A Moron and his Flag

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This is such a raw and terrible moment in our nation. The scourge of racism is alive and well, unfortunately. Anyone who thought that the election of Barack Obama somehow made us “post-racial” has now been proven wrong.

I grieve for the Charleston victims and their families, and I also grieve for everyone who no longer feels safe in their house of worship. Some would like to carry their guns to church with them, but those people live in a twisted world that I would never want to share. If we need to be strapped to worship the almighty, we may as well cease to consider ourselves civilized.

And if the massacre inside a church in Charleston has any silver linings at all, it will be that everyone–except for the most dark-hearted and hard-headed among us–now understands that the Confederate flag is a stain on America’s past, and has no place whatsoever in America’s future. It won’t bring the victims of Dylann Storm back, but it will have an impact going forward.

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Rebel, Rebel

Illinois Welcome Sign

I recently went on a long drive out west to see my in-laws at Christmas. A few pictures and stories from the trip were shared in this space, but the vast majority of it will live in brain’s memory, rather than in my computer’s memory. And that’s as it should be, I suppose.

But one moment from the long drive home stands out. We spent a night in Wichita, Kansas, and had to get back to Chicago the next day. After a drive through Kansas and into Missouri, and then across a long stretch of Iowa, we made it into Illinois. But even then, we still had to get from one end of the state to the other along Interstate 88, which has been named the Reagan expressway because it runs through Ronald Reagan’s birthplace of Dixon. But this story begins before we even made it that far.

We pulled off the highway to fill up, and I then went inside to use the restroom. My younger daughter came along too, and as I was waiting for her to come out I started to peruse the store. The first thing I noticed was one of the Calvin-type little boy stickers peeing on the word Obama. A disrespectful sticker to be selling in the president’s home state, certainly, but not terribly surprising because once you get more than five or ten miles away from Chicago, Illinois is not much different from Iowa or Missouri or even Kentucky, culturally speaking at least.

But just because I don’t like the message that a sticker sends, that doesn’t mean others can’t buy or sell it as they want to. This is America, after all, and the freedom to disrespect those in power, whoever they are, comes with the territory. I have no problems there.

But another sticker that I saw in the store had a much different effect on me. It carried the words “Kiss my rebel ass” wrapped around a confederate flag. That’s where where my tolerance ends, because the Confederacy killed off more Americans than the British, the Nazis, the Soviets, and Al-Queda ever will.

Why would anyone buy a symbol of disunion, sedition, and human bondage to attach to a car? Especially in Illinois, which never was a part of the Confederacy to begin with and–even more importantly–was home to the man who put the Confederacy out of business. Anyone who traffics in the Confederate flag in Illinois–even the western edges of it–only reveals their ignorance of the past.

But maybe that’s where the rebel part of this comes in. The bravado of the “kiss my ass” part of the sticker is designed to mask–or perhaps even to amplify–the ignorance of someone who would buy and display such a sticker. The Confederacy may have been able to run a weak president to the ground, but Abraham Lincoln proved to be their downfall. He kept the nation together, somehow, through the Civil War. And Reagan expressway or no Reagan expressway, and sitting president from Illinois or not, this is–and always will be–known as the Land of Lincoln. And hailing from such a place makes me exceedingly proud.

I wanted those stickers to be hidden from view somehow, so I turned them around and put them back in place on the rack. It was a small protest against an idea and a cause that was as un-American as anything ever has been. I’m sure it has been recognized by the gas station by now, and the stickers have since been put back into the proper position for some fool to consider buying one. But the rebel flag will always be an anathema to me, here in the state that did more than any other to shut the Confederacy down.

Long live the First Amendment and freedom of expression, but even longer may the memory of the terrible things that the Confederacy stood for be remembered.

Tea Party hits rock bottom

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The men and women who died holding this Union together in the 1860s, and those who lived with the loss of physical and mental faculties because of a battle over whether states had the right to leave the union or not, are dishonored whenever the confederate flag is displayed.

I’m going to type this out in all caps, so that even the dimmest bulb among us can understand my point:

THOSE WHO FLY THE CONFEDERATE FLAG LOSE ALL RIGHTS TO CONSIDER THEMSELVES AS PATRIOTS.

That’s as simple as it is. That flag was the emblem of an armed rebellion against the government that Franklin, Washington, Jefferson, and others put into place in the 1780s. The issue of secession was settled, and sealed with oceans of blood and pain.

But whoever was holding that flag outside of the White House today obviously doesn’t realize that.

The rebel flag is kryptonite. It’s poison. It’s literally a stain on the American experience. And the person (oh, how I’d love to choose a more colorful description, but I’ll keep my emotions in check) who holds it up high in public–much less outside of the White House–deserves nothing less than the most ringing, unequivocal condemnation possible.

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing

In 1860, there was a four-way presidential election held in America, the likes of which had never been seen before, and will likely never be seen again. The winning candidate–Abraham Lincoln of Illinois–prevailed by getting a majority of the votes in the electoral college. That’s what the Constitution requires, and that’s what he did. But a handful of states couldn’t abide by those rules, so they decided to leave the game and start their own one.

Lincoln had a choice to make, upon taking the oath of office in 1861. He could recognize the doctrine of secession, and let the states go on their way, or he could ignore it and act as though nothing had happened. Lincoln chose the latter course, and in so doing committed the federal government to preserving the Union. The Civil War began, soon after that decision had been made.

The war was waged long and hard, and all states suffered terrible losses before it was over. But it ended with the understanding that states could not decide to leave the Union. The nation we live in today, all 50 states of it, are bound to follow federal laws, including accepting the outcome of presidential elections, whether their candidate wins the election or not.

I’ve lived in Illinois–the Land of Lincoln–all my life, and this has pretty much insulated me from expressions of sympathy for the Confederate cause. I watched the Dukes of Hazzard as a kid, unaware of the meaning of that flag that was painted on top of the General Lee. I’ve seen Confederate flags at flea markets in Wisconsin, which made no sense to me because Wisconsin fought on the Union side during the Civil War. And I’ve seen the flag on items in gift shops in other states.  But Lincoln lost his life preserving the Union, and his martyrdom, I thought, protected his home state against any overt Confederate sympathies.

But this afternoon, in a large shopping mall near the Wisconsin border, these illusions were brought to an end. A store in the mall had a Confederate flag on display, presumably for the purposes of selling it. Although I was stunned at the sight, I was able to snap a picture of it, and it is posted above.

There is a Naval station not terribly far from the mall, and some of the other items offered for sale in the store had Naval terms on them. Apparently, a store catering to military families sees a market for the emblem of a failed attempt to bring the United States down. And that’s just what would have happened, had the Civil War ended with a different result. But thanks to Lincoln’s leadership, the Union was preserved instead.

A person who buys a Confederate flag from this gift shop in a mall in Northern Illinois–or anywhere else where this emblem might be sold–is offering their support for what? The idea that presidential elections can be disregarded by states that don’t like the results? Or the idea that America is a collection of independent states, who can decide for themselves when they’re free to leave the Union? Those ideas have already been tried and, fortunately enough for us all, defeated.

This is a symbol that belongs in the history books, instead of on the sales floor. And yet, America being what it is, it can’t be–and shouldn’t be–just legislated away. That change can only take place in the hearts and minds of Americans who appreciate, and ultimately reject, what the flag really stood for. And until that day comes, the Civil War is still with us in some sense.