Stars and Bars

I often try to find ways to understand other people and points of view, and this puts me in a rather lonely position in political beliefs, one of moderatism. Moderate Extremism, you might call it.

I’ve been thinking about this more lately because a lot of ink has been spilled on wedge issues and different perspectives and how social media is impacting this debate. For example, did you hear it as the “#trumpshutdown” or the “#schumershutdown” and which one of those sounds more absurd to you?

Where I fall on a wide variety of issues is rarely along party lines, and if I were to give an exhaustive accounting of all my political opinions, I would find very few allies. Most people would see something listed that they would declare was so awful that my whole value in conversation or even as a human might come into question since it seems more people have adopted much more extreme beliefs. It’s also a matter of nuance and fluidity, and I think it’s rare that issues are so cut and dry. Even worse, I’ve come to realize that certain pieces of our political constructions are so obviously broken to everyone, but the underlying reason has to do with a broader debate in which no, we don’t really all agree – and the imperfection of our agreement is part of what is truly “functional” about the system that some people become upset with. I see it as ever more dangerous that extreme opinions are uniting people in such ideas that would detract from our ability to compromise, or more importantly, not compromise with one another.

Years ago it was much more common for people to describe themselves as “independent” or to appear wishy-washy rather than register with a party or chose news sources as confirmed biases. This has become disturbingly unfashionable, and I try to appear as much a chameleon as possible in certain circles. Being at ease with a variety of cultures and opinions makes this work pretty well for me on a personal basis, but I mostly keep my mouth shut on social media, except to try to poke at the edges.

One area I think about a lot is the issue of “the South”. As I look out my window, I can almost see a Confederate soldier looking northward, CSA on his belt buckle, and an anachronistic rifle resting easy. I’m conflicted about it. When I was a kid, not much was made of this, the General Lee was a favorite toy of mine in which the Duke boys would try to escape Boss Hog.

Now there’s a lot of debate about the Confederate flags and the statues and it’s another time when there’s a political litmus test that’s sharply dividing opinions. It’s the kind of thing where if you express an extremist opinion with certain verve you’ll suddenly be lifted to the shoulders of those who agree with it the most, and if you fall between you’re looked down upon by basically everyone. I’ve been thinking about it carefully, and there continue to be problems in which people are speaking without nuance, and somehow dividing the other side against them.

As an example – in Charlottesville, there was a nexus of activity from the most extreme groups. These groups advocate violence to disrupt society for their own misguided reasoning. A lot of Republicans found themselves taking a confused stance, thinking this is an issue of free speech. It is not. As a red-blooded American, I understand free speech, and there need not be any defense of the call to violence any more than the fake cry of “fire” in our theaters. It was sad to see this nuance get lost, and in that moment, for a time, the Republican party did seem to lose its way, and some of my respect in the process instead of taking the opportunity to make this point clear.

It was also sad to see how the liberal cause has left an old detente behind, as it became popular to fight against displays of Confederate history as one-dimensionally “racist.” This safety catch has been built into the veneration of Confederate artifacts since the end of the war, when the south was defeated. James Garfield spoke of this in his most famous speech, “The Destiny of the Republic.”

After the storms of battle were heard the calm words of peace spoken by the conquering nation, saying to the foe that lay prostrate at its feet: “This is our only revenge—that you join us in lifting into the serene firmament of the Constitution, to shine like stars for ever and ever, the immortal principles of truth and justice: that all men, white or black, shall be free, and shall stand equal before the law.

It’s worth spending some time considering reconstruction, when these states were knitted back together and representatives sent to Washington, and votes counted once again in the southern states, votes and representatives that now were credibly shown to be compelled to attend and participate in the federal system of the Union as a larger backstop upon states that might have a disastrous political will of their own, running counter to basic human rights and the larger society with things like slavery.

This worked well, and despite grappling with a variety of problems over the decades, there was some improvement and healing. Importantly, the Confederate veterans were given the same recognition for service in the war as the Union veterans. It’s extraordinary to think about, I’m not sure if anything has happened before or since that is even similar. Think of it, the idea that a losing army would continue to receive a military pension. I believe most re-enactors realize this, the importance of seeing Confederate veterans as American veterans. If we’re going to have one nation, then forever we are one people, and singularly our federal system can make that bold change to history, despite the attempt to leave the Union.

The philosophy of it, to me, is not one of capitulation or even recognition of any validity to the southern cause but is part of understanding that this struggle was for the whole nation and that these two armies suffered and served to build a new kind of Union and broader American idea that was “more perfect” than the one before it.


It doesn’t say “the north”. At the time this was carved in marble, “the people” were from each American state, and always had been. It’s an imperfect philosophy, on which we rest the hope that we would build something better as we learn about each other.

Recognizing the waves of changes here is important also, and anyone forgetting the legacy of the period from the 1920’s to the 1960’s is not being fully honest with themselves either. In this period, the flag and the statues were concrete symbols that were pointed at by invisible fingers to remind certain people what “their place” was, including official and non-official forms of unfair racial oppression.

Some of that attitude remains today, I’m certain of it, but are we going to look on each speeding car around us as someone who is a selfish ass, or as perhaps a human who we imagine responding to a kind of unthinkable emergency. There’s always a way to consider that someone else might have a reason for doing something that infuriates you at first glance, that includes flying a silly flag. This is kind of optimism that I hope to spread, and I wonder if I have picked one of the hardest topics possible to make this point.


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