Court ruled the same day that Texas did not violate the First Amendment by refusing to allow the flag on its license plates.

The conflict over the banner of the Confederacy has been raging for decades between those who feel it is a symbol of free speech, and others who see it as a symbol of white supremacy. But with a photo emerging of Dylann Roof, the 21-year-old suspect in the Charleston church shootings, posing in front of a car with Confederate plates, the debate has been reignited on social media and beyond about whether the flag should be displayed, and whether politicians should continue to defend the flag as a symbol of Southern heritage.

That’s Katie Rogers reporting in the New York Times on the fight about this flag:

Representative Mark Sanford of South Carolina, a Republican, and the state’s Republican governor, Nikki R. Haley, are both drawing criticism for their views on the flag. On MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Mr. Sanford called the idea of removing the flag a “Pandora’s box” and a “complex issue within our state.”

Ms. Haley, who on Friday called for Mr. Roof to face the death penalty, was also facing criticism for referring to the flag as a “sensitive issue” but refusing to remove it in the past.

A Haley spokesman told ABC that use of the Confederate flag – seen flying high in the South Carolina capital while other flags flew at half-staff – could not be altered without approval from the state Legislature.

Cornell William Brooks, national president of the NAACP, said on Friday that those who said the flag was “merely a symbol of years gone by” had it all wrong. The flag, he said, is an “emblem of hate” that should be banished from public life.

“That symbol has to come down,” he said, speaking at a news conference in Charleston. “That symbol must be removed from our state Capitol.” …

Elsewhere, writers and academics found fault in the argument that the flag was meant to preserve a Southern way of life. In a post for The Atlantic titled “Take down the Confederate Flag – Now,” Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote that the argument that the flag preserves a heritage of racist behavior was what motivated Mr. Roof to attack black people.

“More than any individual actor, in recent history, Roof honored his flag in exactly the manner it always demanded – with human sacrifice,” Mr. Coates wrote.

Then there’s Edward E. Baptist, a professor at Cornell who specializes in the history of slavery, saying in a series of posts on Twitter that the flag had been used as justification for attacks on blacks since the Civil War:

In the course of Civil War, the flag became the symbol of not only slavery and treason, but the murder of black soldiers.

The stars and bars was also a symbol of terror: of the violent intimidation of African Americans who dared assert their rights.

SC’s state flag is a flag of slavery. But it is also a flag of terrorism.

There much more, and there’s this:

A post published Friday on League of the South, a niche website defined as a “neo-Confederate” group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, said the flag should not be taken down. Calling it “the most recognizable historic flag of the South,” the league said the Confederate flag “stands for the heroic effort our people made 150 years ago to avoid the fate were are experiencing today.”

But beyond such groups, support for the flag has been tepid. On Thursday, Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, a Republican, said that keeping the flag was a matter of “tradition.” But before the day ended, he walked those comments back.

All of this brings back memories. Graduate school in the South was confusing – maybe because they called Duke the Harvard of the South, except the campus was exceedingly ivy-covered-gothic and looked very British, except for the magnolia trees and all the sunshine, and the oppressive steamy heat. This wasn’t Cambridge, or the other Cambridge on the north edge of Boston. This was the third version, built during the Great Depression, when the butt-end of a cigarette you found in the street might be the only thing that kept you going, with the enormous profits from the tobacco industry back then. The nearby city, Durham, was gritty and poor and filled with supermarkets called Piggly-Wiggly. The locals didn’t much care for book-learning, and the highway that led south through the miles and miles of dark loblolly pine forests was part of that Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway, thought up in 1913 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy – because that war way back when had been noble and good, and the darkies had actually been happy, and the South really didn’t lose, not really. Now that stretch of road leads to Research Triangle Park, which is the Silicon Valley of the South or some such thing. That’s the New South – the ambiguous old mixed with the unsettling new, with everything a version of what it isn’t. There was always tension in the air.

Sure it was a cultural shock – imagine growing up in Pittsburgh then attending a small liberal arts college in Ohio in the last four years of the sixties, then heading off to graduate school in the South, or close enough. Durham was sort of the South. Folks there still had a problem with the Civil War. That was always the Late Unpleasantness between the States – not a civil war, really, as they had been right about states’ rights – and the North had been pushy assholes. Others called it the War of Northern Aggression. The president of the NRA has called it that – and driving down to Chapel Hill on Saturday mornings – there was a great bookstore there – along that Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway – you learned you didn’t make jokes about that war long ago.

There were also Confederate flags everywhere. You didn’t get used to it. It was like being in a time-warp, or in a foreign country with its own flag – and the odd red clay and miles and miles of dark loblolly pines, thick to the hazy horizon, just made it all the more surreal. And grocery shopping at that Piggly-Wiggly or Winn-Dixie didn’t help matters. But somehow that was the real America, and it has been for a long time.

That America came with its own mythology, that Lost Cause of the Confederacy thing. Southern nobility fought bravely and fairly, and Northern generals were crude and vile and had no sense of fair play, as seen in Sherman’s March to the Sea – and Ulysses S. Grant was a damned alcoholic too. It just wasn’t fair, and they won’t let it go. They can’t let it go. It’s who they are, and it’s no coincidence that the Tea Party crowd is heavily white and Southern, even if they long for the white-bread world of Ozzie and Harriet America in the fifties. (Ozzie and Harriett actually lived three blocks east of here, in the Hollywood they hate too.)

In 1936, with the publication of Gone with the Wind – the ultimate lost cause novel and still the most popular book in America after the Bible – the mythology went national. The 1939 movie sealed the deal, and now the Republican Party itself has become the Party of the South. That’s where almost all of their electoral votes are, and they’ve lost the last two presidential elections, badly, which might actually fine with them. It’s that noble Lost Cause thing. It’s easy to slip into thinking of yourself as a loser, but a loser who should have won, if the world were as it should be. It’s self-pity as a defense mechanism, and there’s a lot of anger involved, and quite a bit of lashing-out. This is just a slightly different lost cause than the Confederacy, one where the bad guys were FDR and Jack Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson and the hippies of the sixties, not Union soldiers. Or maybe it’s not. Maybe Dylann Roof was still fighting the original war, under the proper flag.

As for the flag itself, Carlos Lozada points out that John M. Coski, the historian at the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, wrote that definitive 2006 book about it – The Confederate Battle Flag: America’s Most Embattled Emblem – over the ongoing debate about the flag, debates in the South about whether that flag really embodies freedom, not oppression at all.

From Coski:

Defenders of the flag have insisted vehemently that the Confederacy did not exist to defend or preserve slavery, and they impugn the motives and intelligence of those who argue that it did. .. [Historian] James McPherson’s study of soldier motivations suggested that most Confederate soldiers did not fight consciously for the preservation of slave property. Confederate soldiers believed they were fighting, above all, to defend their states, their country, and their homes from invasion and to preserve the individual and constitutional liberty that Americans won in 1776. …

Historians and partisans in the flag debate can disagree legitimately with the logic of their argument, but they cannot deny the reality of the perception of those who suffered the consequences of invasion. If we wish to understand why many people perceive the Confederate flag as a symbol not of slavery but of liberty, we must understand that a war which “somehow” was caused by slavery (as Lincoln said in his second inaugural address) also necessarily entailed the destruction of an exercise in self-determination.

That’s the essence of the argument:

Modern neo-Confederate orthodoxy not only denies that slavery was the cause of the war but posits that the Confederacy’s reason for being was the defense of constitutional liberty against Big Government. Furthermore, according to this reasoning, the growth of an intrusive federal government in modern times can be traced directly to the defeat of the Confederacy. Anti-government ideology has combined with historical analysis and ancestor veneration to give the Confederacy and its symbols exalted status as icons of freedom.

While generations since 1865 have embellished this orthodoxy, it originated in the rhetoric of Confederate leaders seeking to justify secession and win support for their new nation.

That’s not exactly what the editors of the Richmond-based Southern Punch were saying in 1864:

“The people of the South,” says a contemporary, “are not fighting for slavery but for independence.” Let us look into this matter. It is an easy task, we think, to show up this new-fangled heresy – a heresy calculated to do us no good, for it cannot deceive foreign statesmen or peoples, nor mislead anyone here nor in Yankeeland… Our doctrine is this: WE ARE FIGHTING FOR INDEPENDENCE THAT OUR GREAT AND NECESSARY DOMESTIC INSTITUTION OF SLAVERY SHALL BE PRESERVED, and for the preservation of other institutions of which slavery is the groundwork.

This was an argument for economic freedom from big government, where the right to own slaves was only one element, and Coski notes that it caught on:

After the war, a few ex-Confederates expressed similar disgust with the insistence that defense of slavery had not been the cause of the war. Confederate veteran Ed Baxter unashamedly told a reunion in 1889: “In a word, the South determined to fight for her property right in slaves; and in order to do so, it was necessary for her resist the change which the Abolitionists proposed to make under the Constitution of the United States as construed by them… Upon this issue the South went to war, I repeat that the people of the South had the right to fight for their property”. … Famed Confederate partisan leader Colonel John S. Mosby was equally forthright. “I’ve always understood that we went to war on account of the thing we quarreled with the North about,” he wrote a former comrade in 1894. “I’ve never heard of any other cause than slavery.”

Mosby, [South Carolina politician Robert Barnwell] Rhett, [Confederate President] Davis, [Vice President Alexander] Stephens, and other Confederates had no difficulty conceding what their descendants go to enormous lengths to deny: that the raison d’être of the Confederacy was the defense of slavery. It follows that, as the paramount symbol of the Confederate nation and as the flag of the armies that kept the nation alive, the St. Andrew’s cross is inherently associated with slavery. This conclusion is valid whether or not secession was constitutional. It is valid whether or not most southern soldiers consciously fought to preserve slavery. It is valid even though racism and segregation prevailed among nineteenth-century white northerners.

But the argument has always been that this is simply too narrow a view of things:

Modern Americans looking for this kind of definitive judgment go wrong, however, in concluding further that the St. Andrew’s cross was only a symbol of slavery. Historians emphasize that defense of African-American slavery was inextricably intertwined with white southerners’ defense of their own constitutional liberties and with nearly every other facet of southern life. Descendants of Confederates are not wrong to believe that the flag symbolized defense of constitutional liberties and resistance to invasion by military forces determined to crush an experiment in nationhood. But they are wrong to believe that this interpretation of the flag’s meaning can be separated from the defense of slavery. They need only read the words of their Confederate ancestors to find abundant and irrefutable evidence.

The flag cannot be made “clean” now, as it was never clean in the first place, so we get things like this:


The South Carolina governor infamously called a non-issue during her re-election campaign last year because she “had not had one conversation with a single CEO about the Confederate flag” during calls with business leaders. She also rejected at least one previous call by the NAACP to remove the flag.

But during an interview on Friday with Reuters, Haley seemed open to re-examining the deal that moved the Confederate flag to its current spot.

“If they want to have this conversation again, they will,” Haley said of the state legislature. “They had it 15 years ago. They came to [a] consensus, that’s where it was. I think they’ll have another conversation, and we’ll bring people together.”


Many people blasted the South Carolina senator and Republican presidential candidate when he told CNN on Friday morning that the flag is “part of who we are” in his state. But he also said he was open to changing the capitol’s awkward compromise on the flag.

“It’s time for people in South Carolina to revisit that decision,” he said. “It would be fine with me.”

During the 2012 GOP primaries, Graham called the use of the flag at the Confederate War Memorial a “bipartisan” solution and advised candidates to avoid the topic altogether. “Any [candidate] who brought that up wouldn’t be doing themselves any favors,” he said to The Hill.


Writers at the conservative magazine – which firmly backed the South’s mantra of states’ rights during the civil rights era – debated the use of the flag on Thursday. Executive Editor Reihan Salam came out firmly against it:

“It could be that the Confederate battle flag has come to mean something entirely different in 2015 than it did in the mid-1950s, when it was closely tied to resistance to federal desegregation efforts. But is its value such that we ought to continue giving it quasi-official status, even when doing so alienates the descendants of enslaved southerners, who have just as much claim to deciding which symbols ought to represent southern heritage as the descendants of Confederate veterans? I don’t believe so.”

Others were more skeptical: Ian Tuttle argued that “objections to [the flag] are not raised in good faith” but rather for political gain. But even he then acknowledged that the flag can cause serious harm and offense.

“One can recognize, understand, and sympathize with the revulsion symbols of the Confederacy occasion in some quarters, particularly among black Americans – and a compromise should be possible. If reducing the visibility of these symbols would offer relief to those genuinely hurt, and would remove an object of contention keeping persons of different races from cooperating to advance true racial justice, that is something supporters of Confederate symbols should be able to do.”

Is that so? David Remnick has been editor of The New Yorker since 1998 and adds some perspective:

Between 1882 and 1968, the year Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated, three thousand four hundred and forty-six black men, women, and children were lynched in this country – a practice so vicious and frequent that Mark Twain was moved, in 1901, to write an essay called “The United States of Lyncherdom.” (Twain shelved the essay and plans for a full-length book on lynching because, he told his publisher, if he went forward, “I shouldn’t have even half a friend left down South.”) These thousands of murders, as studied by the Tuskegee Institute and others, were a means of enforcing white supremacy in the political and economic marketplaces; they served to terrorize black men who might dare to sleep, or even talk, with white women, and to silence black children, like Emmett Till, who were deemed “insolent.”

That legacy of extreme cruelty and unpunished murder as a means of exerting political and physical control of African-Americans cannot be far from our minds right now. Nine people were shot dead in a church in Charleston. How is it possible, while reading about the alleged killer, Dylann Storm Roof, posing darkly in a picture on his Facebook page, the flags of racist Rhodesia and apartheid South Africa sewn to his jacket, not to think that we have witnessed a lynching? Roof, it is true, did not brandish a noose, nor was he backed by a howling mob of Klansmen, as was so often the case in the heyday of American lynching. Subsequent investigation may put at least some of the blame for his actions on one form of derangement or another. And yet the apparent sense of calculation and planning, what a witness reportedly said was the shooter’s statement of purpose in the Emanuel AME Church as he took up his gun – “You rape our women and you’re taking over our country” – echoed some of the very same racial anxieties, resentments, and hatreds that fueled the lynchings of an earlier time.

And then there’s South Carolina:

Seven years ago, as Obama was campaigning in South Carolina, the Times columnist Bob Herbert visited the state, encountering the Confederate flag flying on the grounds of the State Capitol building and, nearby, a statue of Benjamin (Pitchfork Ben) Tillman, a Reconstruction-era governor and senator, who defended white supremacy and the lynching of African-Americans, saying, “We disenfranchised as many as we could.”

“We of the South have never recognized the right of the Negro to govern white men, and we never will,” Tillman said, from the floor of the U.S. Senate. “We have never believed him to be the equal of the white man, and we will not submit to his gratifying his lust on our wives and daughters without lynching him.”

The extent to which Roof was aware of the historical dimensions of his hideous act is not yet known; he is still a suspect, and we are just beginning to learn more about him. But no killer could have selected a crime scene more sacred. The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church was built to be the heart of the black community in Charleston, in the early nineteenth century, as black men and women sought to form a spiritual and political refuge divorced from the oppressive white institutions all around them.

But forget history:

No small part of our outrage and grief – particularly the outrage and grief of African-Americans – is the way the Charleston murders are part of a larger picture of American life, in which black men and women, going about their day-to-day lives, have so little confidence in their own safety. One appalling event after another reinforces the sense that the country’s political and law-enforcement institutions do not extend themselves as completely or as fairly as they do for whites. In Charleston, the killer seemed intent on maximizing both the bloodshed and the symbolism that is attached to the act; the murder took place in a spiritual refuge, supposedly the safest of places. It was as if the killer wanted to underline the vulnerability of his victims, to emphasize their exposure and the racist nature of this act of terror.

And this created a problem for Obama:

Watching Obama deliver his statement Thursday about the Charleston murders, you couldn’t help but sense how submerged his emotions were, how, yet again, he was forced to slow down his own speech, careful not to utter a phrase that would, God forbid, lead him to lose his equanimity. I thought of that sentence of James Baldwin’s: “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in rage almost all of the time.” Obama’s statement also made me think of “Between the World and Me,” an extraordinary forthcoming book by Ta-Nehisi Coates, in which he writes an impassioned letter to his teen-age son – a letter both loving and full of a parent’s dread – counselling him on the history of American violence against the black body, the young African-American’s extreme vulnerability to wrongful arrest, police violence, and disproportionate incarceration.

Obama never affords himself the kind of raw honesty that you hear in the writings of Baldwin and Coates… Obama has a different job; he has different parameters. But, for all of his Presidential restraint, you could read the sadness, the anger, and the caution in his face as he stood at the podium; you could hear it in what he had to say. “I’ve had to make statements like this too many times,” he said. It was as if he could barely believe that he yet again had to find some language to do justice to this kind of violence. It seemed that he went further than usual. Above all, he insisted that mass killings, like the one in Charleston, are, in no small measure, political. This is the crucial point. These murders were not random or merely tragic; they were pointedly racist; they were political. Obama made it clear that the cynical actions of so many politicians – their refusal to cross the NRA and enact strict gun laws, their unwillingness to combat racism in any way that puts votes at risk – have bloody consequences.

This is difficult stuff:

Obama hates to talk about this. He allows himself so little latitude. Maybe that will change when he is an ex-President focused on his memoirs. As a very young man he wrote a book about becoming, about identity, about finding community in a black church, about finding a sense of home – in his case, on the South Side of Chicago, with a young lawyer named Michelle Robinson. It will be beyond interesting to see what he’s willing to tell us – tell us with real freedom – about being the focus of so much hope, but also the subject of so much ambient and organized racial anger: the birther movement, the death threats, the voter-suppression attempts, the articles, books, and films that portray him as everything from an unreconstructed, drug-addled campus radical to a Kenyan post-colonial socialist. This has been the Age of Obama, but we have learned over and over that this has hardly meant the end of racism in America. Not remotely. Dylann Roof, tragically, seems to be yet another terrible reminder of that.

Nearly all of South Carolina was in mourning Thursday. Flags were at half-mast. Except the Confederate flag, of course, which flew high outside the building where Tillman still stands and the laws of the state are written.

Sometimes the map is the territory.

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