The Confederate flag will no longer fly over the capital of South Carolina. It was taken down on July 10, 2015; an African-American member of the state color guard presented the American Swastika/Treason Flag to the Confederate Relic Room and
The image and timing are powerful: the Confederate flag, a symbol of white
supremacist violence against Black America was removed during the tenure of
Barack Obama, the State Museum United States’
first black president, and given to the Confederate Relic Room and
by a black man who is employed by one of the founding states of the treasonous
Confederacy. State Museum
Last week, the Memphis City Council voted to move the grave of Nathan Bedford Forrest and his wife from a public park. A monument in his honor will also be removed from the same site.
Forrest was one of the founding members of the Ku Klux Klan, the largest terrorist organization in American history. The Ku Klux Klan is the United States’ version of ISIS, as the former burned alive, tortured, raped, and killed many thousands of black Americans during the decades following the Civil War and through to the fall of Jim and Jane Crow American Apartheid in the middle of the twentieth century.
The removal of the Confederate flag is a triumph of symbolic politics—what is a type of political behavior where the visuals, optics, appeals to emotion, showmanship, theatrics, and other gestures are often a substitute for the instrumental and substantive advance of material public policy goals that impact the life chances of citizens.
The Republican Party is the nation’s largest white identity organization. In the post civil rights era the Republican Party embodies the union of white supremacy and conservatism. Their surrender of one of the United States’ most potent symbols of white racism, white grievance mongering, and racial resentment is a ploy—one that is a distraction from deeper and more substantive political issues that serve the Common Good and the long Black Freedom Struggle.
Ultimately, the Republican Party’s much belated support for removing the Confederate flag is a type of political magic trick and carnival game.
Master magicians Penn and Teller explain the core principles of their craft as consisting of the following steps:
- Palm: To hold an object in an apparently empty hand.
- Ditch: To secretly dispose of an unneeded object.
- Steal: To secretly obtain a needed object.
- Load: To secretly move a needed object to where it is hidden.
- Simulation: To give the impression that something that hasn’t happened, has.
- Misdirection: To lead attention away from a secret move.
- Switch: To secretly exchange one object for another.
The last three points—the “switch”, “misdirection”, and “simulation”—dominate American politics in the era of the 24/7 news cycle and corporate media consolidation, extreme political polarization, neoliberalism, Right-wing epistemic closure, and the Fox News propaganda machine.
Politics is fundamentally an exercise in the accumulation and use of power: how can one group maximize their own interests at the expense of another—and in an ideal situation convince the latter group to act against their own fundamental economic, social, or other interests all the while believing that the opposite is true. Politics is also an exercise in managing conflict and maintaining a sense that the system is “legitimate and “fair” all while the powerful group manipulates the masses.
Teller’s comments on magic and the human mind echo how political and social elites shape public opinion through symbolic politics and other means:
For Teller (that's his full legal name), magic is more than entertainment. He wants his tricks to reveal the everyday fraud of perception so that people become aware of the tension between what is and what seems to be. Our brains don't see everything—the world is too big, too full of stimuli. So the brain takes shortcuts, constructing a picture of reality with relatively simple algorithms for what things are supposed to look like. Magicians capitalize on those rules. "Every time you perform a magic trick, you're engaging in experimental psychology," Teller says. "If the audience asks, 'How the hell did he do that?' then the experiment was successful. I've exploited the efficiencies of your mind."
Carnival games are rigged against the casual player. The proprietors of the carnival use basic trickery to maintain the illusion that a given person can win any of the prizes. Consequently, when a player is allowed to win, it serves the long-term interests of the carnival proprietor because the public believes that they too have a chance of getting a prize.
The Republican Party surrendered a “win” to the members of the American public who find the Confederate flag an offensive symbol of hatred, violence, and white supremacy. But just like those folks who play games at a carnival, did the Americans who wanted to see the Confederate flag removed from the state capital of
elsewhere) actually win a “slum prize?” South Carolina
Did you ever wonder why you came home from the carnival empty handed? Remember how you tried to ring the bell by hammering the catapult or how you tossed ring after ring trying to win a cane? Swindled? Well, maybe! Read how the operators “gimmick” their games so that you can’t win. It may save you money or help you win.
CARNIVALS carry with them many devices which are absolutely guaranteed to flatten the pocketbook. There are a score of games—all “fixed” so that the operator has them under control at all times--all “sure things,” but not for the benefit of the public…
Ever play the bucket game? The idea is to throw balls into the bucket in so many attempts. Try and do it! Every bucket has a turn screw on the bottom, adjusted so that it will positively throw out the ball with which the game is played.
Of course, the “capper” is allowed to win and occasionally the operator gets generous enough to allow some outside person a fair chance of “winning. There are many varieties of this swindle. One uses but a single bucket mounted in the center of a closely-woven net. The tautness of the net makes it impossible to pocket the ball. In another type the bottoms are hinged so that they can be deflected upwards and downwards. With the bottoms flat, the player has no chance whatsoever, but by pressing a lever, the “barker” can deflect the bottoms slightly, causing the ball to strike the inside on the rebound and then stay put.
Another game “gimmicked” is the hoop toss. In this, the prizes are mounted on square pedestals. The player is furnished with wooden rings somewhat like crochet hoops, and with these he attempts to win by completely “ringing” the pedestal. Of course, he has no trouble in eventually winning one of the “slum” prizes, but it is next to impossible to ring any of the more pretentious gifts. The reason is simple. The rings are slightly elliptic in shape, so that their smaller diameter is just the least bit lacking. The operator pressing the ring to a more rounded fullness between his thumb and fingers, easily slips it over the prize in question.
The fundamental nature of American politics has been famously described as “what have you done for me lately?” or “who gets what, when, how?” Symbolic politics can be a complement to, as well as a means of advancing those goals for a given group of people or set of political interests. However, symbolic politics as an end onto itself can be an empty gesture because it does not substantively challenge power or rearrange who has the privileged and primary access to resources and other opportunities in a given society.
If the removal of the Confederate flag and American Swastika is the primary “victory” claimed in the aftermath of The Charleston Massacre, it is a hollow one. Why? Because the Republican Party was able to sacrifice an onerous, archaic, and ugly symbol of white supremacy--that should have been removed decades ago--in order to distract the public from enacting reasonable gun control laws that the majority of the American people support, cracking down on the Right-wing hate media that weaponized Dylann Roof, avoiding a discussion of the GOP’s assault on the Civil Rights Movement and voting laws, and beginning a much needed “national discussion” (and enacting strong policies) to deal with Right-wing domestic terrorism and mass shootings by white men who are sick with toxic masculinity.