I’m sure we’d all like to forget the events that happened in Charlottesville, Virginia this past week. No American, not Democrats, Republicans, or Independents, should support any violent actions the alternative wings of their party have taken. We are encouraged to have peaceful protests, but disasters like the ones in Charlottesville might make protestors shy away from making their voice heard, or it could just be one in many under the new administration. So, what happened in Charlottesville, how have we responded, and what should we do now?
The Statue of Robert E. Lee
First, some quick background information. Most of the protests in Charlottesville either opposed or supported taking down the statue of Robert E. Lee in Emancipation Park. City council leaders voted for taking down the statue because they resented what it symbolized. Many Democrats, in fact, did not support the town’s alleged endorsement of the Confederate army.
Robert E. Lee himself isn’t a bad character. Democrats have stated that he symbolizes all that is evil to America’s foundation, such as slavery and intolerance. But those ideals don’t align at all to what Robert E. Lee thinks. “After the war, he accepted defeat and did his part to promote national healing.” He thought of himself as a Virginia patriot rather than an American nationalist, despite what confusion those words might arise today.
In a letter to his wife, Lee wrote that “slavery as an institution, is a moral & political evil in any Country.” He fought for the South not because he supported slavery, but because he believed that the South would prevail.
As we will see later, these protests weren’t really about Lee’s message. They were about white supremacists who didn’t think much about Lee’s actual history—they just thought of his removal as a threat to the Confederacy and therefore white supremacy. All of Lee’s motivation was lost in this analysis.
Where is Emancipation Park?
Source: Bing Maps, Earthstar Graphics SIO, HERE
In Charlottesville, there were violent riots and protests, from chants of “Jews will not replace us!” to attacking others with flamethrowers. One female protestor was killed as she was run over by a car, and others were injured. It truly was a calamity, but what was significant is that it made our whole country evaluate the limits to hatred and free speech, and it challenged our ideals.
Both liberals and conservatives have presented some faulty reasoning regarding taking down Robert E. Lee’s statue, and I’d like to present it here. Please note that I am not attacking either side of the political spectrum; I’m only pointing out a few misleading statements.
Liberal view: Robert E. Lee fought against America (the Union), so we should not honor him.
This seems valid until you compare it to another well-known example.
Abraham Lincoln is often seen as the champion of emancipation, although he didn’t even consider seeing black and white men as equals.
I have no purpose to introduce political and social equality between the white and black races. There is physical difference between the two which, in my judgment, will probably forever forbid their living together upon the footing of perfect equality, and inasmuch as it becomes a necessity that there must be a difference, I, as well as Judge Douglas, am in favor of the race to which I belong having the superior position.
He fought against slavery, but he was what we would call today a white nationalist. In other words, he fought values we hold so dearly today. (If you’re about to say, “But Lincoln represented…” you’re thinking the right way.)
Furthermore, if the Confederates had won the Civil War, I don’t think we would be having this conversation about removing Lee’s statue. Instead, we would be talking about demolishing the Lincoln Memorial. Mind you, this is a big “if” and relies on many assumptions, but remember—the winners write history. This is like how Christopher Columbus is idolized for discovering America and there is an annual holiday celebrating him, although he committed atrocious acts against Native Americans.
Conservative view: Both Washington and Lincoln were major slave owners. If we take down Lee’s statue, we will eventually down their monuments.
The problem with this is that there isn’t a logical way to compare Lee to Washington or Lincoln the way it’s being considered today. It’s like saying that you’ll allow gay marriage one day, and then allow humans to marry dogs the next. You have to consider each independently, and you can’t assume that one necessarily implies the next. This is known as a slippery slope fallacy.
Additionally, as Saturday Night Live put it, Washington and Jefferson did hold slaves, but they were for America and that’s what matters. They were on the right side of history; they founded our country, and Lee tried to tear what they did apart.
An important thing to realize is that the protests were not really over Lee’s statue. Lee was being portrayed as a symbol of white supremacy—nobody cared that he lived an honorable life. He was just linked to the protesters in Charlottesville. Lee, if you’re reading this, know that the only reason your statue is being taken down is that white supremacists have tarnished your reputation and abused your image. And, given the influence of our media, it doesn’t seem this will change.
Onward. What did the President say about all this?
Friday, Aug. 11
1:19 PM: Trump tweeted, “We ALL must be united & condemn all that hate stands for. There is no place for this kind of violence in America. Lets come together as one!”
(Fun fact about this: “Lets” is spelled without the apostrophe because otherwise, the tweet would have longer than 140 characters, which is Twitter’s character limit.)
3 PM: On Twitter Video: “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides, on many sides. This has been going on for a long time in our country. Not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama. This has been going on for a long, long time. There is no place in America what is vital now is a swift restoration of law and order and the protection of innocent lives. No citizen should ever fear for their safety and security in our society, and no child should ever be afraid to go outside and play or be with their parents and have a good time.”
Since Trump was reading this statement off a paper, I feel more obligated to pore through all the subtle bits and pieces. The first thing that jumped out at me, as did many, was “on many sides, on many sides.” So far, Trump has backed up this claim without any evidence. There’s only one side—the white nationalists—who must be condemned. If Trump is implying that the counter-protestors displayed hatred, bigotry, and violence, he must have something to show for it. The second thing I noticed only because of the manner in which Trump said it: “No citizen should ever fear for their safety and security in our society…” Why stop at citizens? If I had written this statement, I would have started with “No American,” for example. Sure, this might be slight, but conservative bias is flowing through where it shouldn’t be.
Later, reporters asked Trump if he would name the hateful groups explicitly. He responded and added that the alt-left were to blame as well. He even called on a reporter to define “alt-right” and seemingly attempted to defend them. Instead of calling another reporter by her name, Trump called a CNN reporter “Fake news.” Finally, when a journalist asked Trump whether he would visit Charlottesville, Trump responded, rhetorically, “I own a winery in Charlottesville.” In short, Trump ran one of the worst press conferences by a Republican ever—it was so bad, in fact, that Fox News’s James Murdoch denounced his comments in an email sent to employees.
So, what do we do now? How should we react to all this?
Source: Getty Images
Keep in mind this movement isn’t over a statue of a war general, it’s about hatred for different races and religions.
We must admit as a country that there is a problem of hatred and that our leadership has failed to help. Once we do this, we can move on to a plan to bring together the left and right and fight white supremacists, fascists, neo-Nazis, the KKK, and white nationalists. First, if there is a white supremacist protest going on near you, you should go out and counter-protest. An example of this was the community of Boston, where 40,000 counter-protestors largely overshadowed just 100 white supremacists. Imagine being one of the 0.25% who protested for your cause! In fact, since Boston police were expecting a larger crowd, there were even more police than white supremacist protestors.
When both liberal and conservative leaders bring communities together in a unanimous effort to push out hatred, it works. When they condone it, like our President, it doesn’t. But you can take a front seat in protesting for your cause, and together, we can push out the minority of America with 200-year-old mindsets and instead bring in love and peace. Let’s show these racists what the silent majority really stands for.
UPDATE: Trump later applauded the Boston counter-protestors on Twitter. Good job. I’m still waiting for your unequivocal condemnation and explicit mention of hate groups.