The idea of a democratic republic is that the people elect wise representatives to study issues and make sound decisions. It is distinct from a pure democracy, in which the mass of people vote in referendums.
Mississippi does have a few referendums every year, but by far most laws are passed by the Legislature through its representatives. A key element of a good representative democracy is statesmanship — when representatives, having carefully studied an issue, make a decision for the good of the state even though it may be adverse to current public opinion.
Statesmanship comes into play concerning the removal of the Confederate battle flag from the Mississippi state flag. The battle flag, a St. Andrew’s cross with stars, has unfortunately become a symbol of racism. It offends millions in both Mississippi and throughout our nation. It gives Mississippi a black eye and hurts recruitment of national industry to our state.
Two-thirds of Mississippians voted down its change 19 years ago, but a Chism Strategies poll indicates 53 percent of Mississippi voters under the age of 65 now support a change.
If another referendum was held today, it would be much closer than the one 19 years ago, but it would whip up the same intense emotions that held sway back then. This is even more true because of the recent Black Lives Matters protests that have swept the country and the world. We don’t need to go there.
What we do need is the statesmanship of cooler, reflective heads. We need our elected representatives to make this happen in the calmer setting of a legislative session. We need to get this done once and for all. It’s stunting our growth and making us an embarrassment to the rest of the world.
But if changing the flag is simply politically impossible, how about having two flags?
We could keep our current flag and add the very popular new flag designed by Jackson native Laurin Stennis, the granddaughter of former U.S. Sen. John Stennis.
Her flag features 19 blue stars in a circle around a 20th star, an homage to Mississippi being the 20th state to join the United States in 1817. The flag’s design — an inversion of another replacement candidate, the Bonnie Blue flag — also features a white background and red bars along the sides. It is quite beautiful.
Two flags is a reasonable compromise. Our universities, which have refused to fly the state flag, could now fly the Stennis flag. Anyone that wishes to fly the old flag could do so as well. Two flags might pave the way for some progress.