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    Tuesday, March 28, 2023

    Our Civil War never ends. It's not even intermission.

    Sometimes I think that maybe the Civil War is over. But then something comes along to remind me how, in many minds, the war never really ended. Once it was fought with swords, now it's with symbols.

    Conflicts break out over flags, movies, statues, stock car races and the names of military bases. The good guys still appear to be winning, as far as I can tell, but not without some effort.

    Among the latest battlefronts is the new HBO Max streaming service, which is hitting the pause button on plans to include "Gone With the Wind" in its rotation of movies. That announcement happened to come a day after the Los Angeles Times ran an op-ed by John Ridley, a director, novelist and Oscar-winning screenwriter, requesting the move.

    Ridley's complaints were the usual ones I've heard and even expressed myself from time to time. The classic, multiple Oscar-winning, 1939 plantation potboiler depicts a jolly, noble, romanticized version of slavery in the Old South, and none of its horrors. It depicts the noble "lost cause" version of secession, which was fundamentally about the perpetuation of slavery, and props up the "heritage, not hate" defense of such iconography as the Confederate battle flag.

    HBO Max plans to show the movie, preceded by explanatory information to put it into "historical context." And you thought it was long before!

    Speaking of the battle flag, NASCAR announced last Wednesday that it was banning that distinctive flag from all its events, a move that Bubba Wallace, the only African American full-time driver in NASCAR's top-flight racing series, compared to a checkered flag as a personal "win."

    "No one should feel uncomfortable when they come to a NASCAR race," he said on CNN. "So it starts with Confederate flags. Get them out of here. They have no place for them."

    His outspokenness didn't end there. Amid ongoing national and worldwide protests following the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man under a white police officer's knee, Wallace wore a shirt that read, "I Can't Breathe/Black Lives Matter" for that afternoon's race at Atlanta Motor Speedway and had the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter painted on his car. 

    Since NASCAR is known to be more Trump Country than coastal-elite, that was a pretty bold move. Yet it also seemed fitting with the times in which tens of thousands of mostly nonviolent protesters were taking to the streets out of rage over Floyd's death.

    More media people were rethinking how police, central to some of the most popular shows on television, were being portrayed. Last Tuesday, "Cops," known for its "Bad Boys" theme song, was canceled after 32 seasons. A&E dropped its own police reality show, "Live PD," from its schedule. 

    By the middle of last week, another surprising front opened up in the new Civil War over symbols. President Donald Trump overruled an announcement by his own secretary of defense that he would consider changing the names on military bases across the South that had been named after Confederate generals. I don't know if the president knows much about history, but he certainly knows where his core constituents are concentrated.

    I'm not surprised by that, but it does put Trump in a tricky situation to defend the honoring of officers who fought against the country of which he was elected president. But he did promise from his first days as a candidate to do things differently from other presidents.

    For now, Trump's big battle is for reelection of this country, which was divided along these cultural lines and continues to be divided today.

    All of these issues — from Hollywood to NASCAR to military base names — are markers of our division as a nation of many tribes, who are trying mightily to pull together in a common identity. With that in mind, it seems much more than coincidental that we Americans find ourselves wrestling with these issues now.

    We are shocked by the death of George Floyd. Many Americans are shocked and angry to witness the systemic failures of our justice system. It feels as though the Civil War never ended. Only the battle lines have moved.

    Maybe the HBO Max programmers have the right idea. Censoring uncomfortable words, names or expressions, or sweeping them under the rug, doesn't work in the long run. We need to learn how to talk to one another — before the next war breaks out.

    Clarence Page's columns are distributed by the Tribune Content Agency.

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