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Thoughts on Events the Week of June 22

Posted in Uncategorized by EloiSVM42 on June 29, 2020

Statues and flags and Names, oh my: We are being reminded in this awaking about black inequality in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, that whites with the best of intentions may be subconsciously racist, or at least racially insensitive, in some ways without even knowing it. 

I’ve always considered myself a very liberal and tolerant person, with no racist prejudice whatsoever. But no person enjoying the privilege of being white in America can fully appreciate the indignities that blacks in America experience daily, right up to and including getting shot by police.

This has come home to me vividly as I follow the protests and demonstrations regarding statues of Civil War leaders in the South; Confederate flags all over, including prominently at NASCAR events and even on the flag of Mississippi; and military forts named after Confederate generals. I confess, I’ve never given any of these much thought, or considered how hurtful they may be to our black citizens.

But I’m thinking about them now, and the subject seems more nuanced that it may seem at first. With any movement there is always pushback and overreach. Where do we draw the line? To me, the line is a matrix between history and intent, with an axis between public and private space. Here are some specific thoughts.

I have no sympathy whatsoever for the statues erected to Confederate generals and leaders in the South now that I’ve learned they were erected long after the Civil War and were put up to intimidate blacks as part of Jim Crow tactics. Leave them to history books and tear the statues down.

(As I write this, I remember how upset and angry I was in 1999 when the Taliban tore down statues and destroyed ancient artifacts in Afghanistan. Am I being intellectually inconsistent to see a distinction here? I don’t think so. The Taliban was displaying religious intolerance because the statues and artifacts were “un-Islamic.” What rubbish!

When governments do not separate church and state, you end up with movements like the Taliban and ISIS, and countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia. Islam hasn’t learned this lesson yet.)

I draw the line at tearing down Andrew Jackson, Woodrow Wilson, and any other presidents, as some advocate today. They were presidents, and therefore important historical figures, though both held views grossly out of fashion today. Nevertheless, you don’t tear down statues of American presidents.

Jackson was hard on Native Americans, but so was everybody at the time. Manifest Destiny was the overwhelming sentiment of their day. Wilson was an extreme racist even for his time, but he was a president. We should look clear-eyed at their flaws but recognize and respect their place in our history. I’m surprised Princeton is taking his name off of its school of public policy.

An exception might be the statue of President Teddy Roosevelt on horseback with a black man and an Indian on foot beside him, which stands at the entrance of the American Museum of National History in New York, giving off a stench of white supremacy. The museum is a public space, and this particular statue is unseemly there now.

Besides, there is plenty of recognition of Roosevelt at the museum other than the statue (the museum was founded by among others his father, and sits in Roosevelt Park, for crying out loud). I haven’t been to the ANHM in years and I don’t even remember the statue, but I’ve seen images of it recently, and it is clearly out of step with the times.

The legacy of John C. Calhoun, currently under attack, is a closer call. He was a slave owner, and a strong advocate for slavery as a “positive good.” He influenced that kind of thinking in the South. But he had a very distinguished political career, and he died in 1850, before secession and the Civil War.  He is an important historical figure. I have no use for his views, so, with a bit of anguish, I would let his reputation stand as history records it, and I think Yale erred in changing the name of Calhoun College. But Yale, like Princeton, is a private university and so gets to make its call.

I am ambivalent about the current pressure on Confederate flags.  It belongs to our history and so there is a necessary place for it in history books, but not on the state flag of Mississippi, for instance, which is certainly public by any standard.

Like those statues of Confederate Generals, Confederate flags are a slap in the face to every black American, and I have no use for them, or the knuckle dragging rednecks who display them. But their use by private citizens is protected by the Constitution as an expression of free speech. Private citizens and private spaces are free to make their own decisions as to its presentation.

Speaking of which, I applaud NASCAR for banning it at their events. Stock car racing is extremely popular in the south, and it took some strength of character to make this decision.

On the bright side, public attitudes about the flag are changing so dramatically that I think soon it will be as odious a symbol of racism as a Ku Klux Klan robe. Racist bigots self-identify by waving one around.

I had given no thought to the names of military bases because I never dreamed that any of them would be named after Confederate generals. It’s disgusting. Change all of those names.

Bottom line: After our founding, the Civil War and abolition of slavery is the most seminal even in our history. History must be preserved, even if it is inconvenient at any particular moment, so we can learn from it. It is who we were, if not necessarily who we are today. But to revel in odious aspects of it is unseemly and an insult to many fellow Americans.

Worst States: Since Oklahoma won the cup last week due to President Trump’s reckless trip to Tulsa, of course Arizona gets it this week since we let him come to Yuma for a ludicrous photo-op with his wall toy, and then visit a mega-church in Phoenix where 3,000 young evangelical whackos crowded together, sans masks, at a youth rally.

The church crowed that it had installed a ventilation system (invented by a parishioner) that would eliminate 99.9% of Covid-19 germs in 10 minutes, evoking Las Vegas casinos hawking their systems that filter cigarette smoke. How crassly commercial, and what nonsense.

Coming attractions:  Troubling news just broke about Russia and Putin too late to include here. Next week.

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