A new poll released by Public Policy Polling indicates that 38% of Trump supporters in South Carolina believe that the Confederate Army should’ve won the American Civil War in 1865.
Yes, that means if you stand in a room with 5 Trump supporters in South Carolina, you can bet that 2 of them would argue that the South was right to secede from the union. The poll also found that the same amount of people, another 38%, were “not sure” who should’ve won the war. That means you can bet only one person in that room would say they were actually happy that the United States remained united following that awful bloodbath.
Let me remind you what we’re dealing with when we talk about the Confederacy. In the enormously influential but widely forgotten “Cornerstone Speech” by Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens in 1861, the speaker specifically stated:
‘its [the Southern Confederacy’s] foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition.’
That’s the side most of these supporters either wanted to win, or didn’t care whether or not they had won.
Now, to be somewhat generous, it does not necessarily follow that these Trump supporters wanted the South to win so slavery could still exist. But what it does indicate, at the very least, is a frightening level of historical ignorance on the part of these voters.
If you are arguing in favor of the southern Confederacy in that conflict, you are arguing in favor of the enslavement and the subordination of “inferior races.” Period. It’s hard not to feel strongly about it, one way or the other.
It’s not hard to see, however, why voters who gravitate to Trump in South Carolina might be more sympathetic to Confederate symbolism than others. The state government came under an enormous amount of criticism last year following the mass shootings at a historically black church in Charleston, when the massive amount of reverence they often place on Confederate history morphed into a national conversation about the shooter’s motives.
Attention was promptly placed on the Confederate flag that continued to fly on the grounds of the statehouse at a Confederate memorial, even days after the shooting. Public pressure eventually led to the removal of the flag on July 10, 2015. It had been flying there since it was placed in 1961, a century after the war began. This indicates that virtually all of Trump’s current South Carolina supporters have lived through most of their lives knowing that the flag was being flown on the grounds of their statehouse.
It is one thing to honor the fallen and the suffering they had to endure in the Civil War, no matter which side they were on. It is another, however, to replicate the symbol of something so blatantly oppressive on government grounds, even if your intention is to simply “memorialize” the loss of life. As Bree Newsome noted however, after she “illegally” climbed the pole and took it down herself before it was officially removed:
‘For far too long, white supremacy has dominated the politics of America resulting in the creation of racist laws and cultural practices designed to subjugate non-whites. And the emblem of the confederacy, the stars and bars, in all its manifestations, has long been the most recognizable banner of this political ideology. It’s the banner of racial intimidation and fear whose popularity experiences an uptick whenever black Americans appear to be making gains economically and politically in this country.’
Unfortunately for South Carolina, the repercussions of having let that flag fly for so long may be longstanding, as many Trump supporters continue to either embrace it or not feel strongly about it, one way or the other. This is clearly unnerving for anybody who cares about racial issues in the south.