I haven’t had the urge to write much in a while. I write a lot for work and my drive to write in my spare time ebbs and flows. That said, the events of the past few days shook me back into action and this morning’s tweet storm was the icing on the cake.
In the event you missed it, Trump tweeted the following out this morning, seemingly doubling (maybe tripling?) down on his stance about civil war statues.
Phew, there’s a lot to digest here.
Let’s start with the first tweet:
“Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments. You…..”
There are so many problems with Trump’s overall view of these monuments. The first of which is the imagery that by removing them from town centers and public parks we’re essentially erasing our history. That’s not at all true. Just because a statue of Robert E. Lee isn’t adorning the center of a public park doesn’t omit a person from being able to read about the Civil War in a history book. It doesn’t erase the years of violence and stories of families being torn apart. It doesn’t undo what’s been done.
What it does do, is acknowledge that these statues and monuments represent a very dark and divisive time in our history. It acknowledges that the Confederacy was an affront to democracy. It acknowledges that memorializing Confederate generals in public places creates an uncomfortable and unwelcoming feeling towards those whose ancestors were bought and sold as commodities. Removing these statues and monuments shows that you understand those sentiments and that you want to help a country continue to heal. It shows you want to try and bridge an ever-growing divide.
While I support the removal of these statues from public places, I do believe there is a place for them in certain circumstances. I’ve visited Gettysburg and Antietam. I’ve seen the statues and memorials and think they deserve a place on those hallowed grounds where hundreds and thousands died. I’ve toured museums where they are used to educate us on the past. In these cases, I do believe that statues should remain, as stark reminders of what can become of our nation when we prioritize our differences over the many wonderful things that can bring us together.
As New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said back in May, “there is a difference between remembrance of history and reverence of it.”
“…can’t change history, but you can learn from it. Robert E Lee, Stonewall Jackson – who’s next, Washington, Jefferson? So foolish! Also…”
In this statement, Trump is partially right. You cannot change history. But for that very reason, he is also wrong. If you can’t change history, then removing statues idolizing those who took up arms against our nation will not undo what’s already been done. Our Civil War is forever engrained in our past. It serves as a lesson, a reminder of where we’ve come from, what we died for, and what our country means.
Again, Trump is right. You can learn from history. Use Germany as an example. There are no statues of Hitler, Göring, or Himmler in city centers or public parks casting their shadows down upon ancestors of the men and women they murdered. There are memorials to the victims. There are reminders of what can happen when nationalist rhetoric is taken too far; when power lies unchecked.
Now, it is a fair assessment to acknowledge that many of our American heroes were slave owners. These men, who fought for freedom and democracy, were so very flawed. They fought for self-evident truths and the belief that all men are created equal, but those very notions only extended so far. Washington and Jefferson, who have monuments and colleges, and statues to their names were not perfect men. They may not be shining examples of everything good in America, but they deserve a distinction because they sacrificed to birth America. They are not perfect men, but they are not secessionists who raised armies and fought for their right to enslave an entire race. They may not have stood up against it during their time, but they didn’t tear this country apart trying to protect one of the worst atrocities of our time.
“the beauty that is being taken out of our cities, towns and parks will be greatly missed and never able to be comparably replaced!”
Of all Trump’s arguments, this one is by far the most idiotic. The vast majority of these statues and monuments are not particularly eye-catching. They are statues of old men on horses, worn down by time and weather. Many are forgettable and plain. But in their place could be works of wonder. There could be new, exciting artwork designed to inspire creativity and imagination. Or, a new era of monuments could emerge, celebrating individuals that represent what America stands for. In their place could be monuments to astronauts, scientists, fallen soldiers, and community activists. In their place could be statues of Sally Ride, Harriet Tubman, Susan B. Anthony, Pat Tillman, Carl Sagan, and more!
Out of darkness and sorrow, we can showcase the best we have to offer. We can simultaneously continue the process of healing and inspire the next generation of doers. It’s time to show future generations that we acknowledged our mistakes, and that we accepted the blame. It’s time to show them America isn’t perfect and that our past is dark and exclusive, but we learned from it. It’s time to show future generations that we did not stand idly by when change swept through. We embraced it, we welcomed it, and our country was made stronger because of it.