By Frank VernuccioAre Confederate monuments the real target of the recent protests, or is there something vastly more far-reaching involved?
Originally posted in the New York Analysis of Policy & Government newsletter
It’s easy to understand the passion by some against the existence of statues to figures such as Robert E. Lee or Jefferson Davis. But it is becoming increasingly clear that a much larger goal is at stake, one that has nothing to do with revulsion over the horrible existence of slavery in America’s, and the world’s, past.
Less publicized than the campaign against southern Civil War figures is the progressive drive to remove the words and remembrances of the nation’s founding fathers, men such as Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and James Madison from the public square. Don’t be surprised when Jesus and Moses join the list of potential outcasts. Lincoln, the “Great Emancipator” himself, is on the list, as well.
Tabitha Sawyer, writing in The Tab, discusses how Mya Berry has started a petition asking for the renaming of her high school, James Madison Memorial High, on the basis that James Madison himself owned slaves. Madison is considered the father of the U.S. Constitution.
A National Review article describes how Al Sharpton, a figure who has made his living and career by encouraging racial animosity, has advocated defunding the much-beloved memorial to Thomas Jefferson in Washington.
A monument to Lincoln was torched in Chicago as this article was being prepared. Doug Ernst, writing for The Washington Times describes how the act was actually applauded on Facebook. The Washington Times describes Chicago Bishop James E. Dukes’ demand:
Please read my letter to Mayor Rahm Emanuel and The Chicago Park District,’ Mr. Dukes wrote on Facebook Tuesday night. ‘I’m calling on them to change the names of Washington and Jackson Park. Slave owners do not deserve the honor of our children playing in parks named after them.” Frighteningly, Dukes’ Facebook post received a number of ‘likes.’
Manisha Sinha, the Draper Chair in American History at the University of Connecticut, describes in the Washington Post how author Fred Kaplan discusses, in his view:
Lincoln’s shortcomings and his allegedly unchanging conservatism on slavery and race … places Lincoln not at the head of a great anti-slavery movement but as a lifelong proponent of a lily-white America.
Left Wing Icons Ignored
Conspicuously absent from the list of alleged villains are icons of the left, including the slavery-condoning practices of radical Islam and the racism of progressive idols such as Margaret Sanger.
Writing in the Washington Examiner, Nicole Russell notes:
Protesters and counter-protesters from two extremist groups on the Left and Right collided this weekend in Charlottesville, Va. Now, one side is calling on the other to tear down all symbols of white supremacy. If we’re going to obliterate our nation’s controversial history, ridding it of the pockmarks and scars of its racist ways, shouldn’t we, you know, treat all white supremacy efforts with the same disdain? I’d hate to obliterate historical Confederate symbols and gloss over Planned Parenthood, whose founder, Margaret Sanger, was an avid eugenicist and racist. In The Pivot of Civilization, Sanger called African-Americans and immigrants “human weeds [and] reckless breeders, spawning… human beings who never should have been born.” In Birth Control in America: The Career of Margaret Sanger, author David Kennedy wrote that in a 1923 speech, Sanger said couples who chose sterilization for the purpose of racial “purification” should be rewarded. One of Sanger’s more infamous quotes is her admittance that she wants to “exterminate the Negro population.”
The reason for the selective outrage is clear.
The real goal is not anger at men like Jefferson, Washington, and Madison, who, despite their monumental achievements in advancing human freedom, failed to overcome the biases of their time and region. It’s the overall concepts—individual liberty, human dignity, American independence, and constitutionally guaranteed rights (despite, in some cases, their awful blind-spots about racism) that they played so great a part in achieving.The American progressive-left movement loudly, and justifiably, talks about the horrors of racism and slavery, but only when it fits their larger motives. They ignore the horrors of the holocaust, the repression of human rights in many current governments throughout the globe, and the suppression of religious freedom throughout many nations (the existence of faith doesn’t fit into their worldview). They say nothing of substance about the massive rates of murder in left-wing led cities such as Chicago, where the chances of a young black man being killed by violence are greater than a combat soldier in Afghanistan. They ignore and even condone the repression of Communist and socialist regimes, because that is the form of government they aspire to.
But heroes of the left are exempt from criticism. Left wing policies, following the end of segregation, have been more of a roadblock than an aide to blacks moving into the economic mainstream—but don’t expect to hear about that. As the left embraces anti-Semitism, including the elevation of noted anti-Semite Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) to the position of vice-chair of the Democrat Party, don’t expect to be reminded of the very long and very current practice of slavery that is condoned and even encouraged by radical Islam.
Rod Dreher, writing in the American Conservative describes how Jonathan Brown, a tenured Georgetown professor and holder of the Al-Waleed bin Talal Chair in Islamic Civilization at Georgetown University, has delivered a lecture defending slavery and non-consensual sex. Umar Lee, a Muslim who heard the lecture and was offended by it, posted about it here. He wrote:
While the lecture was supposed to be about slavery in Islam, Brown spent the majority of the lecture talking about slavery in the United States, the United Kingdom, and China. When discussing slavery in these societies Brown painted slavery as brutal and violent (which it certainly was). When the conversation would briefly flip to historic slavery in the Arab and Turkish world, slavery was described by Brown in glowing terms.
To bring about their collectivist dystopia, however, the American left must first sweep away roadblocks such as freedom of speech (even for those one disagrees with), honest and unbiased journalism, education as opposed to indoctrination of students, and the recognition of the results of free elections. (The hysteria with which they continue to react to the election of Trump is no different than the machinations of Venezuela’s Maduro government schemes to eliminate the power of its political opposition, or Putin’s assassination of rivals, or the imprisonment of Chinese dissidents.)
It doesn’t take a great deal of courage to protest against the existence of slavery on U.S. soil, which was abolished over a century and a half ago, or even segregation, outlawed 50 years ago, particularly when dealing with a media that is all too willing to turn a blind eye to hidden motives.
The Real Targets
The real targets of the current protests are both the U.S. Constitution and western concepts of human rights.
David Harsanyil, writing in The Federalist, reports:
Not long ago, I met up with a progressive writer from a well-known liberal outlet to discuss democracy. At one point, he told me that while the Constitution contained some superb ideas, it was an impractical and antiquated document unworthy of 21st century America. The Second Amendment, he argued, was a violent relic, and the Constitution’s penchant for diffusing direct democracy an affront to equality. I don’t think we’re far away from this being a common view on the Left. It might already be so. It’s not exactly surprising that Democrats and the media have transformed an Islamic terror attack into another finger-wagging national conversation about Christian ‘homophobia’ and the NRA. Gotta keep the focus on the real enemy, after all. What is surprising is how boldly illiberal many Democrats have become in trying to achieve their objectives. It’s not just some Rolling Stone writer calling for gun confiscation or Vox calling on the President to discard the Constitution unilaterally; it’s West Virginia’s Joe Manchin openly arguing that due process is what’s really ‘killing us.’ A senator, sworn to uphold the Constitution, actually said this.
Just as Barack Obama ran roughshod over religious conscience rights, the current leadership of those seeking to eliminate key figures from America’s past will also attempt—have already attempted—to denigrate the foundational figures of western civilization’s great religions. After all, Jesus didn’t lead an anti-slavery movement; he just pointedly noted that all people are God’s children. Moses led the Jewish slaves out of Egypt, but didn’t abolish the actual practice of slavery. Neither had the practical ability to do so—just as Jefferson, despite his opposition to slavery, couldn’t get the southern delegates to outlaw slavery in the new nation.
But Jefferson, Washington, Madison, Lincoln, Jesus, and Moses did provide the framework for the greatest advances in human liberty. Those advances are anathema to the collectivist left, which believes that individual rights are roadblocks to communal advancement.