On those statues, and a comment on Antifa |

 

Yesterday it was reported that the City of San Jose is being urged via a public petition to remove a statue of Christopher Columbus from City Hall. At the same time, we heard of a new statue of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. erected in Atlanta.

Suddenly in the U.S. we seem to have a serious case of Statue-Mania!

It’s no laughing matter. There are serious issues, on all sides. Those who would remove the statues—whether they’re of Confederate heroes or Founding Fathers or colonizing Europeans—have a case. Why should we celebrate people who, in the final analysis, and by our best moral understanding, did horrible things? Why not build statues, by contrast, to the hero SWAT team cop who rescued a mom and her baby in the Houston flood?

And certainly Dr. King, as great a hero as any our nation has ever produced. I do think that the case of the Founding Fathers is more complicated, though. We ought to leave that to local populations, who are in the best position to decide what they want in their city or town.

Yet the statue supporters have a claim. They argue, rightfully, that these statues—Robert E. Lee, George Washington, Columbus—are part of our history (which is indisputably true). And some of them feel a direct connection to that history: their great-great-great grandfathers might have fought and died for the South, and in their families a great deal of pride and tradition has been kept alive, across the generations, that is incredibly meaningful to them.

Of course, Trump has made his views known, in his usual ham-handed, race-baiting way. When he accuses “the media” of “trying to take away our history and our heritage,” he’s simply pandering to the most cruel and ignorant of his base. I do not believe, for a moment, that Trump knows anything about our “history” or “heritage,” except that he self-identifies as a Western Europe-descended white male, and if we’ve learned anything about him over his decades of celebrity, it’s that he’s an arrogant bastard who believes his cohort is the best, smartest and most entitled of all the world’s people. So it would be nice to find some pro-keeping-the-statues types denounce Trump’s opportunism (and perhaps we’re starting to hear from them: Robert E. Lee’s nephew many times removed recently called for his great-great-great, etc. Uncle’s statue in Charlottesville to come down).

I myself believe that those who feel strongly that the statues should be accorded some respect are right and their views should be accommodated for the sake of unity. Fortunately, we seem to be reaching a consensus view in this country: remove the statues from public places, like City Halls, Town Squares, parks and municipal buildings, and put them in museums, where they can be understood in the proper historical context.

It’s been breathtaking how quickly this conversation is shifting the viewpoint of so many Americans. As long as I can recall there’s been controversy about Confederate statues, but it’s been on the fringes of the left wing, and among certain Black activists. They had a hard time making themselves heard, in the cacophony of news with which we’re deluged all the time. But Charlottesville changed that. Suddenly, mayors, governors, editors, even presidents are weighing in. We’re having that rarest of all things, a National Conversation, not a national shouting match, and the more logical, reasonable side is winning.

So let’s take down the statues. They won’t all come down at once. Let’s start in the places where the community is most upset. If there’s a statue of some minor Confederate general in some backwater Southern town, and nobody cares, then let it be for the time being. As for Christopher Columbus: I, like all members of my Baby Boomer generation, were reared to revere him as “the discoverer of America.” I used to read children’s books about him, with their tales of Ferdinand and Isabella, and the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria. Who knew, back then, that Columbus was a rather homicidal, religious fanatic who committed atrocities against the indigenous peoples of the new world? Our teachers didn’t tell us that. Maybe they themselves didn’t even know.

Education is a wonderful thing. We celebrate and encourage it for our children: we send them to school, to grow out of their childish ways and learn the wise, productive ways of a world that we adults have spent millennia in shaping. Why should educating nations not take the same lines as educating children? America is being educated right now, post-Charlottesville, in what really happened in our past: Not what we think happened, not what we might like to believe happened, not the story-book versions of what happened, but what actually, really, truly happened. And it wasn’t so pretty.

The irony is that it took the white supremacists, KKK and Nazis of Charlottesville, and the man they look towards for succor and support, the president of the United States, Donald J. Trump, to inadvertently raise this issue to national importance. It’s not what they wanted. They don’t like it. But History has won out, as it tends to, and those who would stifle history have lost bigtime.

AND ANTIFA

I said it in 2011, when they were called the Black Bloc, and I’ll say it again today, when they’re known as Antifa: While I’m glad they come out to resist the KKK thugs, I hate it when they mask their faces. That is cowardly, and it is divisive for those of us—millions and millions—who are resisting an evil regime, but have no wish to condone violence. Antifa: Take off those stupid masks! Until you do, you will remain a lunatic fringe group, and give aid and comfort to our enemies–which actually may be your motive. I will end by quoting Jesse Arreguin, the mayor of Berkeley, hardly a conservative: “I think we should classify [Antifa] as a gang…We need to think about that in terms of our law enforcement approach.” Mayor Arreguin, Mayor Libby Schaaf of Oakland, Mayor Ed Lee of San Francisco, do your job! Put enough cops on the streets during demonstrations to arrest the Black Bloc. Book them, throw them in jail, follow up with court dates, and don’t let their noisy fanatical followers intimidate you! Let these people know their bullshit will not be tolerated.

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