Forced to act right in Charleston

Image-wise, the South Carolina governor, Nikki Haley, had it going on all cylinders, including a show of emotion whose genuineness we have no reason to doubt, when she was first heard from following the unspeakable horror at Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston. The state, she said, had to grieve, to heal, to reach out to bereaved kin, etc. Her response quickly lost some of its initial “correctness” though, when she was queried about a larger context for what had so heinously brought Charleston to a standstill — matters like the easy accessibility of guns or the state’s defiantly flying a Confederate flag on the Capitol grounds. Eventually, many would be complimenting the governor for a directional shift away from the predictable right-wing-speak injected into her first response, to pushing for removal of the offensive Confederate symbol a few days later. It seems clear that the numbing shock of what unfolded in that sanctuary proved, in some key instances, more powerful than a deep-seated conservative resolve to give nary an inch in rallying round that flag.

Haley, the offspring of immigrants from India, evidently thought herself sufficiently establishment-rooted to identify with the conservative values of the Republican Party, when she veered toward active involvement in politics. Personally acquainted though she is with the immigrant narrative, she nevertheless hews to the hard-line position that has come to define GOP immigration policy. Ditto abortion, gun rights and other items routinely included in the check list of Republican wedge issues. African American Senator Tim Scott is of similar persuasion, staking out positions that have validated his credentials as far-right GOP / Tea Party stock and have earned him first a seat in the House and subsequently in the Senate, from deep-red South Carolina. Asked where he stood on the issue of the Confederate flag still being flown in the state, Scott slid into defense mode, declaring last Sunday he wasn’t yet prepared to “make news” with his position. By the following day, he was joining Haley and others as a party to the “take down the flag” agitation suddenly afoot among Republicans.

In the ongoing struggle for dignity, folks are no less appreciative of victories that come via some unexpected, fateful commingling of events. Of course they’ll take it, if the depraved actions of a hate-obsessed monster result in removal of such an in-your-face reminder of the American story at its worst. But neither is it to be lost in the flow that reactive expediency, not a proactive sense of duty, has occasioned the change…a change that’s still dependent upon enough Republican legislators across the state signing off on it.

Gov. Haley seemed to be bending over backward to reassure whites, tamp down a presumed restlessness among them. This was no effort to short-circuit their love affair with that flag, she underscored at every turn. Just removal of it from a single spot. Honoring their ancestry and everything else that’s been trotted out to make the case for this foremost Confederate symbol’s earned presence in today’s America remain unchanged, she promised. Of course Haley and the others who have been vending that line of twaddle tend to conveniently ignore in the spiel that the Confederate flag got placed atop the South Carolina Capitol in 1962, and with arch conservative Strom Thurmond as chief architect, was all about pushing back against the drive for civil rights then underway. The raison d’etre of the flag’s reappearance in the 1960s couldn’t be more starkly clear. The malarkey about ancestry and all the rest that Haley, Scott and their white Republican colleagues keep belaboring is standard see-through stuff.

That two of the three top elected officials in South Carolina are non-white Republicans does nothing to temper our skepticism about talk of comity, harmonious race relations and all else that’s been added to a make-nice tableau following what occurred at Emanuel A.M.E. At the end of the day, Haley and Scott subscribe fully to their party’s most reactionary principles impinging on persons of color. A much advertised “right thing” they are now on record to do may not be strictly termed “involuntary,” but would seem not too far from it. For sure, supporting removal of the flag would have generated zero consideration by Haley and Scott prior to Wednesday, June 17.

The flag has been a front-and-center bone of contention but it is hardly the only issue highlighted by last week’s horrendous turn of events. From the usual suspects, for example, came predictable chatter when many, including TV’s Jon Stewart, took note of the relatively low-key vigilance devoted to the eruption of white supremacist domestic terrorism as was seen in Charleston and the all-hands alert constantly committed to the likes of al Qaeda.

To which we’re supposed to accept without murmur: That’s just the way it is.

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