Chi-town: Not a Rebel Town

Chicago’s downtown and waterfront

By now, we’ve come to expect that Confederate battle flags are scarce in many other parts of the country, including the former Confederacy. No surprise then, that we saw none during a recent trip to Chicago and Northern Illinois.

And yet, they are not hard to spot in the Pacific Northwest, and the Washington Post recently copied us (we like to think) by covering the popularity of the symbol in southern Illinois — including Confederate Smurf tattoos.

In fact, we’re feeling a bit smug watching the explosion of “The Confederates are Back” coverage we’ve seen. For example:

    And the GOP Senate candidate in Mississippi is “exactly who the Daughters of the Confederacy Wanted Her to Be” says CNN.

Of course, this blog is not exactly a peer to national news sites. But we feel the writing has been on the wall. And as long as we are critiquing people more important than us (what else do you do with the Internet?) let’s dig one level down.

Almost all of this coverage has focused on one, maybe two aspects of Confederate ideology. First, there is racism. This is the main point of the crudest comparisons. And sometimes there is a secondary look at nationalism as an anti-immigration movement.

To be clear, these are both destructive forces embodied in the modern version of Confederate thinking. Tear-gassing children in diapers because their mother hopes for a better life in America is abominable.

Beyond the obvious prejudice and racism, however, is a dangerous Confederate philosophy that we believe is poorly understood and poorly reported.

When people adopt a Confederate identity, they are doing more than waving the flag of racism or “white pride.” They are also subscribing to a world view with two dangerous tenants.

Politically, your rights are dependent on what type of person you are (read: race, veteran status, from the right family) and therefore don’t apply equally to all people, or even all Americans.

Economically, labor has no value. No matter how hard you work, no matter how much effort you put in, you can’t become one of the “right” kind of people. Demanding higher wages, worker protections, health care or the like are signs of a kind of moral weakness.

This kind of thinking is intrinsically linked to the old slave economy, in which all rights were afforded first on the basis of race, and second on economic class. The respectable gentry owned and ruled, the slaves and the poor worked. Yet, it seems to be absorbed by modern Confederate converts as all-American. Long after they would denounce racism and the battle flag, it seems to us, they would continue deny themselves any civil rights that would help both them and poor minorities improve their economic standing.

The raging debates about identity in politics often overlook these political and economic philosophies laying just under the surface.

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