As someone who lives on a somewhat wooded acreage out in the country, I’ve become accustomed to burning yard waste from time to time. From the perspective of one who was raised in the Chicago suburbs, there are an astonishing amount of dead branches that fall every year. Nor is it anything other than routine for us to have limbs and even entire trees downed in inclement weather. That’s to say nothing of the time a couple years ago when our creek flooded and every piece of waste that the original owner had been dumping over the fence for decades was washed back out onto the lawn. As I write this, there’s already a pile started that I’ll probably light later this summer.
And yet, if my home were in the path of a raging fire, and I feared that it might be consumed if that fire were not put out, then I would not simply take the opportunity to dump my burn pile into it. I have no desire to keep my rubbish, but I’m not so desperate to get rid of it that I would fuel a dangerous inferno that could destroy far more than my rubbish.
America now faces a similar situation when it comes to some of her own rubbish: the Confederate flag. I have no love for it as a symbol, for it is deeply connected to an abominable practice. Though there are those who perceive its connections to other, better things, I have not been taught to make those connections, nor do I think the better washes away the abominable in any case.
Nevertheless, the sudden impulse to scrub that flag from every dusty corner of the nation is far more dangerous than the flag itself. While removing the Stars and Bars from public flagpoles is an entirely reasonable proposition, the mob that’s slathering for it is not primarily comprised of reasonable people.
You can see the irrationality in how quickly the destruction is extending to films like Gone with the Wind and innocuous pieces of pop-culture like The Dukes of Hazzard. You can smell the delirium in Apple’s decision to ax any uncensored Civil War game in their app store. You can perceive the incoherence in Amazon and eBay nixing all Confederate memorabilia whilst ignoring all the Nazi and Communist merchandise they sell, or in Walmart’s refusal to decorate a cake with a Confederate flag while happily depicting ISIS’ flag in icing. The way they froth at the mouth when they see the Stars and Bars it is not indicative of moral zeal but of fanaticism. Reflexively ejaculating “kill it with fire” whenever they encounter something offensive is not an admirable trait in people who live in a world they believe to be comprised entirely of mircroaggressions.
This is not a controlled burn, and the fire will not even be bounded by the issue of American racism, for that is not the only political issue on which the fascist left has lost all sense. Take, for example, BuzzFeed’s new journalism standards (yes, apparently BuzzFeed does journalism; I think their story on the Obergefell ruling was titled “You Won’t Believe What These Four Judges Said About Gay Marriage!”) You might think that reporting on both (or all) sides of a story is inherent to good journalism, but BuzzFeed does not agree: “We firmly believe that for a number of issues, including civil rights, women’s rights, anti-racism, and LGBT equality, there are not two sides.” It is amazing how quickly the left moved from “This needs to be debated.” to “The debate is over and we won; didn’t you notice?” to “There’s nothing to debate because there’s only one side.”
These are not the beliefs of somebody who is willing to have a discussion. These are the beliefs of an unthinking dogmatist. Yes, racism is bad, but this is an age where people think the word “niggardly” is racist. Sure, misogyny is wrong, but this is an age where “women’s rights” include murdering their own children and unilaterally taking away a man’s home and family for any reason or no reason at all. Of course, civil rights are important, but this is an age where such “rights” include forcing florists and bakers to pretend two men are married but do not cover conscience or religion. These are the issues where there’s supposedly only one side? These are the issue on which sane people cannot have differing opinions?
Nevertheless, while the book-burners and thought-police rage, plenty of conservatives are suggesting to simply go along with them because the Confederate flag does represent an abominable practice. They advise that we don’t want to get caught defending it because it might make us look bad. I offer this counter-advice: take a good long look at the Social Justice Warrior fanatics on the other side and thoughtfully consider whether you will ever look anything other than bad in their eyes and whether it would even be meaningful if they did like you. Too many conservatives would have us engage in an unwinnable popularity contest instead of actually leading those who will inevitably come under assault. That flag might be odious, but it’s also tolerable; giving a mob free reign is not.
Ever since the left co-opted the term, even conservatives have forgotten what tolerance really means. It is not the act of indiscriminate toleration that they promote—the kind that forces them into all sorts of incoherence as they refuse to tolerate anything that gives them even a whiff of intolerance. Rather, it is the ability to see an evil and leave it alone because your efforts to stamp it out would inevitably cause greater evil. An old proverb quoted by Martin Luther in Temporal Authority sums it up well: “’He cannot govern who cannot wink at faults.’ Let this be his rule: Where wrong cannot be punished without greater wrong, there let him waive his rights, however just they may be.”
Whatever else it might accomplish, stamping out the Confederate flag now also whets the appetite of those fanatics who will consume America whole. It gets rid of an irritant at the cost of empowering a great evil. The day may come when the Stars and Bars can be put to rest without causing even greater wrong, but it is not this day. That symbol should go away, but not like this.