We are coming upon forty days since a person fond of the Confederate flag gunned down nine people in cold blood in a church in Charleston, South Carolina. Within days outrage and anger about that event became transformed into a rather testy debate over Confederate heritage and its symbols, with South Carolina’s decision to remove the Confederate flag from the state house grounds in Columbia marking a important moment.
Of course, the debate did not stop there. People argued about removing the Confederate flag from license plates, famous TV cars, and National Park shops; there were discussions about moving (or simply removing) statues and one pair of bodies. As might be expected, defenders of Confederate heritage rose up in opposition and did their best to suggest that they were making up ground, although several of these protests were somewhat less impressive than their supporters claimed. For example, at its height a protest in Fredericksburg, Virginia, drew less than three
thousand hundred dozen people, as this film suggests … and not a lot of people were paying any attention:
By the way, my understanding is that this was not a Virginia Flaggers function … too many people for that. But I also understand that 149 people promised to show up. Desertion remains a Confederate tradition.
By now we have a pretty good idea about what will happen. The once-surging tide will now begin to recede … not because Confederate heritage advocates have prevailed (they have lost serious ground) but because people soon get interested in other things. What happened in Columbia remains the emotional high point of this recent controversy. As many people pointed out, at most it was a first step in addressing far more serious questions. But it did not mark an end to gun violence, as we’ve seen since then; it did not mark an end to racism or to white supremacy; and in fact it remains to be seen whether the discussion that commenced on the heels of the Charleston murders will persist before people grow tired of it or turn their attention to the Kardashians or Donald Trump. Certainly the debates have grown predictable once more (and a little boring); while I expect to see a few more flashpoints in the fight over Confederate heritage in the coming weeks, I think the front is stabilizing, so to speak, as people sort out gains and losses.
This is not to minimize the importance of the discussion, merely its persistence. While the participants may continue to argue, the attention-span of the broader American public, always short, will decline absent another vivid event. Some people swept up in the initial fervor that looked as if it would sweep everything before it will find that there are other things to talk about, and it remains to be seen how many proposals will be acted upon. More will happen than one might have anticipated two months ago, but less than one hoped (or feared) might happen three weeks ago.
What do you think? What really happened over the last forty days? What will persist? What has changed? You tell me.