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NASCAR: No more Confederate flags at our events

I mentioned this in the earlier thread as a sign of how quickly feelings have shifted over the past week on certain matters of racial sensitivity but it deserves its own post.

The shift has come really quickly within NASCAR. On Sunday a black NASCAR official (and Army veteran) made some waves by kneeling before a race in Atlanta:

He remained kneeling when the national anthem was sung but raised his head and saluted. Before the same race, Bubba Wallace, NASCAR’s only black driver, wore an “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirt. The next night he was on Don Lemon’s CNN show and mentioned that he’d been in contact with other drivers, including Jimmie Johnson, about what the sport can do to help change the culture. One thing he specifically mentioned was banning Confederate flags, a staple at events, because “no one should feel uncomfortable when they come to a NASCAR race.”

This video, vague but well-meaning, featuring various NASCAR stars appeared that same day.

Wallace was set to drive a car with “Black Lives Matter” detailing tonight at a race in Virginia, the heart of the old Confederacy. It was bold of NASCAR management to hand down the new policy just hours before that event.

They’re tried to ban fans from flying the Confederate flag before. In 2015, after the massacre in Charleston, they instituted the policy in a show of goodwill towards black Americans. It didn’t go great.

NASCAR and its tracks have asked fans to refrain from flying the Civil War battle flag in wake of the shooting nearly three months ago of a pastor and eight parishioners at a Charleston African-American church.

But during the season’s only NASCAR stop in South Carolina, where the nation’s Confederate flag controversy began, some fans decided Sunday to add to their campsite displays rather than listen to leaders of the sport they love.

“I bought a couple extra,” joked Jamie Herndon of Reidville. The 40-year Darlington race veteran’s camper was surrounded by Confederate flags, including one with the words “Heritage Not Hate.”…

“They’re forgetting what put them where they are,” said Archie Braxton of St. George, holding a 1976 Southern 500 program with the Confederate flag on the cover. “This is my roots, and this is Darlington’s roots.”

I can’t tell from their statement today whether they’re banning *official* displays of the flag and leaving fans out of it or if they intend to target fans too by kicking out people who won’t comply. The statement seems broad. And Wallace’s whole point was that he wants African-Americans to feel safe at events. How does that work if there’s no flag iconography on the cars but a thousand rebel flags in the stands?

The fascinating thing about NASCAR’s decision, and what sets it apart from the NFL’s decision to allow protests at games, is of course that its fan base overlaps heavily with the Republican base. The NFL cuts across all demographics but NASCAR’s fans are typically white, southern, and right-leaning. Which means you-know-who gets a vote here. He hasn’t tweeted about the new policy yet as I write this at 6:15 p.m. ET but it’s a matter of time. I noted last night that the NFL’s willingness to defy Trump on the anthem is a sign of how the president’s cultural influence has weakened since 2017. That’s obviously less true with NASCAR’s audience. NASCAR must have considered before making their decision that Trump is likely to whine about “political correctness;” surprisingly, they concluded that they were willing to weather that storm. But how will they enforce their policy once Trump inevitably starts agitating for NASCAR fans to break the rules and fly their flags anyway?

I mean, objectively, it’s insane that the president of the United States would spend political capital on defending the Confederate flag, especially in an election year when the flag’s admirers are already in his pocket and he’s desperate to appeal to black voters and suburbanites. But he’s going to.

Nancy Pelosi’s happy enough about it that she’s trying to egg him on further by calling for removing statues of famous Confederates from the U.S. Capitol:

In a new letter to the Joint Committee on the Library, a House-Senate panel that manages the National Statuary Hall Collection, Pelosi asked Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., to direct the Architect of the Capitol to “immediately” start removing 11 statues of men associated with the Confederacy from display in the Capitol complex.

“While I believe it is imperative that we never forget our history lest we repeat it, I also believe that there is no room for celebrating the violent bigotry of the men of the Confederacy in the hallowed halls of the United States Capitol or places of honor across the country,” Pelosi said in a letter obtained exclusively by ABC News.

By the time we wake up tomorrow Trump may have gone to the mat in defense of naming U.S. military bases after Confederates, flying the Confederate flag at NASCAR events, and keeping statues of Confederate figures in the Capitol. The Democratic ad writes itself: “Which country does he think he’s president of?”

I think he’s going to win the south this year, though. Very, very confident that already deep red states will remain deep red.

Here’s Wallace earlier this week discussing his thoughts on the flag and inclusivity at NASCAR.