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Populism, Racism and the Left

Somehow, as seems to be the case with every tragedy that occurs in America, the tragic murder of nine people in South Carolina by a racist murderer has been hijacked for political gain. Any Republican who doesn’t publicly repudiate the Confederate flag as a symbol of segregation and oppression and call for its immediate removal from South Carolina government grounds is a Jim Crow-loving racist, or something.

Never mind that the flag flies on the grounds of a memorial for confederate soldiers or that the law requires a two-thirds majority in the legislature to be removed. Facts are an impediment to political grandstanding and are therefore run over by the brute force of emotionalism.

What is now known colloquially as the Confederate flag has become a symbol of rebellion and individual sovereignty to many. To many others, it is a symbol of hatred and oppression. There is truth to both of these things. But, what is frequently overlooked in the contention is the incontrovertible fact that it’s merely a piece of cloth which cannot be imbued with any emotion, negative or positive.

Whatever emotional overtones people choose to place in the flag does nothing to change its composition as a piece of material. It is not the flag that is harmful; the real danger is in bigots who transfer their monomaniacal hatred into the flag as a banner. To pretend otherwise diminishes the responsibility of criminals in their actions, and this is an insult to their innocent victims.

Since certain actors, including the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which has decided to use this tragedy as a fundraiser, insist on creating a national polemic out of this issue, it is important to counter their inanities with facts.

The sometimes-radical sovereignty attached to the Confederate flag is often attributed to right wing populism. But, left wing populism, which has existed in the South for a much longer time, has a much richer and more mainstream vein of racism running through it.

First, it is worth mentioning that what is today known colloquially as the Confederate flag is but one of many iterations used throughout the Civil War. The Southern Cross design resembles both the flag flown by General Lee’s North Virginia army and the Second Confederate Navy Jack. (For a more complete history, see radio host Buck Sexton’s explanation.)

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Second, though the Confederate flag does not fly before South Carolina’s state house, it did under the tenure of Democrat governor Ernest Hollings. Various other Democrats, including Bill Clinton, have flown the flag as a sign of Southern pride throughout the recent decades.

Again, the flag in itself is innocuous; unhinged maniacs, even though they adopt it as a symbol, are solely responsible for their actions. But since Democrats insist on making this a populist issue, it’s important to point out their hypocrisy.

The Dixiecrats, and their most famous member, 1948 presidential contender Strom Thurmond, are known for their belief in segregation. Their party platform, which interestingly also called for social and economic justice, flatly states, “We stand for the segregation of the races and the racial integrity of each race.”

But racism has played a much more integral part of populism in the South. Rooted in the belief that new powers threatened traditional way of life, American populism, which has been almost exclusively to the left until the conservative resurgence of the 1970s, is almost constitutionally racist. Whether against the threat of cultural upheaval from European immigrants or racial integration, or directed against the Oriental railroad builders, populist oratory by famous and influential national figures like Huey Long, William Jennings Bryan and Father Coughlin contains overt racial messages.

Modern Democrats, of course, are not responsible for the excesses of their ideological forebears. But, by ignoring this past, and putting the spotlight wrongly on Republicans, they err. Racism is not right or left. It is a collectivist ideology, evil because it judges groups on meaningless characteristics rather than individual merit.




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About Katherine Revello

A recent graduate of the University of Maine, where she majored in journalism and political science, Katherine Revello is an aspiring political commentator. Her focuses include theory, the philosophy of money and populism. Currently, she is a graduate student at Villanova University. She is the founder of The Politics of Discretion, a blog dedicated to advancing her philosophy of discretionism. Follow her on Twitter: @MrsWynandPapers