Monday, August 29, 2011

Chauncey DeVega on the Ed Schultz Radio Show and How We Can Take Back the Gadsden Flag From the Tea Party GOP

I am going to be on The Ed Schultz Radio Show today, i.e Monday, August 29th at 2:30pm EST discussing my piece on the role of racism and racial resentment in the Tea Party GOP's assault on President Obama.

You can listen here.

While I prepare for my ten minutes of fun, I thought that sharing the following would be thought provoking. This one is for you military grognards, history buffs, and ghetto nerds.

One of our allies John Kurkman, of the great site Random Walks, was kind enough to send the following piece on the Tea Party's repeated abuse and misappropriation of history to WARN. He originally posted his essay on his own site, but I asked for a bit more. John kindly followed through.

In the spirit of Clerks 2, I think we can take the Gadsden Flag back from those mouth breathing brigands. I really do.


Is it Too Late to Rehabilitate the Gadsden Flag?

Years ago, my eldest brother was in a small town just south of Minneapolis, and it was one of those hundreds of thousands of Mayberry towns that are scattered throughout America that would be categorized by, well, you know who, as the “Real America”.

And within the town was a funny little curio shop. And within the window of the shop were two fist-sized chunks of raw copper that were so strangely twisted, in a bizarre visual kind of congealed from a molten state as to look like they had just recently arrived from orbit, that my brother had to have them.

After a brief and unsuccessful haggle with the portly and cheerful pink-faced owner of the shop - who looked like Sergeant Schultz from Hogan’s Heroes – he went ahead and bought them.
And after some friendly banter, he invited my brother into a back room of the shop to show him “some other stuff he might be interested in”.

Now, I’ll interrupt the narrative for a moment to point out a particular about me and mine, which is that we are sturdy Viking types on both sides of the family. As such, being your standard blue-eyed, tow-headed Aryan darlings - in other words, “Real Americans” - we are occasionally are privy to some things that, well, others would prefer not be known about them. You’ll see why I mention this in a minute.

So, anyway, Sergeant Schultz takes my brother into the backroom, where he sees, jammed from floor to rafters, probably the largest collection of Nazi memorabilia ever seen outside of Glenn Beck’s fetish room.

In my brother’s words “The little hairs on the back of my neck and arms stood up. It was pure fucking evil in that room”. Well, of course not. They were just objects. But then ol’ Schultzie let it be known his sympathies towards and against certain ethnic groups, with a particular affinity towards final solutions. It was as if a rock had been turned over, and little, slimy, multi-legged critters were sent scurrying about.

Long story short, my brother exited the shop with the copper purchase rescinded. Too bad, as he really liked the copper pieces, but the intangible price was a little too high.

Now, what is the fucking point of all this? Well, in a later conversation, I lamented as to how much of our Northern European culture had been impoverished. How so many of our symbols had been denied to us due to the Nazi pollution, the misappropriation of all our cool Nordic shit.
“Like what?”

“Oh, I don’t know, you can’t use the swastika anymore”.

“Ah, you fuckin' idiot! The swastika’s not Nordic. It’s Sanskrit, Hitler took it from ancient India. All that Aryan bullshit. It wasn’t ‘ours’ to begin with”.

Ah, well, there you see the result of one element of an effective propaganda, known as the cognitive illusion of “anchoring” or “priming”. Of course, ignorance, a less than fully informed state within the subject, would preferably exist first, but this is not a strict requirement. What you do is, by first implanting a plausible lie into the subject, they are then primed to accept an implausible lie closer to the first lie than the truth.

Not surprisingly, those PR firms that established the formative parameters and narratives of the Tea Party did something similar. Presenting as literally or distinctly such a batch of disgustingly soft-bodied, unattractive, brittle-minded, shallow-thinking, cranky old right wing Christians, whose chief and only joy in life is to piss and moan, is of no attraction to, well, to anyone.

(And yes, once the cameras were off of them, the talk is invariably about God, Jesus, and turning the good old US of A into a decent white Christian nation. The kind of nation, ironically, where Jesus Christ, (whisper this part ) because he’s a JEW, should never be allowed to hold public office. The kind of nation that respects and holds dear the Ten Commandments, especially that tenth one, and that part about not coveting thy neighbor’s slaves. But I digress… If you are interested, a fun behind-the-scenes Tea Party narrative can be found here.

After considering what characteristics could be considered cool, those wonks took an associational leap of faith, cobbled together the initials T E A to present a form of a rebellious insurgency, which though still considered old and doddery to the general public, would look especially cool within the rabidly zealous cohort.

In essence, the PR lizards offered the wretched old fat fucks the easy image of a formidable rebel force. Wow! Talk about a hard sell, but…

Which brings up the second cognitive illusion within this propaganda ploy known as “ease of representation”, or, if you will, the fallacy of spontaneous generation, or the implanting of a event or situation which, the more it impresses upon one emotionally, is then more likely to be thought of as objectively real.

At first, this fallacy sounds like “anchoring”, but the difference is “anchoring” is presented as a reasonable or common sense thing, which in turn the scared little animal mind uses to rationalize the emotion of fear. “Ease of representation”, on the other hand, starts from an emotional impression, and adds value to the “common sense” fact. As such, combined, they are a powerful feedback loop.

All you need now is the right symbol, one that will unleash the appropriate associational cascade. In the case of 1930s Germany, they had the swastika. In the case of 2000s America, there is the Gadsden Flag**, the “Don’t Tread On Me” flag.

And why not? It’s got all sorts of things going for it, including direct sensory impact. Yellow, nature’s poison warning color, advertising “Do Not Fuck With Me!” Snake. Primal primate fear response. And associational plus, an appeal to victimizers: “I’m pathetic and powerless, but I can still hurt you somehow! Haha! Beware! Boo!”

Plus, on a smoky ship deck or over a distance, the Gadsden Flag is easy to see.

And then, of course, there are all of the associations with the American revolution.

So, should a faction of the Republican party, a rabidly insane bunch of “fat, arrogant, overpaid, overfed, sanctimonious, overindulged, white, racist, over-privileged, disgustingly soft-bodied, pudge ball, business criminal, asshole cocksuckers”* like the Tea Party be allowed to mangle a symbol of American unity to further their own selfish, useless, tiny-brained, fucked-up Ayn Randian vision of how Lily White and Christian and seriously puckered up asshole tight America should be? I don't think so. The question is, is it too late?

Considering that the latest polls suggest that Tea Partiers are more unpopular than atheists and Muslims, perhaps it's time they stop appropriating a perfectly good symbol. They've already managed to ruin the word "patriot".

My understanding is, now that they've put their anal taint on this symbol, even a request from stalwart Americans like Marine veterans to fly the flag is getting a refusal.

“In Connecticut, lawmakers refused to fly the Gadsden flag at the capitol building in April because of the Tea Party’s “political nature,” but they also refused to display it on the Fourth of July at the request of a group of retired Marines. A man living near Phoenix, Ariz. was recently ordered by his homeowners’ association to remove the Gadsden flag flying outside his home, despite his protests that he wasn’t displaying it to support the Tea Party. The American Civil Liberties Union came to his defense, citing a violation of First Amendment rights. In Colorado, a similar dispute over the same flag is ongoing as well”.

Is it too late to stop the pejorative process that is going on with, not just the flag, but words like “patriot”, ‘liberty”, “freedom”?

To those who have misappropriated the flag, nothing can be done, save, well, my favorite idea which is to let them have their Christian/John Galtian paradise. Let them seastead. Or wall off Arizona, ship ‘em all down there, and let them work out their fantasies.

As for us regular folks? I suspect some small of education might help. Perhaps a commercial with US Marines and former Marines, reminding all of us citizens that the Gadsden flag is not only their flag, but your flag too. It should be, always, a symbol of national unity, and not divisiveness.
And, uh, no, I’m not all that broken up that the swastika is permanently stigmatized. If necessary, I can come up with a nice little symbol of my own. Maybe something along the lines of the Artist Formerly Known As…

Nah. Been done already.

*appropriated courtesy of George Carlin, with minor modifications

**The Gadsden Flag first went into battle as the personal flag of Commodore Esek Hopkins, a battle flag for the Continental Marines. It is one of the first flags of the US Marine Corps.


John Kurman said...

This Kurkman guy, helluva writer, and he has the same named site as mine.

Coincidence? or conspiracy...

chaunceydevega said...

I heard of him too. A dangerous fellow. Be weary of him and don't trust him too much ;)

John Kurman said...

In any case, I proudly wear the title "Ally of WARN".

DebC said...

cd...Me again, with another little nit-pick (as usual).

1) The "Don't Tread on Me" flag was designed by Christopher Gadsden for the Revolutionary War - as a sign of unity among the "Original 13s" (with NE as its head and SC, its tail) - against the British!

The writer's, “Is it too late to stop the pejorative process that is going on with, not just the flag, but words like “patriot”, ‘liberty”, “freedom”? comment seems to me, made in the vacuum of bullshit, "American Exceptionalism," particularly since none of those words - or the flag - had anything to do with us Black folk at the time Mr. Gadsden came up with the idea of the flag, which the Marines (born from the Navy) then used!

So, how could the flag always be a symbol of national unity and not divisiveness? Unless, of course (as was the case, both then and now) our 2 cents don't matter..

2)As much as many want to say that the Tea Party is misappropriating shit, I'd have to disagree. Mr. Gadsden was from Charleston, SC (from which I also hail) and that "location" - has PLENTY to do, not only with the "Southern Strategy," but "...a rabidly insane bunch of “fat, arrogant, overpaid, overfed, sanctimonious, overindulged, white, racist, over-privileged, disgustingly soft-bodied, pudge ball, business criminal, asshole cocksuckers like the Tea Party..." to which any history - but "revisionist" - will attest.

3) An interesting aside: back in 1961, the, then owner of the "The Gadsden House" (as we call it back home) at 329 East Bay St. in Charleston, commissioned the late, Mr. Philip Simons (a Black man, who started out as a blacksmith and became the city's/country's pre-eminent ironwork artisan: see "Charleston blacksmith: the work of Philip Simons") - to create the gate with the Don't Tread on Me snake on it:

I just wish people would tell the damned truth about this country and stop "white-washing" history. I, for one, would have more respect for them and might even coonsider more seriously their attempts at building one America versus the, at least two (based on my lived reality in this country) that has existed since their daddies founded this country.

chaunceydevega said...

@Deb. Good stuff. You know we love critical inquiry here at WARN. Brother John, your thoughts?

John Kurman said...


You are right, of course - with some slight modifications.

As a nation, we've any number of shameful moments in our past. Some groups, for example, American Indians, view Old Glory as a symbol of oppression and exclusion. One of far too many examples. The Confederate flag, as another.

I'll not wager that there were some few free black warriors that fought under the Gadsden flag. I suspect there were, but it does not follow that this in any way abrogates the long and storied horrors that occurred to the contrary.

In short, charges of empty rhetoric, or privileged white cultural bias, or unconscious exceptionalism I do not deny. I am a white guy.

But the fact is, I don't really give a shit about that as it's beside the point.

The point is: going forward. What's the vision? This is, I think, where you and I as Americans need to have a discussion.

Does the Tea Party wish to white-wash history? There's too much evidence to suggest that this is true. Is this a vile and dishonest thing? I think I've made clear that it is.

Question, why are they doing it? It is to stifle, to confine, to mangle the worthwhile aspirations of this country to become what it might be - a mature, decent, well-behaved grownup of a country.

I think that someday, somehow, we just might make it. But we don't get there by pursuing an infantile agenda of jumping back into the womb as the Tea Party would have us do - devoling into soft little fetuses in some Arcadian colonial fantasy.

Like it or not, part of the battle for vision is vision, our symbols. Do our symbols represent a privileged few of us or all of us?

I vote for all of us.

DebC said...

cd...Thanx, happy to oblige!

Mike..."In short, charges of empty rhetoric, or privileged white cultural bias, or unconscious exceptionalism I do not deny. I am a white guy.

Good to know we're on the same page there.

However, your - "But the fact is, I don't really give a shit about that as it's beside the point." says to me, that your quite comfortable in that place which, rather than being "besides the point," "IS" the point, mirrored not only in your statement, but in the actions of the Tea Party and other white folk who say, "I'm not a racist but..."

Tell me, how can there be "vision" if the lens through which it is seen is still coated with that same "empty rhetoric, or privileged white cultural bias, or unconscious exceptionalism" that you own as a white guy?

Over the years, I've learned not to be too big on symbols or symbolism (particularly when neither truthfully represents me, or anything about me). "Going along to get along" may have its place with some folk, but I am not one of them.

IMHO, doing so, is, and has always been a trap into which too many of us, Black folk have fallen all too readily - in the hopes of "belonging." And while I do understand why (the benefit of looking backward not just forward), I think our main focus should be on knowing and healing ourselves, before putting all our eggs in this sought-after "well-behaved grownup of a country" which has shown, time and time again, beyond measure, that it doesn't give a shit about how we think, feel or survive. As my grandmother always said, "It's not what they say, Debi, it's what they do!" And as much as I want this country to be about "all of us," based on what's been done to date - it still ain't.

You asked (and answered) why they do it. I disagree that - "It is to stifle, to confine, to mangle the worthwhile aspirations of this country to become what it might be..." Rather, I think it is simply - their belief in the irrevocable theory of "Divine Right" which Europeans, brought with them when they settled America. They may have been in search of "freedom" from monarchy, but their want for "Divine Right" monarchy remains evident in this country and it seems, they feel no one but God should have the right to question or change that - especially not a society-identified, Black man!

Yes, vision is important in order to move forward. But if vision is not informed by what has happened in the past, then for me, there isn't any real "vision," nor any actual "going forward" - which is where are today, still.