Editorials

Public opinion pulls down Confederate flag

Confederate flags that once flew at the South Carolina State House are displayed at the South Carolina State Museum.
Confederate flags that once flew at the South Carolina State House are displayed at the South Carolina State Museum. The Associated Press

Talk about a shift of stunning proportions.

Just last week, the Confederate flag was a controversial yet untouchable symbol of Southern pride, flying high above government buildings all over the South. This week, it’s on the ropes, suddenly as lost of a cause as the Confederacy itself.

What happened?

A white supremacist with a fondness for the Confederate flag walked into a church in Charleston and killed nine people. And then court of public opinion happened.

First, the chief executives of California tech behemoths Salesforce and Apple called on South Carolina to banish the Confederate flag from the Capitol grounds. Then Wal-Mart, eBay, Sears and Amazon decided to stop selling merchandise with the Confederate flag on it.

Soon after that, Valley Forge Flag, one of the largest flag manufacturers in the country, announced it would stop making Confederate flags, leaving manufacturers in China as the best place get them.

Maybe it’s demography. Maybe it’s corporatism. Maybe it’s the global mob mentality of Twitter and Facebook. Maybe it’s a combination. But for the first time in decades, the forces of low-grade bigotry are getting serious and immediate pushback from the public, and that’s a good thing.

Even though some people would deride the reaction as kowtowing to political correctness, sometimes politicians need a wave of suffocating public pressure to do the right thing. They need to know that there are very real consequences for adopting or maintaining policies that aren’t inclusive.

Just ask Indiana.

Earlier this year, the governor of that Midwestern state made the dumb decision to sign legislation that would let business owners use their religion as an excuse to deny services to gays and lesbians. The reaction was as loud as it was swift.

Again, the CEO of Salesforce, Marc Benioff, was among the first to speak up, vowing to halt any further investment in Indiana. A boycott, championed on Twitter, ensued. Eventually, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence and Republican legislators relented and modified the law. The economic and political effects of the blunder linger on, though.

Over the protest of some of South Carolina’s most conservative residents, lawmakers have agreed to debate whether to evict the Confederate flag from the grounds of its Capitol once and for all.

Also this week, Alabama’s governor ordered the removal of the flag and three other banners with secessionist symbols from his Capitol grounds. Similar talks are going on in Mississippi about its flag.

The world has spoken, and when the world speaks, it’s hard to ignore.

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