Facts don’t matter to a mob. This is why indulging mobs–ever and at all—is foolish and dangerous. It is also why the current push to remove the Emancipation Statue, also known as the Freedman’s Memorial, has to be resisted, and successfully.
I know a slippery slope when I see one; I think I’ve established that since I saw this particular slippery slope being greased five years ago. I saw that it would slide right into the Founders and an attempt to separate the United States from its origins and the brave and brilliant patriots who risked everything to attempt this experiment in liberty.
If any statute of Lincoln is allowed to satisfy the mob’s lust for vengeance and power, any memorials and honors to Jefferson and Washington are doomed, including the Washington Monument. As with the less violent and more dignified—but no less dangerous— mobs that destroyed lives and reputations during the Red Scare and McCarthy era, politically motivated mobs like the Black Lives Matter-catalyzed demonstrators will treat each victory as a green light for escalation. It is astounding that so many supposedly educated people in government, academia, business and the arts have somehow forgotten this fact in their rush to grovel and submit, hoping, as Winston Churchill observed of appeasers, that the crocodile would eat them last.
The attack on America escalated when NFL players began “taking a knee” during the playing of the National Anthem, one of the main symbols of our nation and its values. The players and their spiritual leader, Colin Kaepernick, made incoherent efforts to explain why their disrespect during the Anthem wasn’t aimed at the melody, but at the nation it—well, the racism that—well, they never could manage to explain their logic. That’s because the protest was really aimed at the United States itself.
President Trump condemned the kneelers in his trademark ham-handed manner, and then the protest became about him, and thus the Presidency, another symbol of the nation.
For more than three years, the core symbols and institutions that make up the foundation of our culture have been under relentless attack, led by the “resistance” and its allied mainstream media. Cognitive dissonance has worked its cruel magic: anyone who evinced sufficient hate for the President was elevated to the positive end of the scale, raising the regard for their other anti-American attitudes and objectives as well.
Again like McCarthism, guilt by association is the weapon of choicand all of American history is interlocked. In San Francisco, the statue of Francis Scott Key, who wrote “The Star-Spangled Banner” and is celebrated today for that alone, was torn down by the same mob that took down a statue of General Grant. (No word of disapproval from Nancy Pelosi or Joe Biden). Both Key and Grant (barely) were slave owners, so to the mob, that’s all that mattered. Since Key owned slaves, his “Star-Spangled Banner, written after he saw an American flag flying at the Battle of Fort McHenry following a victory over the British in the War of 1812, no longer symbolizes the “land of the free and the home of the brave,” but racial injustice. An article on Yahoo! asked whether it was time to replace the National Anthem because of its connection to racism “for some.” One proposed replacement: “Imagine.”
In the assault on our history and culture that is underway, Lincoln is the firewall. The mob knows it. It knows that if Lincoln, the most revered, brilliant and eloquent of U.S. Presidents, is symbolically toppled and tarred with racism, everything goes. Although the Freedman’s Memorialis getting most of the publicity, Lincoln is under attack elsewhere. Students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison are demanding that the university remove and replace a statue of Abraham Lincoln on its campus, and they have a Change.org petition urging the action and stating that Lincoln had a “questionable” history when it came to race relations.Yes, our atrocious public school system bears great responsibility for this, but that is another issue.
All it will take is for one Lincoln statue to be junked along with honors to Christopher Columbus, Theodore Roosevelt, Grant, Key, Woodrow Wilson and Robert E. Lee, and every shred of our past will become a target. The objective is to discredit the United States, its heroes, culture and history, in the course of turning our democracy into what Lincoln, Jefferson and Adams would not recognize, but George Orwell might.
That is one reason why the Freedman’s Memorial must stay. The other reason is what this mob will not accept or comprehend, that history and perspective is essential to any nation’s survival.
Of course the statue represents white supremacy. Whites were undeniably supreme when it was designed and erected. The fact that the statue was placed and paid for by freed slaves is important to understanding its history and perspective, but doesn’t change the symbolism of the statue, and is a futile defense, since the mob cares nothing about either. It is seeking power and cultural destruction.
I have always found the statue wince-producing, but that’s what is important about it. No such statue would ever have been designed in the last 80 years or more. It gives us a crucial snapshot of where we were, and how far we have come.
In the Washington Post, historian David Blight recounts the scene when the statue was unveiled:
A huge parade involving nearly every black organization in the city preceded the dedication of the monument on April 14, 1876. The procession included cornet bands, marching drum corps, youth clubs in colorful uniforms and fraternal orders. Horse-drawn carriages transported master of ceremonies and Howard University law school dean, John Mercer Langston, and the orator of the day, Frederick Douglass, a resident of that neighborhood. Representatives of the entire U.S. government sat in the front rows at the ceremony; the occasion had been declared a federal holiday. President Ulysses S. Grant, members of his Cabinet, members of the House and Senate and justices of the Supreme Court all attended….
A young black poet from D.C., Cordelia Ray, recited an original poem, “Lincoln.” Grant, who did not speak, pulled the cords and unveiled the statue. Douglass then took the podium and delivered one of the greatest speeches of his life.
Rather than take down this monument to Lincoln and emancipation, create a commission that will engage new artists to represent the story of black freedom from one generation to the next. Let today’s imaginations take flight. Perhaps commission a statue of Douglass himself delivering this magnificent speech. So much new learning can take place by the presence of both past and present. As a nation, let’s replace a landscape strewn with Confederate symbols with memorialization of emancipation. Tearing down the Freedmen’s Memorial would be a terrible start for that epic process.
A progressive like virtually all historians today, Blight doesn’t realize how his endorsement of Confederate statue toppling renders his argument for preserving the Emancipation Statue hypocritical and inconsistent, but at least he reaches the correct conclusion. Unfortunately, Blight is the Sterling Professor of History at Yale University, and Yale is named after a slave trader. He’s complicit in white supremacy too: who cares what he says?