May 21, 2019

Stacey Abrams and the Politics of the Georgia State Flag

“The “October surprise,” that peculiarly American tradition of a last-minute revelation intended to alter the course of a political campaign, has typically hinged on an act of unsavory behavior. In October of 2016, the public learned of vulgar comments that Donald Trump had made about women during an “Access Hollywood” shoot—though the extent to which this should be classified as a “surprise” is debatable. Trump won, anyway. Similarly, in early November of 2000, news broke of George W. Bush’s decades-old D.U.I. arrest, though, through the Florida recount debacle and a Supreme Court decision, Bush became President, too.

It is not surprising that an election as closely contested as this year’s Georgia governor’s race might also feature a late-season revelation, but the specific nature of it says more about attitudes in the state than it does about its target. On Monday, photographs surfaced showing Stacey Abrams, the Democratic nominee, participating in the burning of a Georgia state flag, in 1992, when she was a sophomore at Spelman College, in Atlanta. At the time, the flag was a source of great controversy in the state, because it incorporated the Stars and Bars of the Confederate flag. Only in a looking-glass view of democracy could opposition to a regime that defended slavery be considered a character flaw. Yet it is an issue with proven effectiveness. An attempt to change the flag nearly derailed Governor Zell Miller’s political career, in 1994, and, eight years later, Governor Roy Barnes lost his bid for reëlection partly as a result of his having successfully removed the Confederate elements from the flag.

The timing of the flag-burning photographs’ release, just two weeks before the election and the day before Abrams faces the Republican nominee, Brian Kemp, in a televised debate, suggests that it was meant to galvanize certain sectors of Georgia’s white Republican voters. The oddity lies in the implication that Abrams’s actions betray a disqualifying aspect of her character. Elements of the Confederate flag had been incorporated into the Georgia flag in 1956, as part of that state’s massive resistance against the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education. The threadbare defense of the Confederate flag that is used today—that it represents heritage, not hate, etc.—falls flat when considered against the circumstances under which it was instituted. Its existence is inextricably bound to the state’s legacy of Jim Crow and to the violence that was required to maintain it. And yet that defense has a long history in Georgia politics.”

Read more

JJ Editor's Daily Picks

"The biggest topic in British political circles on Monday wasn’t the country’s impending departure from the European Union. It was milkshakes..."

"I often disagree with Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., but I've been disturbed by the idea that he should be run out of the Republican Party just because he believes President Trump committed impeachable offenses."

"The Icelandic band Hatari, whose members are quite vocal in their animosity towards Israel, held up Palestinian flags... Madonna, likewise, had two of her performers wear Israeli and Palestinian flags on their costumes."

"To celebrate the 10-year anniversary of Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds" premiering at the Cannes Film Festival, I turn to movie critic Roger Ebert's old review of "Raiders of the Lost Ark." (Trust me on this one.)"

"The money is already here—and has been for years. In the midst of a housing crisis, an injection of cash into the superheated real-estate market seems likely to cause an uptick in evictions and displacement."

"Parents concerned about YouTube debate whether to let their children have their own channels; some forbid it, others send them to summer camp..."

"‘I Had Completely Lost the Knack for Staying Alive..." Warmer weather brings daffodils, rhubarb at the farmer’s market — and, for some, despair."

"With his new book, Howard Stern proves that his rightful place is among the prophets and moral visionaries, not the ‘shock jocks’"

"I’m terrified of parenting in the anti-vaxxer age: Anti-vaccine propaganda isn’t just harmful to children. It threatens to erode our entire sense of community."

"...doctors are starting to think more about specific nutrients that feed tumor cells. That is, how what we eat affects how cancers grow..."

"...it represents an impressive achievement: a victory of humankind against the chaos that pervades the universe."

"If trends continue, in 20 years the majority of the world’s Jews will be living in Israel. The United States will see a continuing decline in overall numbers, with a growing observant Jewish population..."