When the Right Supports the Burning of the Flag

When the Right Supports the Burning of the Flag May 29, 2017



A curious anomaly: right-wingers lamenting the removal of confederate monuments, while left-wingers shake their fingers at them about “treason.” Usually, the Right is all about fidelity to the good old US of A, flag-worship, and “anyone who doesn’t stand behind our troops is free to stand in front of them” (meaning, if you criticize US military imperialism, you might as well just be shot – a sentiment particularly on display on Memorial Day, and similar occasions of remembrance). So it’s interesting, isn’t it, that they would give adulation to the leaders of the most nearly-successful insurrection against US power ever? And it’s similarly interesting that liberals and leftists, many of whom were reviled as traitors for opposing war in the Middle East, are now using the treason language to oppose their ideological foes.

I want to be clear. There is nothing morally evil, per se, about treason. A person is a citizen only in a secondary sense, and while she may owe fidelity, objectively, to a family or friends – or allegiance to a religion – or be bound by responsibility to care for community, civic well-being, and the health of the native soil – none of this necessitates loyalty to the powers of nation-state. One is always morally free to say to the lords of state: I serve a higher power. Indeed, the founders of the Union did just that, and had they not won against Britain, certainly would have been executed for treason.

So I really don’t have a problem, if I bracket out the rest, with the fact that the Southern states tried to secede. A bunch of smaller countries, each with less rigorous border policies, but perhaps a shared currency, sounds appealing. For one thing, there would be less centralized power, and therefore less power, and therefore less temptation to do evil, globally.

It’s not treason, secession, or states’ rights I take issue with. It’s the idea that a state could have a right to declare one person the property of another. By all means, let states regulate speed limits, zoning restrictions, and cannabis production.

Confederate sympathizers may try to sidle around the reality of slavery as a historic issue (I confess, I used to do this myself: mea culpa) – but the truth remains. Even if the Confederate States convinced themselves they were fighting for states’ rights, the thing they thought their states had a right to do was fundamentally, objectively evil – as no act of treason, sedition, or secession could ever be.

But why does a demographic that is usually all about patriotism support the political entity that turned on the United States of America – the troops that fired at their beloved flag, the flag that it is sacrilege to burn (for any other reason)? They say, “oh, it’s history, we don’t want to forget history.” But history is preserved in books and learning, not simply in monuments. Without the stories and the passing on of true accounts, the monuments are just statues, with no historical message. And moreover, there are plenty of historical personages whom we very clearly remember, without having to honor them with statues in the public squares.

Those who have opposed the U.S. government for other reasons – for the sake of peace, for instance, or for the rights of native peoples – are not similarly held up as heroes by the Right. Fr. Daniel Berrigan burned the draft cards of young men, to protest the Vietnam War, and I never hear of any Republicans proclaiming that we must have statues of him, lest this era in history be forgotten.

It would appear that, for this demographic, opposition to the United States of America, and to our flag, is acceptable only if it advances a cause of white supremacy. At any other time, for any other cause, the Right does not hesitate who vilify those who oppose American agendas – even our saints, our moral heroes, the ones who have put Christ and his Church before Caesar and empire.

It’s no surprise so many prefer Trump over Francis.


Postscript: For those of us with Confederate soldiers among our ancestors, this question may become more personal, indeed. But I would suggest that it is far more personal for Black Americans who have to see, regularly, the graven images of those who fought to prevent their freedom. Those who want these descendents of slaves to suck it up and deal, or who mock them as “whiners,” should pause and ask themselves why their own feelings are so deeply wounded by the removal of a few statues. 

image credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Daughters_of_the_Confederacy_monument_in_Charleston,_SC_IMG_4565.JPG

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment