- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The nation is experiencing a surge in political correctness, ramped up by continued controversy over the Confederate flag and other Civil War symbols, and renewed disagreements over the Washington Redskins team name.

Are they simply cultural emblems with worthy historic legacies — or archaic symbols of racism and offense? Americans are divided, and the answers are not easy.

Some are blaming a liberal agenda that they compare to the Taliban — just in time to fire up Democrats for the next election season.

“The left is engaging in a nationwide witch hunt to erase history that they don’t like. They want to burn the Confederate flag, vandalize monuments and even dig up the bones of a general buried 111 years ago. That’s deranged, but it’s only the beginning. It is a coordinated effort targeting the Founding Fathers as well. Liberals want to remove Alexander Hamilton from the $10 bill and maybe even ax the Jefferson Memorial,” said Dan Gainor, vice president of business and culture at the Media Research Center, a conservative watchdog.

“The media are helping liberal social justice warriors in their Taliban-esque crusade of destruction. But neither group cares about any of this. It’s all about activating the liberal base in time for the election,” Mr. Gainor said.

Discussion is fierce, however.

SEE ALSO: Redskins’ trademark ruling unlikely to apply to other teams with Native American names

CNN correspondent Don Lemon, for example, recently suggested that the public “rethink” the Jefferson Memorial because Thomas Jefferson owned slaves. A PJ Media report released Tuesday revealed similar sentiments from respondents who questioned the validity of the American flag, the banner under which most African slaves were seized, or the capital city’s name of “Washington” (another slave-owning Founding Father).

The Confederate flag matter has had far-reaching effects, even as the banner is being removed from use in entertainment venues and government sites.

An artist-activist tried to take the flag down from its position at the South Carolina Statehouse herself, and the Memphis City Council voted Tuesday night to dig up the bodies of Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest and his wife from their public grave and move them to a private site away from state honors. The rebel flag-clad General Lee automobile from “The Dukes of Hazzard” has been yanked from memorabilia shops and the show itself pulled from reruns.

Now cultural critics in Minnesota and Massachusetts have flagged their own state flags as inappropriate, singling out the use of American Indians on the respective banners as offensive and out of touch.

“While the current flag may represent a certain view and vision of the past, it does not reflect the values and sensibilities of Minnesotans today,” wrote Judith Harrington, an assistant professor of educational studies at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, in a recent Minneapolis Star Tribune op-ed.

Boston Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham said the Massachusetts flag is “no Confederate flag, but still pretty awful.”

SEE ALSO: Confederate flag, the Redskins and other casualties of political correctness

“This state was born and has thrived in part because of Native Americans’ massive losses. Our flag ought to reflect the huge debt we owe them. And a larger sense of who we are and want to be,” she wrote.

The nation is still weighing the issues though. A Gallup poll released Wednesday reveals a distinctly partisan divide among those who say that the Confederate banner is a symbol of Southern pride versus those who say it is offensive.

A majority of Americans — 54 percent — still believe the flag is a symbol of pride for Southerners; 78 percent of Republicans agree, compared with 32 percent of Democrats. Only 19 percent of black respondents agree, along with 64 percent of whites.

A third of Americans, however, say the Confederate flag is clearly a symbol of racism. And again, there are divides: 13 percent of Republicans, 58 percent of Democrats, 69 percent of blacks and 27 percent of whites agree.

Gallup analyst Jeffrey Jones writes that similar patterns emerge when the public weighs in on such issues as gun control, abortion and global warming.

“Republicans’ and Democrats’ views of the Confederate flag have grown apart. As recently as 1992, a majority of both Democrats and Republicans said the Confederate flag was more a sign of Southern pride than of racism, and both groups were comfortable with Southern states flying the flag on state capitol buildings,” he said.

“Since the early 1990s, the political parties have become more ideologically homogeneous, mostly because conservative Southern whites who were formerly aligned with the Democratic Party have realigned and are now solidly Republican, as evidenced in their voting for federal and state offices. Today’s Democratic Party, with white liberals and racial and ethnic minorities at its core, takes a much more negative view of the Confederate flag,” Mr. Jones concluded.

Following a federal judge’s decision Wednesday to cancel a half-dozen of the Washington Redskins’ federal trademark registrations, public focus has returned to the team moniker and emblems.

Owner Dan Snyder has refused to change the name despite the repeated demands from American Indian activists and assorted critics.

One journalist has already drawn a parallel.

“The Redskins name is going the way of the Confederate flag,” observed Laurie Roberts, a columnist for the Arizona Republic. “Of course, the team can appeal to the Supreme Court. That is, the court that recently ruled that Texas did not violate the First Amendment when it banned specialty license plates bearing the Confederate flag. The Redskins can continue being the Redskins, just as Texans can plaster the bumpers of their pickup trucks in Confederate flag bumper stickers.”

Ms. Roberts continued, “Just don’t expect the government to sponsor such speech. Soon, it appears, the Washington Redskins will have to decide what’s more important. Team pride or profit?”

Two years ago, President Obama himself suggested that the team simply change the name, and his administration has leaned on the team in ways ranging from opposing the Redskins in the trademark case to making matters difficult for the team to get a new stadium in Washington, D.C.

Indeed, many pro and college teams have changed their names in response to similar pressures from various actors. But it’s complicated.

A decade ago, the NCAA ruled that schools could only use an American Indian mascot — on pain of not being able to host NCAA-sanctioned postseason events — if they obtained a tribe’s permission or could show a historic tie to Indian culture.

The University of North Carolina at Pembroke remains the home of the “Braves.” But there’s some justification: The campus was founded in 1887 by and for American Indians, and 20 percent of the students currently enrolled are American Indians. Seventeen other universities, however, stopped using their American Indian athletic symbols because they were judged “hostile or abusive.”

Pembroke “made a very compelling case to retain its nickname and imagery,” an NCAA spokesman said at the time.

• Jennifer Harper can be reached at jharper@washingtontimes.com.

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