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On those Confederate monuments

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I am of a generation that revered Robert E. Lee. The way we were taught—and this was in liberal, Democratic New York City–he was a patriot, a gentleman, a superb general, and a proud Virginian, who just happened to be on the losing side of history. We were taught that he was personally against the Civil War when it broke out, that he turned down an offer to lead the Union armies in favor of leading the rebel forces, due to his love of his state. We knew that slavery was evil; we knew our country had fought a bloody war over it; we were glad that the North won and that slavery was eliminated. At the same time, we didn’t see anything wrong with honoring Robert E. Lee for his many qualities.

Well, that’s how we thought in the 1950s, at any rate. Now, here we are in 2020, and Confederate monuments, including the Stars and Bars flag, are under attack all over the country. And those of us of a certain age are having to have internal dialogues over what we formerly believed.

My take is simple: if Confederate statues, plaques and place names are so offensive to so many people, at such a fragile time in our nation’s history, then by all means, remove them. I don’t have any problem with that, and I don’t understand why so many people are so upset with it. The fact is, the Civil War was fought over slavery. Slavery may be the most fundamentally evil human crime, next to genocide (and there’s a case to be made that slavery was genocide). Our country was founded on slavery; the South (and a good part of the North) was built on slave labor. Black people are as human as white people. What this country did was atrocious. And just about every Civil War leader who has a monument to him was a slaveowner. So why the defensiveness? Taking down monuments to Southern Civil War “heroes” is simply a physical manifestation of repudiating slavery. Who wouldn’t want to repudiate slavery?

A lot of people, apparently. I have never understood the reluctance of Republicans to denounce slavery. After all, their party was founded on ending slavery. Abraham Lincoln was the first Republican president. How did the modern Republican Party stray so far from its roots?

The answer is, because a lot of people never accepted that the South lost the Civil War. They thought they’d been tricked, or that the North had somehow connived to win, or that the war had been a mere tactical loss. Most of these people became Democrats, to the eternal shame of my party. They refused to acknowledge they’d been wrong, and that slavery was evil even by definition of their professed Christian religion. These revanchist Americans swelled in numbers following World War II, and after the events of the 1960s, which so threatened their white patriarchy, their numbers reached epidemic proportions. Which is when the Republican Party re-discovered them, after LBJ’s civil rights laws caused millions of them to desert the Democratic Party.

I’ve followed American history for a long time, and I’ve never heard a coherent explanation how the party of Lincoln could embrace everything he was against. Today’s Republicans in fact are embarrassed by Lincoln: you hear them praise Reagan all the time, but they don’t have a word to say about the Great Emancipator. How weird that the Republican Party would make Abraham Lincoln a non-person. Weirder still that they would make Donald J. Trump their hero. No wonder he’s so against removing the statues, or renaming the bases named after Southern slaveowners. Now, he’s about to travel to Tulsa to give a speech in which he’ll pretend to care about Black lives. It’s a farce, of course; Donald Trump, like his father, Fred, before him, is a racist through and through (Fred belonged to the Ku Klux Klan). But that won’t stop Trump’s enablers from hailing him as unifying the country. Can you believe it? Trump as unifier? Take it from me, the only thing he’s going to unify is the anti-Trump vote, which will sweep America on Election Day in a landslide so broad, you’ll hardly believe it.

Have a wonderful weekend! Keep it peaceful. And wear your mask!

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