Call it the unraveling of the Republicans’ over forty-year-old “Southern Strategy.” Driven by a party that finally sees the dangers of perception that come with aligning itself with racists and secessionists, the GOP is letting go of the Confederate flag as a means of reaching a segment of the voting population. Like an obese diabetic swearing off corn syrup, they are looking for other ways to get their sugar that are more easily digested by the public.
Just to be clear, I’m not saying all Americans who live in the South are racists. Neither are all Southern Republicans, but when you feast at the trough of intolerance, one is bound to adapt at least some of the affectations of one’s dining partners. The need for votes and money and more money and even more money means that even if your find the racial and social attitudes of the pigs abhorrent, you can’t be seen without a snout mask, lest you reveal an upturned nose behind it.
The Democrats had to exorcise that demon back in the 1970s, and it cost them the 1980s, but this is a different time in racial politics. The flag furor is a distraction, and it helps Republicans look less intransigent on social issues, at a time when the culture wars are really heating up.
The causes of the culture clash remain the faith-based rationales for intolerance, discrimination and militarism. The problem is not with the faiths. It is with the way they are implemented by some adherents, meaning their inability to keep their dogma in perspective, as part of a pluralistic society. Those in public service who swing to God to justify their manifestos are all too happy to provide the kindling for righteous indignation and bogeyman politics. It is a maneuver worthy of a ten-year-old boy, for whom every challenge is stridently answered, “Uh-uhhh,” or, “Your mama.”
Aware of humanity’s inconsistencies in abiding by the principles of freedom and tolerance that are necessary to preserve our republic, Thomas Jefferson, in his first inaugural address, issued several cautionary advisements. More than a few point to the stubborn divisions which even now grip our country and freeze our government with an intolerant zeal usually relegated religious fanaticism.
After expressing his expectation that all would rally around the young Constitution, “and unite in common efforts for the common good,” he added:
“All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle: that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable.”
After the tragedy in Charleston, South Carolina, on June 17, where a young bigot walked into a historic black church and gunned down nine people during Bible study, some on the Right were quick to cast it as an attack on faith in general, and the Christian faith in particular. Such speech feeds the monster of intolerance they count on to get elected, and rallies their political base to show up at the polls. But is their “will to be rightful” at all reasonable? More importantly, is using the faith community, fallacious argument that it is, consistent with our nation’s founding principles?
It was Jefferson who said, citing mankind’s long history of wars and killing for the cause of religious superiority, “that, having banished from our land that religious intolerance under which mankind so long bled and suffered, we have yet gained little if we countenance a political intolerance [just] as despotic, [just] as wicked, and capable of [just] as bitter and bloody persecutions.”
Instead, he said, we are a nation “enlightened by a benign religion, professed, indeed, and practiced in various forms, yet all of them inculcating honesty, truth, temperance, gratitude, and the love of man; acknowledging and adoring an overruling Providence, which by all its dispensations proves that it delights in the happiness of man here and his greater happiness hereafter.”
Those who are quick to wield the sword of some maleficent deity, clinging to a single truth against coexistence, cleave all Americans from our heritage as a free country. Fanatics and zealots of all stripes are corruptions of “a benign religion,” and their extremism is an anathema to a belief in the “happiness of man.”
Their dogma distorts.
Perhaps it is the fanatic’s belief in exclusivity that drives his myopic zeal, a deeply seeded understanding that his race and religion make him part of a group that is destined to inherit the keys to the kingdom and rule over others. For a soul so possessed, there can be no “common good,” only the distorted fulfillment of their distorted perceptions of God.
Children are also often told they are special, that they make their parents proud. This is a perception most grow to understand as coming from the unfettered love a parent has for for their child. Very few carry it into adulthood. That is, unless they find the world so daunting and unwelcoming that they hasten back to the warmth and comfort of memory and seek a way to prove to the world what their parents convinced them was true.
The rambling letter the confessed killer in Charleston, posted online, is rife with the delusion of superiority and entitlement he thinks are due Americans of European ancestry. According to D.R. (I’m not going to empower him by using his name), Whites in America “are in fact superior,” and because they are superior beings, they are also victims of “lies, exaggerations and myths.” And, he adds lamentingly, “I have tried endlessly to think of reasons we deserve this.”
Poor Whites. And it’s all the fault of “Jewish agitation of the black race.” Jews, he says, operate secretly under a cloak of Whiteness. “If we could somehow turn every jew [sic] blue for 24 hours,” he suggests, “I think there would be a mass awakening, because people would be able to see plainly what is going on.”
It’s so simply juvenile, this racist rant by a man incapable of taking responsibility for his own shortcomings. Jews are an “enigma.” Blacks “are stupid and violent.” Hispanics may have European blood, but “are still our enemies.” He and the people he sources never stopped blaming others for a country growing and changing. We accept. We consent. We grow. We put away childish things like the Confederate flag and hopefully, someday, the pointy white hoods of the racists. We put away the fear of losing wealth for the joys of clean air, a sound education and healthcare for all.
This is not our country changing in some foreign way. It is, instead, precisely the way our Founding Fathers envisioned our republic evolving.
“E pluribus unum – out of many, one,” is the motto of our nation, a true declaration for pluralism and tolerance, so that we can thrive, Jefferson said, “possessing a chosen country, with room enough for our descendants to the thousandth and thousandth generation.”
Welcome to the “golden door.”
PS. Truly principled freedom rings out from the Virginian’s speech, and it is at the very least regretful that he polluted the consistency of his principles by owning slaves. That is a fact that cannot be easily washed away by high minded thoughts and words. Nevertheless, I urge you to embrace the message, if not the messenger.