Why They're Taking Down 'That Dang, Damn Flag'

The bottom line, now as always, is the bottom line
South Carolina Governor's Office

If we take South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley at her word, her decision yesterday to call for the removal of the Confederate battle flag from the State House grounds sprang from a spiritual and moral epiphany. During Sunday services at Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, where nine black people were massacred last Wednesday by a white man steeped in white supremacist mythology and symbolism, she and her two children “saw what true faith looks like” and “saw the heart and soul of South Carolina start to mend.” Urging the flag’s removal, one of her spokesmen said, “would help the state’s healing process.”

OK, maybe. But that’s not all of it, and not what drove Haley to move with such urgency. You don’t go from noncommittal to “it must come down now” in 48 hours because you want to speed up the healing process, or because you’ve suddenly realized your state occupies the flat end of the moral universe’s arc. You move that quickly in response to pressure.

None of the principals will say it openly, at least not now. But we’re getting some hints. Republican presidential candidates, preparing for the crucial South Carolina primary in February, flooded her office with phone calls over the weekend, offering support and “subtle encouragement to dispatch the flag,” according to today’s New York Times. “Ms. Haley, a rising star in the Republican Party, had her own political future to consider. The flag would inevitably complicate her selection as a cabinet member or even vice-presidential nominee, if she wanted either.”

There’s the matter of college football recruiting, too, a matter of huge import in a Southern state. As far back as 2007, University of South Carolina football coach Steve Spurrier, at least as influential a public figure in the Palmetto State as Haley, was publicly talking about how much he wished the state would take down “that dang, damn Confederate flag.”

And then there’s what I strongly suspect was the prime driver, as relayed via Twitter by another Times reporter, Jonathan Martin:

“Biz community wants flag down.”

There we go. Want a glimpse of, as Haley put it, “the future of this great state”? Swing by the Boeing plant in North Charleston, the site of the planned Volvo plant in Berkeley County, the massive BMW plant in Greer that turned everything around for South Carolina’s economic reputation. The old flag doesn’t just offend African-Americans, or even just Americans. It offends and confuses international businessmen as well, people who can’t figure out why the state government insists on flying the banner of seditionists who lost a civil war a century and a half ago.

Just last fall, Haley said during a campaign debate, “Over the last three-and-a-half years, I spend a lot of my days on the phone with CEOs, recruiting jobs to this state. I can honestly say I have not had one conversation with a single CEO about the confederate flag.” Think that’s still the case?

So, no, I don’t think Haley’s motives were pure. But I also don’t think that ought to diminish the significance of her, and the state’s, gesture. We’re witnessing something truly historic here, something more profound than a change of heart. As with the sudden acceptance of same-sex marriage, and the corporate backlash against its ban in states like Indiana, elected officials are beginning to realize that discrimination and its trappings aren’t just morally objectionable but demonstrably bad for business.

For perhaps the first time in the Republic’s history, Big Capital is batting on the side of equality and justice. We shouldn’t wring our hands over Haley’s choice to do the right thing for what we might perceive are the wrong reasons. The country has reached a point at which overt bigotry extracts a financial penalty from people who can make or break states’ and elected officials’ fortunes, in both senses of the word. This is cause for dancing in the streets.

Categories: Poking the Hornet’s Nest