The Culture of Smugness - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
The Culture of Smugness

Whether or not South Carolina retains a Confederate flag on state grounds is clearly a matter for the state to decide. But the media couldn’t permit GOP presidential candidates to limit themselves to that position. It had to hector the candidates into support for the flag’s removal. On all matters racial, the media polices not only sins of commission but sins of omission. By the media’s estimate, insufficient enthusiasm for the flag’s removal is evidence of a troubling racial attitude.

The hate on display in the controversy is coming not from the flag’s defenders but from a smug liberal elite that can’t rest until every inch of America conforms to their liberal prejudices. Jon Stewart’s supposedly anguished remarks about the Charleston horror seemed more like childish pouting and sophomoric South-bashing, with the glib host demanding that even the streets of the South be renamed: “In South Carolina, the roads that black people drive on are named for Confederate Generals who fought to keep black people from driving freely on that road. That’s insanity. That’s racial wallpaper. You can’t allow that.”

Like French Revolutionaries, the liberal elite wants American culture to begin from scratch, built on nothing more than the conviction that the past is wicked and the present good. Even as the moral refuse of modern life grows higher and higher, its spokesmen can still peer down from it to denounce the past pitilessly. Americans can trot off to Walmart to pick up an abortifacient, but its clerks, the company announced, will no longer let customers purchase a Confederate flag. “We never want to offend anyone with the products that we offer,” the company explained. That hasn’t stopped the store from selling sex toys over the objections of parental groups, but it feels that it has to draw the line somewhere. The company has concluded that the flag under which Robert E. Lee fought is too corrupting for its customers.

For years, Southerners, without any connection to slavery or segregation and without the slightest racial intent, have flown the flag out of regional pride and ancestral respect. Little did they know that they were following in the footsteps of Hitler’s acolytes.

“The only argument you can make against having this flag be as spectacularly shown as it is around the South is the Nazis,” said actress Whoopi Goldberg. “It would be like having the swastika flag flying [at] your next-door neighbor’s [house].” HBO host John Oliver said, “The Confederate flag is one of those symbols that should really only be seen on T-shirts, belt buckles and bumper stickers to help the rest of us identify the worst people in the world.”

Such is the moral nuance of the American Left. Instead of challenging the crudeness of these remarks, pols of both parties appear ready to enshrine them into law by banishing the flag from all public places save obscure museums.

South Carolina’s governor, Nikki Haley, did make a few tactful remarks about the supporters of the flag but it is unlikely that her words will survive the flag’s banishment. She said that the “hate filled murderer who massacred our brothers and sisters in Charleston has a sick and twisted view of the flag,” which doesn’t “reflect the people in our state who respect and, in many ways, revere it.” Yet the law that she seeks to pass will have the effect of stigmatizing those people and vindicating the Left’s interpretation of the flag as inherently racist.

The resurfacing of racist ideologies is due not to the South’s past but to the nihilistic present, in which resentments and identity politics thrive. Eliminating the Confederate flag won’t arrest that unruly culture. It will make it even more rootless and ahistorical. Teens who shoot up churches and movie theaters haven’t been reading the biographies of Stonewall Jackson and Robert Lee. They have been immersed in an increasingly demented pop culture that celebrates the absence of virtue and discipline.

Only the liberal elite could be smug enough to think America is moving from a culture of “hate” to a culture of love under its dictates. Instead, it is moving toward a new culture of hate, one that is marked not by balanced moral judgments but by fanatical fiats. “We are on the right side of history,” its champions claim, but future generations will likely find such deluded moral boasting as far less honorable than the Civil War valor the Left seeks to erase.

George Neumayr
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George Neumayr, a senior editor at The American Spectator, is author most recently of The Biden Deception: Moderate, Opportunist, or the Democrats' Crypto-Socialist?
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