Various anti-gay marriage zealots vowing to defy the Supreme Court and the law of the land are un-American and wrong, but a woman who decides to unilaterally make a decision that only the elected representatives of the citizens of South Carolina are authorized to make is a hero. Such is the muddled state of thought, ethics and civics among America’s progressives. Disobey the laws you don’t like, condemn the character of those who disobey the laws you favor. No integrity, no principles, no responsibility, no coherence, just grandstanding and anarchy, aimed at cheering ideologues incapable of proportion or restraint. This is an ethics vacuum masquerading as virtue.
“Bree,” which is what pole-climbing flag-grabber Brittany Ann Byuarim Newsome calls herself, is under arrest, as she should be, charged with defacing a monument and facing a fine. Good. She deserves one, and no accolades whatsoever. The Confederate flag is already under siege and on the verge of a permanent cultural taboo. Her actions would have constituted genuine civil disobedience and courage had it come before the flag was magically assigned blame for the murder of nine Charleston African Americans, to call attention to its symbolic defiance of civil rights. Coming now, Bree’s stunt is just self-promoting vigilante theater, seeking and receiving support from the likes of Michael Moore.
There was nothing brave, productive or necessary about the flag stunt. The was a lot wrong about its message: don’t wait for the government process to work, don’t allow democracy and civil discourse to prevail, just unilaterally do what you “know” is right, and let the “ends justify the means” embracing mob celebrate. No doubt, this is the anti-Constitutional attitude the President has encouraged, but it recklessly risks fraying the seams of our democratic government, and erodes the rule of law.
Predictably, the NAACP issued an irresponsible statement in support of “Bree’s” cynical bid for 15 minutes of fame, calling her a “#BlackLivesMatter activist.” Apparently “Black Lives Matter” is an all purpose “Get Out Of Accountability Free” card that can excuse censorship, bullying, harassment of law enforcement, and now vandalism, and who will dare to question its legitimacy?
Yes, black lives matter. So does democracy, respect for process, the opinions of others you disagree with, and the rule of law.
The NAACP’s statement said in part:
“As well as supporting the permanent removal of the flag legislatively, we commend the courage and moral impulse of Ms. Newsome as she stands for justice like many NAACP activists including Henry David Thoreau, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and numerous Americans who have engaged in civil disobedience. The NAACP calls on state prosecutors to consider the moral inspiration behind the civil disobedience of this young practitioner of democracy. Prosecutors should treat Ms. Newsome with the same large-hearted measure of justice that inspired her actions. The NAACP stands with our youth and behind the multigenerational band of activists fighting the substance and symbols of bigotry, hatred and intolerance.”
1. Translation of the first sentence: “We support the removal of the flag legislatively, and also the removal of the flag without waiting for the process to work, because we are hypocrites.”
2. This degrades the courage of Thoreau and King, who were fighting against laws that showed no sign of abating for causes that indeed mattered, like human rights and pacifism. “Bree” was fighting against a symbolic piece of cloth that is on its way out no matter what she does, in the midst of an anti-Confederacy witch hunt (and it is nice to be able to use that term accurately for a change.)
3. Those Southern governors of yore who tried to block school integration were also engaging in civil disobedience, you know. Civil disobedience is only ethically admirable if it is used rarely and well, otherwise, it violates Kant: if everybody does it, there would be a breakdown in society. Trivial, self-aggrandizing, law-breaking with no real risk—who is going to prosecute a Confederate flag attacking black woman in South Carolina in the current environment?—is fake civil disobedience. It is unethical civil disobedience.
4. The NAACP is saluting a woman who won’t tolerate a state’s (misguided) honoring of an important part of its history, the democratic process, or the rule of law when it means she has to wait to get her way.
Vigilantes matter. They undermine society. So do those who cheer them on.