I have been called despicable. Racist. Treasonous. All because I had a picture of a Confederate flag as one of the screensavers on my laptop. And yet anyone who actually knows me realizes these accusations couldn’t be further from the truth. I cannot fathom the concept of slavery, how one man could own another. To judge another on any basis other than their character and conviction is the greatest example I can conjure of weak-mindedness. Racism doesn’t diminish the target, it diminishes the proprietor.

At the same time, and for the first time in our history, I worry about how this country is going to endure if we don’t soon come together on real issues. I know that regardless of what I write here, angry, closed minds will not change. That is their choice. Individualism, once revered throughout our country, is apparently on the way out — as is judging people on their thoughts, deeds and actions, not merely an icon. We have evolved into a culture that thrives on collective control rather than the freedom of the individual thought, allowing emotion and “safety in numbers” to prevail in public discourse. Those who profess tolerance have become the intolerant.

Innocent until proven guilty has been replaced by instant crucifixion via social media. Proponents of these witch hunts like to pretend they are basking in righteousness, the guardians of equality and justice. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Their venom achieves nothing other than to inflame ideologues, and promote ignorance. Condemning someone without first having all the facts is intellectually bankrupt, and crucifying people in the name of justice is no more effective now than it was in Roman times — the people being crucified aren’t going to start agreeing with you when they get nailed to the cross.

The fact is that hundreds of thousands of Southerners took up arms, most of them never having owned a slave, and fought with the specific belief that they were following in the footsteps of our Founding Fathers.

Others were resisting an invading army marching into their state, across their farmland and into their towns. Many were just ignorant, young men looking for adventure.

After the North prevailed, the survivors returned home to devastation: their crops burned, homes pillaged and destroyed, livestock slaughtered or scattered; entire cities laid to ruin. My ancestors among them.

They returned. Replanted their crops. Rebuilt their lives. Their pride in each other, in the crucible they survived, was all they could take from their past.

In the struggle that followed, a new meaning for the Confederate flag was born. Many people look at the flag and see only hatred and bigotry. But for many of us of Southern heritage, it came to mean far more over time.

Symbols only have the power we give them. Flying this flag as a symbol of white supremacy is despicable, and any use of it for that purpose should end, immediately. Flying it over memorials to Confederate war dead is simply history, and should never be erased. In the aftermath of the war, Southerners had to rebuild more than just their homes. They had to rebuild their outlook on the world, and did. Removing the Confederate flag from sight and pretending it doesn’t exist won’t change history, it merely helps to shroud it in ignorance.

But today, we ignore nuance, multiple meaning, in favor of coerced conformity. We have lost the ability to share different opinions in civil discussion. We instantly paint our perceived enemy with a broad brush before we ever take the time to learn who they are. Our country is a mishmash of culture, color, religion. Only 242 years young, still with hope, optimism and opportunity for the future; so long as we strive to work together and overcome our differences rather than expand on them with a mob mentality.

The excessive interest in my personal laptop screensaver has trumped other things far more serious and alarming in nature; like sex trafficking, the opioid addiction epidemic, and child protection and welfare services — issues in front of us now that demand not only our attention, but our collaborative resolve.

Todd Clodfelter, a Republican, represents the Tucson-area Legislative District 10 in the Arizona House.