Thursday, August 17, 2017

It's time for monuments to go -- Aug. 17, 2017 column


When Baltimore removed four Confederate-era statues between midnight and dawn Wednesday, a former president of the Maryland United Daughters of the Confederacy grumbled, “Rats run at night.”

But Carolyn Billups conceded she was glad an angry mob hadn’t torn down the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument the Maryland Daughters erected in 1903, The Baltimore Sun reported.

Earlier, a Confederate statue in Durham, N.C., was lassoed, pulled down, kicked and spat upon.

In the wake of the deadly violence in Charlottesville last weekend, Richmond is rethinking whether to remove the Confederate statues on Monument Avenue. Other Southern cities are taking similar actions and renaming Confederate schools and highways.

The rally in Charlottesville was ostensibly to protest removing the statue of Robert E. Lee in a city park but actually was a way for hate mongers to hurt others, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe said, and for them to gain worldwide attention and recruits.

Heather Heyer, 32, lost her life when a Nazi sympathizer allegedly drove his car into a crowd of peaceful counter-protesters.

President Donald Trump alienated almost everyone but David Duke, former imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, when he blamed “both sides” – white nationalists and counter-protesters -- for the violence and criticized efforts to remove Confederate monuments. Some “very fine” people were at the white supremacist rally, he said.

Trump Thursday denied he had said there was a moral equivalence between white nationalist protesters and counter-protesters. He also tweeted he’s “sad to see the history and culture of our great country ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments.” 

Tweet by tweet, Trump is building a wall – not on the border but between himself and most Americans.

A president should inspire and lead, but Trump has made himself almost irrelevant on moral questions of the day. The two living former Republican presidents were so alarmed by Trump’s comments they felt obliged to remind Americans of our shared values.

“America must always reject racial bigotry, anti-Semitism, and hatred in all forms,” Presidents George W. and George H.W. Bush said in their joint statement Wednesday.

“As we pray for Charlottesville, we are reminded of the fundamental truths recorded by that city’s most prominent citizen in the Declaration of Independence: We are all created equal and endowed by our Creator with unalienable rights,” the Bushes said.

Groups like the UDC and Sons of Confederate Veterans have relied for years on the argument that Confederate monuments represent their heritage, not hate, but they have not spoken out forcefully enough against those who have appropriated their heroes and symbols.

The bishops of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia wrote in a letter to parishioners this week:

“Many Americans lovingly cling to their heritage, which provides them with pride and identity. Some suggest that the white people who gathered to protest in Charlottesville were there to proclaim and protect Southern heritage. However, Nazi and fascist flags, symbols, salutes, slogans and uniforms are not and never have been part of the heritage and history of the American South.”

What Trump did not say, corporate leaders did.  

“Racism and murder are unequivocally reprehensible and are not morally equivalent to anything else that happened in Charlottesville. I believe the president should have been – and still needs to be – unambiguous about that point,” Denise Morrison, president and chief executive of Campbell’s Soup, said in her statement resigning from Trump’s Manufacturing Jobs Initiative.

Republicans have been reluctant to confront Trump by name, but House Speaker Paul Ryan said there can be “no moral ambiguity” when it comes to the “repulsive” ideology of white supremacy.

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida fired off a series of tweets that began: “The organizers of events which inspired & led to Charlottesville terrorist attack are 100% to blame for a number of reasons.”

What’s next? Removing the Confederate monuments is a first step, but it will take more to heal the nation. It will take all of us.

“You need to find in your heart that spark of accountability,” Susan Bro, Heyer’s mom, said at her daughter’s memorial service. “`What is there that I can do to make the world a better place? What injustice do I see?’”


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