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Original Sin, Confederate Flags, and the Politics of Social Reform

January 31, 2017 by  
Filed under Book Club, Vicki Burbach

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Original Sin, Confederate Flags, and the Politics of Social Reform

Seeds of the Word (Week 5 of 11)

The source of the greatest suffering throughout human history is the attempt to deal with original sin on our own, through our political, economic, military, or cultural efforts. When we try to eliminate conflict and sin through social reform, we inevitably make matters worse. As Pascal said long ago, “He who would turn himself into an angel, turns himself into a beast. The key to joy at the personal level and justice at the societal level is in fact the conviction that God has dealt with original sin by taking it on himself and suffering with us and for us. This belief allows us to embrace the world in both its beauty and tragedy, for we see salvation as God’s project, not our own. — Seeds of the Word, The Giver…, Paragraph 5)

Americans are a polite bunch. In general. Kind, respectful, and well-mannered, Americans tend to hold deep-seated beliefs about what is and is not appropriate for public discourse. As such, many were disturbed by some of the remarks made by then candidate Donald Trump through the course of his campaign. Whether comments made in a public forum, recorded from his past or blasted through his Twitter feed for all the world to see, isn't it curious that more “qualified” candidates have disappeared into the black hole of campaign oblivion, never to be heard from again, for far less?

Which makes the outcome of this past election all the more remarkable.

Pundit after pundit has tried to explain Trump's victory. They have pointed to low voter turnout, fake news, Trump’s celebrity status, a poor economy, Obamacare, white rage, and Russia, just to list a few possibilities. But I’d like to take you all the way back to the weeks surrounding the announcement of Trump's candidacy. Perhaps those weeks can offer some much overlooked insight into the recent presidential election.

Trump announced his candidacy for president of the United States on June 16, 2015. You may recall, there was quite an uproar surrounding his announcement speech. Particularly his comments about illegal immigrants of Mexican descent:

…When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best. They're not sending you. They're not sending you. They're sending people that have lots of problems, and they're bringing those problems to us. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people…

These words had many groups up in arms, claiming they were bigoted, racist and untrue. In the days following Trump's announcement, there were calls to boycott anything related to Trump – but more on that later.

Before we discuss Trump boycotts, let's discuss the days following Trump's speech and a few news events that were completely unrelated to his announcement.

On June 17, 2015 – the day after Trump's announcement – Dylan Roof entered Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC, and killed nine innocent African Americans in cold blood.

Americans were in shock.

In the days immediately following the murders, a photograph from Roof's Facebook page was made public. In the photo, Roof posed with a gun in one hand and a Confederate flag in the other. Reaction was immediate and widespread. Across the nation, there were calls to ban the Confederate flag as a symbol of racism. Business and governments responded without discussion. Less than one week after the murders, major stores stopped selling anything with the Confederate flag; Southern states announced plans to remove the flag from public display. People were essentially told by remonstrance that, if they were in possession of a Confederate flag, they were giving evidence of their bigotry and of the danger they represented to the American public.

While the entire country mourned with the victims, their families and their community, the powers that be – public figures in the media, hollywood, government – virtually condemned every Confederate flag loving American as a Dylan Roof wannabe.

The idea seemed to be that if we just rid the world of Confederate flags, we would rid the world of hate.

On its very face, that sentiment is not rational.

In completely different news, on June 26th, an activist Supreme Court issued a landmark opinion, decreeing that same-sex couples could now marry across the country, forever transforming the marital union, and redefining marriage at its core. Within hours of the decision, the White House was lit up in a rainbow. This, despite the fact that nearly half of Americans still objected to gay marriage on religious grounds.

On July 2, it was announced that a Christian couple running a bakery in Oregon would be required to pay $135,000 to a gay couple for whom they had refused to make a wedding cake, citing religious conviction as the reason. Widespread support for the court order was evident among the media. The Christian couple was demonized, lambasted as bigoted and backward thinking (As a result, that bakery has since gone out of business). Nationwide, there was suddenly a mandate on how a business must conduct itself, not in accordance with religious beliefs of the owner, but rather in accordance with public sentiment. Refusing to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple was likened to the refusal to serve someone based on the color of his skin.

Now let us return to Trump's much maligned speech and to the boycotts that ensued. Not surprisingly, the negative reaction to Trump's announcement speech was swift and strong. By July 10 (with all of the above still mulling freshly in the minds of Americans), DC lawmakers were aggressively calling for a boycott of all Trump’s businesses. Many companies took matters into their own hands; Macy’s (which carried a Trump line of clothing),  NBC (which hosted the Miss America and Miss Universe pageants, as well as The Apprentice), and many others, severed ties with Trump, refusing to sell his products or do business with him in any way. That wasn't enough. According to The Huffington Post, lawmakers continued to be up in arms – shouting warnings against Trump to all who would listen. According to Maryland State Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez,

“We have huge economic power. Don’t go to his hotels. Don’t go to his restaurants. Boycott everything that’s even closely related to Trump.”

The outrage following Trump's speech came on the heels of all of the above well-publicized events and more. Perhaps this was the last straw.

Over the years the “powers that be” have been enforcing social reform bit by bit, and the American people – polite and well-mannered, as mentioned above – have, for the most part, acquiesced. Perhaps this natural American kindness emboldened the efforts of those who wish to better us; because in the summer of 2015, their efforts raced into overdrive – they became an in-your-face attempt to force Americans to surrender their liberty to those who wished to “save us from ourselves.”

It was said often during the campaign that Trump had a core group of supporters who were with him “no matter what” – I believe Clinton referred to those supporters as “a basket of deplorables.” Could it be that something about Trump’s bombast and indiscretion actually served as a lifeline to Americans across the country who didn't appreciate all this pressure to surrender to the “powers that be?” That in their frustration, they realized that our founders actually did provide them with a voice? A vote?

I submit that when all is said and done, Americans despise social engineering over crass bombast, and they value liberty over protocol.

Surrounded by the rapid-fire pounding of those couple of weeks – the panic ignited by Trump’s words, combined with the pandemonium surrounding the Confederate flag and gay rights (which by the way, were carried on the wings of all the chaos surrounding police officers and the moral mandate to admit tens of thousands of refugees in the wake of increased terrorism around the world) — stirred something deep in the hearts of many Americans. Rather than join the outrage, they began to feel the strangled gasps of liberty. Rather than condescend, they felt the need to fray the binds of social engineering. Awakened to the confines of a future determined by the ever-demanding voices of the self-proclaimed “just,” they began to feel some outrage of their own. In that month, the proverbial frog felt the heat, and leapt out of the water, en masse.

Trump support went through the roof.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Throughout the campaign season, there were enough Americans who recognized the tentacles of a socially engineered public square; their wariness was reinforced by the microscopic analysis of black/white relations, brutality toward policemen, a disdain for natural law, a president issuing written decrees intended to coerce state compliance regarding what only five years ago would have been unheard of social accommodations, large American companies using corporate clout to bully Americans into conformity with their social agenda, trigger words, trigger warnings, safe spaces and essentially public pressure for private conformity in virtually all areas of life.

Liberty runs deep in America. A recognition of God as the ultimate source of that liberty runs deep as well. Social engineering almost trumped both.


Reading Assignment:

The Apocalypse… – The City

Discussion Questions:

1. What do you think about the events surrounding Trump's announcement and their relationship to his being elected? Do you agree or disagree that they were a factor? Please explain.

2. Feel free to comment on anything from our assignment this past week!


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About Vicki Burbach

Vicki Burbach is a wife and homeschooling mother of six children ages four to sixteen years who relishes the calm inspiration of spiritual reading amidst the roller coaster of life. A passionate convert to the Faith, Vicki is an avid reader who started the book club so she could embark with like-minded bibliophiles on a spiritual journey through some of the greatest Catholic books ever written. She is author of the new book How to Read Your Way to Heaven - A Spiritual Reading Program for the Worst of Sinners, the Greatest of Saints, and Everyone in Between. You can also find her at

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