Wednesday, July 15, 2015

You Have Been Duped: The Republican Party's Confederate Flag Carnival Game Magic Trick

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 State Museum. 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 United States’ first black president, and given to the Confederate Relic Room and State Museum by a black man who is employed by one of the founding states of the treasonous Confederacy.

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:
  1. Palm: To hold an object in an apparently empty hand.
  2. Ditch: To secretly dispose of an unneeded object.
  3. Steal: To secretly obtain a needed object.
  4. Load: To secretly move a needed object to where it is hidden.
  5. Simulation: To give the impression that something that hasn’t happened, has.
  6. Misdirection: To lead attention away from a secret move.
  7. 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 South Carolina (and elsewhere) actually win a “slum prize?”
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.

At this moment, it would seem that the Republican Party has been a quite successful magician and manipulator of the American people’s sentiments about the Confederate flag. A large segment of the American public—and Black America in particular—lost while actually thinking they won in the controversy about the Confederate flag and the broader events in the aftermath of the Charleston Massacre.


Gable1111 said...


Gable1111 said...

Roof and Trump have some things in common. Both men gave brutal and honest expression of what their party and ideologies truly believe. In both cases, republicans initially tried to explain them away, until the severity of their actions made avoidance of the realities impossible. Then they issued half-hearted, dog-whistling "denunciations" of both men's acts, relying on the nation's short attention span to take care of the rest.

The last few weeks should not leave any doubt about what the conservative movement really is. We had everything from guns to white privilege to stoking racist violence to hold them accountable for, and we let all that slip for the Grand Prize of taking down the confederate flag.

James Scaminaci III, PhD said...

I have to disagree. I think your focus is too short-term and you short change the activists who are thinking things through.

Let us understand that Left and Right are engaged in a Fourth Generation Warfare (4GW) conflict. According to William S. Lind's explanation of the late Col. John Boyd's 4GW schema, there are three classical levels of warfare: strategic, operational, and tactical. Fourth Generation Warfare adds three additional dimensions: physical, mental, and moral. The physical is the least powerful, the moral the most powerful, and the mental is in-between. In a 4GW conflict, you can win at the physical level of combat and lose at the moral level of combat.

Removing the Confederate flag from the strategic level moral battlefield--state capitols and other government buildings--lends itself to delegitimizing at the tactical moral level the neo-Confederate movement and its many allies. Every time there is a political contest at the local level (tactical), the media will quickly identify the holders of the Confederate flag as carrying a symbol of hate. That is a considerable advance, in my view.

Now, the only way your viewpoint can be correct is if, and I would suggest, only if, the Left (e.g. Black Lives Matter and the democratic wing of the Democratic Party) do not press their moral advantage at the strategic and operational levels, and also press on at the tactical level everywhere.

What I mean is this: bringing down the Confederate flag does not end racism; nor does end institutional racism; nor does it address the all-out assault by the Republican Party on voting rights, civil rights, reproductive rights, labor rights, and human rights, which also occurs with "culture war" issues like reproductive rights and now anti-discrimination protections for the LGBTQ.

The Left must continue pressing against the Republican Party and its Christian Right allies, including the Tea Party, the militia, and the Hard Right. The battle is to expand the sphere of rights, undermine white supremacy and institutional racism, and put in place a more egalitarian, pluralistic, and secular order. The Sanders campaign is one front on the strategic political-moral battlefield. Black Lives Matter in all its manifestations at the local level is another front. Mobilizing the Black Church and bringing in white religious allies is another front. There can be more fronts that open up.

You are wise and correct to sound the alarm. But, the Left did not lose. We have won a strategic moral victory. All good battlefield commanders press their advantages.

The Republican Party, as you rightly point out, is still attacking on multiple fronts. We need to meet them on the political-moral battlefield.

That's my two cents.

chauncey devega said...

May have to disagree a bit. This seems like a local victory in a skirmish. Now, will we see the impact of the skirmish on the enemy's planning, resources, and orientation? That for me is the test. I worry that the enemy engaged in a fighting tactical retreat, the pursuers are feeling a bit too confident, and the enemy is going to turn and do a pincer on the pursuing force and gobble them up in a salient.

chauncey devega said...

Thank you for the kind words. The reactions to the Salon piece were very predictable. Nevertheless, very instructive. I don't pay much attention to comments elsewhere as a rule. Most are paid for trolling and Right-wing PR hustle moves.

Myshkin the Idiot said...

Not only are the flags becoming more prevalent, but the backwash anti-history is being promoted right along with it. My poor under educated family that never gave one damn about a confederate flag now know its entire fake history. They're capable of parroting that BS so clearly they can retain information. They don't want to identify the flag as the symbol that it is, they think their skin is in the game and the result is they couldn't grieve fully about the Charleston Massacre nor do they have any empathy for people of color.

Myshkin the Idiot said...

I read a good piece About the visuals of the recent pardons and appeals to ending incarceration for non violent crimes. The person cautioned that institutional racism is dynamic and often the authority creates another definition of violence to maintain white racial authoritarianism.

I agree with you on all points in this piece and have argued that the symbolics of confederate flag removal amounts to nothing. I keep on it though because all of these false narratives of states rights, tariffs and southern economic exploitation are so prevalent. We ought to have a common understanding of history.

SW said...

James I agree that this was a victory of the moral variety. My question is, in which war was this battle fought an won?

In other words, the frame is so far right, that this battle was possible at all.

It seems that the battles are being won in the wrong war.

James Scaminaci III, PhD said...

If you could be more specific as to which "war" that would be helpful. I was writing about the current political war.

SW said...

My apologies. My comment was not clear.

What I was trying to ask is, considering the frame is so far to the right, which sets the frame for the current political war and battles that we are fighting, how do we avoid fighting battles in the far right's frame?

Re litigating the merits and demerits of the confederate flag is a far right frame.

How do we shift the political war to at least left of center?