Mr. Robert Schlesinger, son of a pillar of the American establishment and opinion editor at U.S. News & World Report, wrote a column the other day in which he accused some Republican members of Congress of fomenting a "new civil war". He focused on two things -- the confederate flag and same-sex marriage.
Mr. Schlesinger starts with the Democrat amendments to an appropriations bill in Congress that would outlaw the laying of Confederate flags at federal cemeteries and ban them from gift shops and concession stands. Mr. Schlesinger chastises the Republicans who blocked the appropriations bill because it contained these amendments.
About the Confederate flag, he writes: "This is the flag under which soldiers fought in an armed attempt to dismember the United States – and in the name of owning other human beings as chattel at that." But pause for a moment and remember that all the permutations of the American flag between 1776 and 1865 were carried in the name of a republic that endorsed the barbarism of slavery, with the Supreme Court's blessing. And if you want to un-name every location named after an American general who owned slaves, you had better start by renaming Washington, DC.
Mr. Schlesinger argues: "So I don't think it's unreasonable to think that the federal government shouldn't commemorate the movement that marked the greatest existential threat this nation has faced in its history."
Now I am with Mr. Schlesinger on his dislike of the Confederate flag. My ancestor battled the men who fought under it. His blue cap and saber -- the relics passed between generations. As Pennsylvania Republicans, we had no truck with those who rebelled against the Union.
But pause and remember that the soldiers who once killed each other later practiced reconciliation and attended mass gatherings in its furtherance. And the federal government provided for those encampments. Men who watched comrades die thick on the ground forgave each other. Seventy-five years after the Battle of Gettysburg, Union and Confederate veterans came to meet for the last time. They wore their uniforms, brought their flags, and met as brothers. Time had washed away the animosity.
You and me, we know nothing of what they endured. We were not there. Our hatred is conjured in the medium of words, not battle. Would the Union men who actually fought and killed those Confederate soldiers, would these men object to the honor paid their old adversaries when a replica of the flag they fought and died under is placed on their graves? Would they understand the rage, some 150 years after the fight, and the pettiness, of people who were not there?
How does one honor a dead soldier, if not under the flag of the nation he fought for? We have American soldiers buried in fields all over the world. What if some foreign legislature determined, for whatever reason, that the American flag could not decorate the graves of our war dead? For precedent, they need only look to some Democrats in Congress.
Stopping short of exhuming the bodies of Confederate veterans, Mr. Schlesinger goes after those pesky House Republicans again -- or at least those who have the temerity to question the manner in which same-sex marriage was imposed on the people of the United States and its consequences. If you want to know why for some things, America never seems to be able to draw a line under a change, reconcile itself to it, and then move on -- go back and see how that change was accomplished. Was it democratic or was it imposed? Go back and look at how the winning side handled itself afterwards.
Lillian Smith was a good and tolerant liberal. She one of the first Southerners to write about the evils of segregation, and lived long enough to see most of that system eradicated and reforms enacted. But at the end of her life, she became concerned that the love of ideology would trump humanity. In accepting the Charles S. Johnson Award, she wrote:
“It is his millions of relationships that will give man his humanity… It is not our ideological rights that are important but the quality of our relationships with each other, with all men, with knowledge and art and God that count.
The civil rights movement has done a magnificent job but it is now faced with the ancient choice between good and evil, between love for all men and lust for a group’s power.”
“Every group on earth that has put ideology before human relations has failed; always disaster and bitterness and bloodshed have come. This movement, too, may fail. If it does, it will be because it aroused in men more hate than love, more concern for their own group than for all people, more lust for power than compassion for human need.”
“We must avoid the trap of totalism which lures a man into thinking there is only one way, one answer, one option, and that others must be forced into this One Way, and forced into it Now.”
Totalism. One Way -- forced into it Now. Prior to the Court's decision in Obergefell, in every state where same-sex marriage was legalized, people of conscience who objected to participating in someone else's "celebration" were targeted and made to pay for their dissent. So the Supreme Court legalizes same-sex marriage and what does the winning side do? It starts talking about stripping religious organizations of their tax exempt status. Not the best way to build comity.
Mr. Schlesinger notes that "current federal law requires that courts balance imposition on religious belief against the public good so as to prevent undue discrimination." Yes, and with this the recognition that sometimes people need time and space to have the opportunity to digest change. After all, even President Obama opposed same-sex marriage as late as April 2012. Should we expect religious believers to make a 180-degree turn and abandon their faith because mere politicians found it convenient to abandoned theirs?
By executive order last week, the Obama administration clarified the eligibility requirements for people wishing to become American citizens: "Reciting the Oath is part of the naturalization process. Candidates for citizenship normally declare that they will 'bear arms on behalf of the United States' and 'perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States' when required by the law. A candidate may be eligible to exclude these two clauses based on religious training and belief or a conscientious objection."
There is no greater act of discrimination, than to make someone else go to war in your place and suffer emotional trauma, permanent disability, or death.
So we have come to the bizarre place where someone looking to become an American citizen can, for religious reasons, refuse to defend the United States in time of war but someone cannot, for religious reasons, refuse to decorate a wedding cake. And when something so strange is the new orthodoxy, how can we doubt that the people will question it and that their elected representatives will respond?