South Carolina's new proposed state flag. (copy) (copy) (copy)

South Carolina's new proposed flag design. Provided

Anyone vexed by the vociferous criticism of this state flag redesign must be, in parlance, “from off.”

Because locals have been fighting over South Carolina's state flag for a century.

And although it is a fun and fairly frivolous distraction for debate, now is not the time for the state to get bogged down on the symbolic at the expense of the substantive.

We’ve got bigger problems.

Now, everyone knows that South Carolina has the most beautiful state flag in the country. That is not up for debate.

The tourism industry in particular loves the flag because, to many a layperson, it looks like an idyllic summer night. It is the banner that launched a million beach vacations — the vexillological version of a Florida state flag advertising the sun, a six-pack of Bud and Mickey Mouse.

But, despite appearances, our state flag is not just a pretty picture; it’s actually a combination of several clever and mildly obscure references to the state’s colonial military history.

Which is what we used to fight about. People wanted to argue over whether that thingy in the upper corner was the moon or a gorget. Spoiler: It ain’t the moon.

Trouble is, there hasn’t been a standard design for the flag in generations — and that’s fueled these disagreements. So, at the request of the Legislature, a group of South Carolina’s preeminent historians came up with a standard, historically accurate template for the flag. And, as Avery Wilks reports, everyone hates it.

They've complained about the color, the orientation of the crescent. But mostly, the problem is the flag’s palmetto tree — which looks like a crew of Dominion Energy “arborists” got hold of it.

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That isn’t the fault of our historians. They based the tree — the flag’s dominant image — on a 1910 sketch from Charleston artist Ellen Heyward Jervey. It is a drawing infinitely more attractive and subtle than the preliminary design suggests.

But, message received: back to the drawing board.

Unfortunately, first impressions linger, and already some lawmakers are defending the honor of our current flag design, amorphous as it may be. So, no matter what our well-informed and well-intentioned historians come back with, another fight’s a-brewing.

Which is just what we don’t need. Lawmakers have already proposed banning the Confederate flag from Sons of Confederate Veterans specialty tags, and threatened to remove from office any local official who votes to take down historic monuments. And, of course, they also promise to pander again this session with ridiculous proposals related to guns and abortion — those old chestnuts.

Some lawmakers, though certainly not the more sober ones, generally enjoy these "values" fights because they fire up voters and — bonus — don’t cost any actual money. And such debates distract some people from the fact that they aren’t tackling significantly more difficult, pressing and expensive problems.

Such as equitable school funding or, most importantly this year, getting folks vaccinated from the virus so we can get this pandemic under control. South Carolina COVID-19 tests have been coming back 33% positive. Really? Are these people trying to kill grandma?

Sure, the Legislature can multitask, but lawmakers need fewer distractions this year, not more. So, in order to ensure that 2021 goes better than our most recent unpleasantness, let’s knock off our regularly scheduled fight over symbols.

Lawmakers should drop the idea of unseating duly elected officials (a stunt no doubt inspired by our John C. Calhoun kerfuffle) because they already have a pretty tough law protecting our hallowed Confederate monuments.

And if they want to take the Confederate flag off specialty license plates, give the SCV the “Fergit, HELL” guy for a new logo and move on.

But don’t waste a lot of time fighting over the state flag design. In fact, that whole debate needs to be tabled for a year. Give the historians more time. The flag’s been around since 1861, it’ll make it another year. Focus on pressing matters for once ... and do it while wearing masks.

Otherwise, the only banner lawmakers will raise at the Statehouse this year is the flag of surrender. And there's no debating the color of that flag.

Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com.