It was 2015, in the aftermath of a horrendous and racist mass murder at the Emanuel church, that then South Carolina Governor and current presidential candidate Nikki Haley ordered the Confederate battle flag to be removed from the grounds of the state capitol.
It was not a particularly controversial call at the time. But in retrospect, what that decision has wrought brings its wisdom into serious doubt. In fact, today it looks like a pretty bad call.
By the turn of this century, it was starting to be more loudly argued that the Confederate battle flag was something akin to a swastika. That it was a symbol of pure evil that needed to be expunged from civic spaces. And there is an argument to be made for that. One cannot argue that this flag did not stand for a racist desire to keep black people in bondage. But is that all it stood for?
In 2015 when Haley ordered the flag taken down, there was little opposition. What we didn’t know was that a domino was being toppled that would in short order tear down statuary across America. We got from point A to point B very fast. A precedent had been set. When a racist atrocity happens we destroy racist history to make amends. Down with the statues. The predictable problem with that particular Pandora’s box would come next.
By 2017 it was being demanded that Confederate statues of figures like Robert Lee and Stonewall Jackson come down. Suddenly some conservatives got their ears up. Maybe this concession on the flag wasn’t working out so well. But we were at least promised that this was where the line would be drawn.
When President Donald Trump expressed concern in 2017 that tearing down Confederate statues might lead to Jefferson and Washington sharing that fate he was roundly mocked. NBC News ran an article in which expert historians said it would never happen.
But, lo and behold, it is exactly what happened just a few years later. Toss in Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt. In the wake of the death of George Floyd no historical statue was safe. Let’s be honest, it was abject madness. But that is what happens once you start erasing history.
Wouldn’t we all love it in our own lives if we could just erase the worst moments, the awful things we have done that linger in our minds so much longer and with so much more emotion than our charitable moments. Some people who spend a lot of time on Instagram might be able to pull that off, but the rest of us, and our nation, have to face reality. History is complicated.
I think in 2015 I may have advised Nikki Haley to do what she did in removing the flag. But back then I thought there was a left that could take the win. I didn’t realize, and I imagine Haley didn’t either, that the reasonable removal of the flag would become a pretext for a wave of woke vandalism.
In 2015, when she ordered away the Stars and Bars was Nikki Haley making a serious and considered choice, or simply buckling to progressive pressure? Couldn’t the question of the flag’s fate have been brought to referendum? Couldn’t it have been considered coolly and not as a knee-jerk reaction to horrific murders?
If Haley still defends her decision to bar the flag, where does she stand on the destruction of history that that decision led to? Where does Haley draw the line? Culture wars get ugly, and the generals leading them must be strong– they must risk offending people sometimes.
Is Nikki Haley prepared to stand firm in the face of woke attacks? Is there anything in her history that should make us confident she can or will? The former governor is wont to point out that her gender and ethnicity bristle the left, that she is supposed to be one of them. Fair enough. But not enough.
Haley’s decision to take down the Confederate battle flag is not disqualifying in and of itself. But it does raise questions about how firmly she stands in opposition to attempts to destroy American history that some may find offensive.
Does Haley regret this decision in retrospect? She probably should, but even if she doesn’t, she needs to articulate why her decision was different from toppling the statues of Lee and Jackson, not to mention Washington and Roosevelt.
The one thing, above all else, that GOP voters want is a fighter, especially in the culture war. Nikki Haley has some explaining to do as far that issue is concerned. And the sooner she explains, the better.