Trump plays distraction card with statue-removal remarks

Courtesy of Alec MacGillis/ProPublica via REUTERS
Workers removing the monuments to Robert E. Lee and "Stonewall" Jackson from Wyman Park in Baltimore on Wednesday.

President Trump, who I’m pretty sure could not pass a junior-high-level test on U.S. history, suggests that if we take down statues to Robert E. Lee, we must take down statues to George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. He’s not right. He’s not wrong. He’s not thoughtful. He’s not helpful. And, as on most matters historical or moral, he thinks everything is about him.

But his gut instinct, which seems to guide almost everything he says and does in a way that is truly alarming, told him that playing the Lee = Washington + Jefferson distraction card would help him in his ongoing effort to energize his political base while helping to extricate him from the latest mess he has created, the one about his comments since the Charlottesville riots. (This morning he carried the discussion further, tweeting, “Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments. …”)

It’s a cynical, illogical ploy, and I’d like to believe it won’t work, but Trump has taught me to fear the canniness of his gut political instincts. So I’ll humbly wait and see. Nothing he has done since taking office has done him much good as far as raising his approval rating with the general population goes, but the question of his relationship with his base is more complicated.

Reputations not carved in stone

You might notice that in passing, I said Trump is “not wrong” about something. Specifically, the day might come when the stain of participation in the institution of slavery will substantially undermine the historical reputations of Washington and Jefferson. Should it? It’s not as though we just found out about their slaves, but historical reputations are not carved in stone either.

Human chattel slavery was wrong, very, very wrong. And those who benefited from it committed a moral crime. It wasn’t a literal crime as long as slavery was legal. Washington and Jefferson owned slaves, as Trump mentioned several times this week, as did most wealthy white southerners.

We know this and always have. Pretty much no one defends the institution of slavery nowadays, but for most of U.S. history, for reasons that I can’t exactly explain but you can intuitively understand, we have given a pass to those slave owners who otherwise played helpful or heroic roles in the story of our founding and our first century.

We were educated and raised on the heroism of Washington and the brilliance of Jefferson. They have been solid, first-class members of the pantheon of early America and — perhaps to maintain that status — we didn’t emphasize the slave-owner part of their résumés.

Trump — in his desperate, pitiful, angry effort to overcome his botched first reaction to the Charlottesville mess, to try to locate a sweet spot between his political reliance on hate-mongers of the KKK and neo-Nazi variety, but also to appeal to more reasonable white southerners on whom he also relies — decided to enlist Washington and Jefferson as character witnesses.

It’s true that hate-mongers and neo-Nazis generated the demonstrations that turned fatal in Charlottesville. But it’s also true, as Trump said, that some of those at the event were there to protest against the recent (narrow 3-2) vote of the Charlottesville City Council to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee from a park. (The park used to be named for Lee, but that change has already occurred. The statue removal has been blocked by a judge pending further action.) Trump noted this statue controversy, and suggested that many of protesters were neither neo-Nazis nor militant white supremacists but admirers of Lee. He would like us to think about folks in that category, the Lee fans, in part because it fuzzes up the good-people-versus-evil-racists frame. Personally, I don’t doubt that some of the demonstrators fit this category, although the category boundaries can get fuzzy.

Robert E. Lee was a skilled general whose leadership probably prolonged the war over secession. For most of post-Civil War history, Lee was presented as a relatively positive figure. As a northern child of the 1950s and ’60s, I was raised to view Lee with respect.

Personally opposed secessionism

Lee was also a slave owner, having inherited many slaves from his wealthy father-in-law. In a letter to his wife long before slavery was abolished, Lee called slavery “a moral and political evil.” But Lee’s father-in-law’s will called for the plantation’s slaves to be freed, and Lee didn’t get it done. Lee also opposed secession (maybe not publicly, since he was a serving officer in the U.S. Army at the time and not encouraged to participate in politics, but clearly in a letter to his son.) But, because he decided to leave his post in the U.S. Army and take on the leadership of the Confederate military, his story is linked with the secessionism that he personally opposed.

There’s more to say about Lee’s attitude toward both slavery and secession, but it is hard to make moral sense of it. He was, in some sense, on both sides of both issues. For most of the century and a half since his death, he has been the most revered symbol of the Confederacy in the South, while respected in the North as a soldier and a gentleman.

But times change. And, although the historical facts generally don’t change, our view of them does. Slavery and racism were always wrong, but the clarity with which that is almost universally understood and the importance attached to condemning those institutions loudly and clearly has grown, which is a good thing.

So, yes, the fact that Washington and Jefferson were slave owners is likely to do more harm to their standing than it formerly has. It’s actually already happened with Jefferson, especially in the years since it has been established by DNA evidence that he not only exploited slaves for the benefit of his wealth, but also had children with Sally Hemmings, whom he owned but who also may have been the great love of his life. It’s complicated.

Jefferson also wrote (in his draft of the Declaration of Independence, which was modified a bit by the editing committee):

We hold these truths to be sacred & undeniable; that all men are created equal & independant, that from that equal creation they derive rights inherent & inalienable, among which are the preservation of life, & liberty, & the pursuit of happiness.

Squaring the sides of Jefferson

Somehow, as good as that sounds (and leaving aside for the moment all-men-but-no-mention-of-women bit) we have to square our admiration for the Jeffersonian sentiments expressed with his status as slave owner. Are we up to the task? Will we downgrade our view of the Declaration because its chief author was a hypocrite?

In dragging Washington and Jefferson into it, Trump was actually just trying to take their reputations hostage, for his own purposes: Instead of thinking about why he was so slow to denounce neo-Nazism and white supremacism, he’d like to change the subject to (unnamed) people who someday might malign Washington and Jefferson.

But yes, as time goes by, assuming the future views of the morality of slave-owning don’t take an upturn, the historical reputation of slave owners past may continue to take some damage, even if they are admired for other aspects of their life stories. I guess we’ve been through worse problems, like the “peculiar institution” of slavery itself, and the bloody horrors of the Civil War that ended that institution.

If one could have a rational discussion with Trump about the matter he raised, one would ask him: Mr. President, is it your position that the fact that someone owned slaves should not be taken in account in considering how much to admire and honor them?

I’d love to hear his response, but I doubt it would terribly edifying. I can’t even imagine him constructing one, but he certainly has figured out how to respond to something other than questions he’s been asked. If he did answer, it would be something about the crimes of Hillary Clinton or the lies of the fake news media. Is that gag ever gonna get old?

You can also learn about all our free newsletter options.

Comments (66)

  1. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 08/17/2017 - 11:05 am.

    The world-wide emancipation movement was in its early days in the time of Washington and Jefferson. By the time of the Civil War, slavery world-wide was in its last formal days. Defenders of the right to hold people in slavery were on the wrong side of history by the time of the Civil War. In fact, the first independent republic to ban slavery, the Republic of Vermont, banned slavery in 177, the era of Washington and Jefferson. So there is an actual difference between the actions of Washington/Jefferson and Lee. Time moves on, opinions and attitudes change, and whatever the flowery statements of inent, the purpose of the war was to maintain the right to keep slaves.

    And while Lee’s “a moral and political evil.” statement is often quoted–he goes further than that, saying slavery is the white Christian burden as a tool to civilize the black population

    “I think it however a greater evil to the white man than to the black race, & while my feelings are strongly enlisted in behalf of the latter, my sympathies are more strong for the former. The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, socially & physically. The painful discipline they are undergoing, is necessary for their instruction as a race, & I hope will prepare & lead them to better things. How long their subjugation may be necessary is known & ordered by a wise Merciful Providence. Their emancipation will sooner result from the mild & melting influence of Christianity, than the storms & tempests of fiery Controversy.”

    As for the sterling, purely historical motivation of the marchers at Charlottesville, I suggest you watch the Vice news video of the weekend:

    • Submitted by Michael Wilson on 08/17/2017 - 04:09 pm.

      Thank you — I think

      — for the link to this video clip, Neal. It is the most frightening thing I have watched in a long time. The only thing that could make it even more frightening would be a coda showing Trump’s Thursday tweets and his press conference remarks validating and encouraging these scary white supremacists.

  2. Submitted by Tim Walker on 08/17/2017 - 11:07 am.

    If any good people …

    … were at that Charlottesville park solely to support keeping a monument in place, yet didn’t immediately leave the protest upon seeing the Nazi flags and upon hearing the “The Jews will not replace us” chants, then they were not good people at all.

    Therefore, there were no good people in the “Alt-Right Unite” faction in Charlottesville that day.


    Trump is a disgrace.

  3. Submitted by Marc Post on 08/17/2017 - 11:18 am.

    Statues of traitors

    Only in ‘merica do we allow statues of those who have committed treason. Every confederate statue and flag is a slap in the face to every veteran who has put their life on the line for this country. It dishonors every Union soldier who put down their treasonous insurrection.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 08/17/2017 - 03:26 pm.


      Beyond the issue of slavery, the Civil War was fought about the issue of secession, which was in fact Lincoln’s reason for commencing hostilities (he didn’t declare war, because that would have legitimized the secession of the southern states).
      So, as you say, the reason not to publicly honor the leaders of the Confederacy was that they waged war against the United States of America.

  4. Submitted by Curt Carlson on 08/17/2017 - 11:33 am.

    A major difference

    Neal Rovick’s comment provides some historical context for the anti-slavery movement that is usually missing from any discussions of the Civil War. Beyond that, there’s one HUGE difference between the Confederate heroes, including Lee, and Washington and Jefferson. While the latter were slave owners, they played major parts in creating this country and its culture of individual freedoms. The Confederate heroes fought to tear that country apart, in the name of the continuation of the institution of slavery. In addition, the Confederate monuments were erected decades after the conclusion of that war as part of a movement to glorify the society that needed slavery to exist and marginalize freed slaves and their descendants – at the same time that Jim Crow laws were implemented.

    Confederacy apologists often like to claim that the Civil War was about states’ rights. It’s hard to imagine so many people on both sides fighting for such an abstraction; in fact, the “right” the secessionists fought for was simply the right for some people to own and enslave other people for their own economic advantage.

    The monuments belong in museums where historical context can be provided, not in public squares where they glorify the history of slavery. Eastern Europeans have collected the statues of their former Soviet masters in museums where they can be used to teach history. Why should it be so hard for us to follow their example?

  5. Submitted by Bree M on 08/17/2017 - 11:36 am.

    Heritage? no.

    The statues are a complicated issue, but it has often been claimed that many of those statues were intentionally erected in order to memorialize racist viewpoints. Most of them were erected during the rise of the second KKK and the civil rights movement — but those also were around the time of the 50th and 100th anniversary of the Civil war. Complicated.

    Lee himself actually opposed having statues of himself. So there’s that.

    Talking about Washington and Jefferson in terms of slavery is a red herring. They are irrelevant to the discussion. Lee is a very very different person than them, a figure representing the rebellion against the country, and it’s casus belli of slavery. The issue is: are the statues of Lee actually used to promote racist ideologies? If so, then it has no place being ‘memorialized’ in public.

    Neo-Nazis have an ulterior purpose to support these statues. Not a good one. Their about ‘heritage’ is a smoke-screen for that. They do believe their ‘heritage’ is one that supports the ideals of slavery.

    Trump talking about ‘heritage’ isn’t a good thing. There is plausible denial, but it scarily echoes the exact same claims and reasoning as the Neo-Nazis.

  6. Submitted by Greg Gaut on 08/17/2017 - 11:37 am.

    Is it about the Civil War?

    Good piece Eric but I think we should all be mindful of the fact that statues like this are not so much about the Civil War as about the Jim Crow period of the south, when the KKK and racist politicians disenfranchised African-Americans and and terrorized them at will. This Lee statute was commissioned in 1917, a half century after the end of the war, and finally erected in 1924, and was a symbol of racist rule. I think it would help greatly if you would do one of your excellent historical background pieces on the south after Reconstruction. This would provide helpful context for this issue.

  7. Submitted by Jeff Michaels on 08/17/2017 - 11:38 am.

    President Trump made an excellent point

    President Donald Trump did not “drag” George Washington and Thomas Jefferson into this issue. He made a good point relating to typical liberal hypocrisy. He did not say, or suggest, statues of Washington and Jefferson should be taken down. He did point out that type of response, to be consistent, would be the next likely step taken by the dysfunction segment of liberalism known as the “lunatic left.”

    What all this come down to is Democrats and liberals still can not accept they lost the election to a TV huckster who left them beaten, bloody and whimpering in the gutter. Democrats will become less miserable what they accept the fact they nominated an even more despicable candidate than Republicans.

    • Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 08/17/2017 - 12:08 pm.

      Jeff and his friends on the right, even the far right, should get over the 2016 election. It was done.

      What we face now and have faced since the end of January 2017 is the glaring incompetence of the man elected to the Presidency in 2016.

      Donald Trump pays no attention to his national security briefings (even though they are made into graphs and charts, rather than prose, because he refuses to read); he doesn’t inform himself on policy (that’s part of the reason for the huge embarrassment of trying to “repeal and replace” Obamacare, which Trump completely failed to comprehend); he rants off the top of his empty head in denunciations of everyone from foreign leaders to heads of American corporations to TV personalities–and he puts all these folks on the same level, without distinguishing!–and he is revealing himself to be a rip-snorting racist, as if we hadn’t known that since his January attempt to ban Muslims from America. He has turned our civilian government over to a nice group of ex-generals (anyone ever see “Seven Days in May”?) but then he pays no attention to what they say, either. Sean Hannity is his Best Boy, after Tucker Carlson.

      I could go on. But bringing up the electoral campaign, as Jeff does, at this point is a desperate attempt to distract us from the terrifying fact that our administration is headed by a man who simply is not doing his job. Because he is incapable of doing that job. He’s in way over his head, and boy! does it show.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 08/17/2017 - 12:12 pm.

      No hypocrisy

      If you understand and respect history – regardless of political beliefs – you should want to preserve statues of Washington and Jefferson, and want the statues of confederate “heroes” removed inmediately. There is no hypocrisy whatsoever in that position. All Trump did was – once again – demonstrate his ignorance.

    • Submitted by Cameron Parkhurst on 08/17/2017 - 01:00 pm.


      Thank you for weighing in with your opinion. However, I disagree with you, and agree with Constance. Your statement that:

      “What all this come down to is Democrats and liberals still can not accept they lost the election to a TV huckster who left them beaten, bloody and whimpering in the gutter. Democrats will become less miserable what they accept the fact they nominated an even more despicable candidate than Republicans.”

      is far off the mark. I fully accept that a TV huckster conned an electorate into electing him President. What I, and many others are resisting and fighting back against, is the sheer stupidity and incompetence of a man who had he not been born into money, would be fortunate to have a job at all. If anyone who displayed the ignorance, lack of empathy, and complete callousness of Donald Trump applied for a job at my law firm, that individual would be shown the door immediately.

      The lesson of the Trump presidency for the short period of time it hopefully has left is that not voting has consequences.

    • Submitted by Henk Tobias on 08/17/2017 - 12:43 pm.

      To understand that Trump DID NOT

      Make a good point requires complex thought and that’s something my Conservative friends struggle with. With that in mind I suppose this is a futile effort, but….
      Washington and Jefferson are honored for their contribution to the founding of our country while the statues of Lee and his cohorts are there because of their role in a rebellion against the Country that Washington and Jefferson founded. A treasonous rebellion that was at its core about keeping slaves.

      Actually though the Statues and symbols surrounding the Confederacy are really about intimidation. Its not a coincidence that tend to up at times when our country was dealing with tensions around race. But again, understanding that requires complex thought, so….

    • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 08/17/2017 - 12:43 pm.

      I’m sorry that the difference in time, place and intent of Washington, Jefferson and Lee are not really clear to the President or his followers.

      It is interesting how “patriotic” Americans think that the people who favor the party that lost an election should just shut up, drop their opinions and go away. That’s not how it works in a free country–that’s more of a fascist outlook.

      Protesting fascism is the proper duty of people who believe in the promise and hope of a more perfect union, the equality of people, and government of the people, by the people and for the people.

      Please drop the bitterness about the election–you’re the only one who brought it up. The protests that happened are entirely consistent with people’s long-held beliefs.

      By the way, I can tell you I would have a hard time visualizing Jefferson and Washington marching with the KKK and the fascists. Or fighting a war to ensure that a portion of the population should remain enslaved.

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 08/17/2017 - 02:39 pm.

      Wait Hold It A Minute Here

      You say Democrats should buck up and accept the loss they suffered?

      You do realize you are advocating statues (purportedly) honoring the side that lost the Civil War, right? And over 100 years later the losing side of that conflict has still not accepted it.

      Anyone see an inconsistency here?

      • Submitted by Curtis Senker on 08/17/2017 - 05:37 pm.

        If, to you, it’s a matter of honoring losers being a problem, do you think we should tear down the Vietnam Veterans memorial?

        • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 08/18/2017 - 10:37 am.

          Well, it the Vietnam Veterans memorial was for the memorialization of the people who lied/led our way into the war, then yes.

          The German cemeteries and their memorials for their dead soldiers from WW1 and WW2 still exist in Belgium and France. It’s commonly recognized as an entirely different thing than statues honoring the German leaders of those wars.

          It’s really not that complicated.

          • Submitted by Curtis Senker on 08/18/2017 - 05:53 pm.

            Leftist (future) felons tore down a monument to rank and file CSA soldiers in Durham NC. Were they morally corruot ad well as criminally culpable?

        • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 08/18/2017 - 01:53 pm.


          I am opposed to memorials for Gen. Westmoreland, “Bombs Away” Lemay, and Bob McNamara.

          Memorials to Joe Schlobotnik, who hailed from Podunk, was drafted and died, are fine with me.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 08/17/2017 - 03:30 pm.

      That’s why

      more Americans voted for Clinton than for Trump.
      His name should appear with an asterisk, since he won on a technicality, not by a vote.

      • Submitted by Curtis Senker on 08/17/2017 - 07:40 pm.

        So, our electoral college is a technecality?

        I understand that the left wants a new game, but until and unless we have a new constitution (see Venezuela) , Trump won according to the laws of the United States of America. Period.

        • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 08/18/2017 - 09:50 am.


          He won by a legal technicality (even if it is in the Constitution)
          despite the wishes of a majority of voters.
          Why do you think that he is so invested in his claim that (despite any evidence) he received a majority of legal votes?

  8. Submitted by Martin Owings on 08/17/2017 - 11:56 am.

    Salient Points

    My admiration for you continues to grow Mr. Black.

    I appreciate your thoughts and commentary on this subject and many others. As a matter of fact, I find myself hard-pressed to recall a time when my thoughts and ideas were not in harmony with yours.

    Here you’ve stated, “Trump — in his desperate, pitiful, angry effort to overcome his botched first reaction to the Charlottesville mess, to try to locate a sweet spot between his political reliance on hate-mongers of the KKK and neo-Nazi variety, but also to appeal to more reasonable white southerners on whom he also relies — decided to enlist Washington and Jefferson as character witnesses.”

    This is what I have been desperately trying to articulate to people that would marginalize the Neo-Nazi’s and alt-right.

    Trump defenders have been attempting to equalize the hate groups with those who were in Charlottesville to protest against that hate. They are using social media and the typical media outlets to promote these ideas and to play down Trumps obvious bigotry.

    Some of these not-so-veiled racists have even claimed that counter-protesters like Heather Heyer, the woman who was murdered when a lunatic racist drove into the crowd, somehow deserved what she got because she didn’t have a permit to protest.

    All the while North Caroline’s Legislator was considering protections for motorists that run down protesters.

    What manner of evil is at work in America, that this kind of hateful violence would be codified into our laws?

    More to your points Mr. Black, distract and deflect politics have long been tools of political parties, but where do you finally draw the line? Racism and Fascism doesn’t seem to be extreme enough for some.

    When will Trumps outrageous behavior and hateful division mongering be enough for the American people to say, “NO MORE”?

    In these desperate times, I am comforted, somewhat, by the words of Winston Churchill. “Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing…after they have exhausted all other possibilities.”

  9. Submitted by Pat Terry on 08/17/2017 - 12:00 pm.


    Trump made an infantile comparison that only demonstrated his extreme ignorance of history. The statues of Jefferson and Washington were put up to commerate their historical importance. The statutes of the traitorous losers from the civil war – put up long after the civil war ended – were put up to distort history and perpetuate racism. Taking them down is honoring history.

  10. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 08/17/2017 - 12:31 pm.

    Why Are They Honored?

    Yes, Washington and Jefferson were both slave owners. Slave ownership was integral to the pre-Civil War economy. While slave ownership was not spread widely through the populace, it was unquestionably common.

    The distinction between statutes of Robert E. Lee and statutes of George Washington is the question of why the statue is being erected. Do we honor George Washington for his slave ownership, or his failure to take more than the most marginal steps towards ending slavery? Of course not. We honor him as the military leader who helped bring about independence, and as the first President of the United States. Why would we honor Robert E. Lee? He had a distinguished career in the Army before the Civil War, but I don’t see statues being erected to honor brilliant Army engineers. The reason anyone seeks to honor his memory is for his participation in treason to defend and extend slavery, and his command of troops in a way that extended a bloody, divisive war.

    This is not about political correctness, and it certainly has nothing to do with recent election results. It does, however, have everything to do with how Americans want to remember their history, and whom they see as worthy of honor.

    • Submitted by Harris Goldstein on 08/17/2017 - 07:45 pm.

      You ignore the fact that Lee was a great general; a tactical genius..

      Which is why we have statues of Erwin Rommel. Another great general who fought against the United States. Oh wait, we don’t.

  11. Submitted by Bill Kahn on 08/17/2017 - 01:30 pm.

    I am afraid there is more to it than slavery and the evils of celebrating Civil War heroes of the South.

    If you haven’t yet read White Trash by Nancy Isenberg, you probably should as it documents well that the sorts of problems we are experiencing now, from Trump to Charlottesville and more, predate the Civil War, Washington or Jefferson. There were Southerners adamantly opposed to slavery from the beginnings of the American colonies and the chasm between the classes in our country predated the revolution by more than a century and continues to this day with little if any real change.

    Getting shed of President Trump will be a good start to closing ranks as a country, though, as he is playing a game that’s nearly 400 years old, here: pitting the ‘have nots’ against one another. He and the worst of the Republican Party will fall into that chasm as it closes, never to be heard from again save in the occasional punchlines to jokes.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 08/17/2017 - 01:58 pm.

      Pitting the “Have Nots”

      This has been an especially effective strategy of the race-baiters. As LBJ put it, “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.””

      • Submitted by Curtis Senker on 08/17/2017 - 06:47 pm.

        There are comments attributed to LBJ that weren’t quite as generous to black people. Bad choice for an analogy for race baiters…more appropriate for racists.

        • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 08/18/2017 - 12:17 pm.


          President Johnson used the N-word a lot; in fact, there is a story that he used it to tell Thurgood Marshal why he wanted him on the Supreme Court. On the other hand, LBJ signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, saying “We shall overcome.” He signed those laws knowing that it would turn the south away from the Democratic Party.

          Five years after President Johnson signed the Fair Housing Act, the Trump clan was sued for housing discrimination. That was the same year young Donald was given the day-to-day responsibilities for managing the company. The case was settled, like over 98% of all cases “without admitting guilt,” but the Trump companies had to agree to regular monitoring of their practices,

          Then, of course, there was the Central Park Five case and the whole birther controversy. Yes, our President is a stunning role model, isn’t he?

      • Submitted by Bill Kahn on 08/18/2017 - 06:04 pm.

        Maybe if we can get past the schism of Vietnam this fall with Ken Burns’ new program on it, we can get back to LBJ’s Great Society efforts that were derailed by it. With all the wackos all over the world falling all over themselves instantly exposed, perhaps we can reach some sort of global consilience for peace and sanity in all endeavors. Our Trump problem is sort of the microcosm of what can happen globally if he is brought down and replaced along with his ilk in Congress.

  12. Submitted by Edward Blaise on 08/17/2017 - 01:56 pm.

    On the other hand…

    Certainly not a Trump fan in anyway; but, as I watched the Durham NC soldier statue being pulled, toppled and then kicked at by the topplers I was reminded of the Buddhas of Bamiyan statues destroyed by the Taliban: they stood for thousands of years until a new regime, only a few years old, carries out their total destruction. I did not think much of the Taliban when the statues were destroyed and I guess I should be consistent with our statues too. Maybe send them all to the Donald J Trump Presidential Library on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City.

    • Submitted by Marc Post on 08/17/2017 - 02:24 pm.


      I have a little trouble with the Buddhas comparison. It did remind me of the toppling of the Saddam statue during the Iraq war.

  13. Submitted by Mike Chrun on 08/17/2017 - 02:05 pm.

    It is a cynical, but not an illogical ploy

    as a typical conservative response sadly illustrates yet once again. Trump has never been about doing the right thing; he has always been about attracting and holding on to the part of his base that is driven by fear and hate. Yes, he is historically unpopular, as well as demonstrating an amazing amount of dishonesty, cruelty, arrogance, narcissism, stupidity, etc. It doesn’t matter to those who won’t abandon him because he’s not Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. So in the tribal politics of today Hillary is deemed a “more despicable character” because, you know, those missing emails are so much worse than giving Neo-fascists chanting Nazi slogans a pass.

  14. Submitted by Arthur Swenson on 08/17/2017 - 02:16 pm.

    Still fighting the Civil War

    When I was serving in the US Army in the 1960’s, TV stations in Louisiana, Georgia, and North Carolina signed off at the end if the broadcast day by showing the “Stars and Bars” and playing “Dixie.”

    In traveling through the Southeast in recent years, I have seen little evidence that attitudes have changed.. They may have stopped flying the Confederate flag over the South Carolina capitol, but the anger toward Yankees is still very much alive.. Southern “good ol’ boys” will still confide that “uppity” blacks and “do-gooder” northerners bear the blame for the backwardness and poverty of the “South.”

  15. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 08/17/2017 - 02:38 pm.

    Is that gag ever gonna get old?

    As Jeff Michaels demonstrates, the answer to Eric’s rhetorical question is, “Apparently not.”

    Mr. Trump is waving a bright, shiny object—more accurately, a symbolic pair of statues—in front of the public, and draws from those statues a false equivalency of the sort that used to be shocking, but, especially in this administration, and among its supporters, is treated as something obvious and true on its face.

    Washington and Jefferson have sizable black spots on their auras as national heroes because of their slave ownership. Lee was never more than a regional hero, so his belief in white supremacy and slavery seems all the more serious because, unlike Washington and Jefferson, he has no great national service to counterbalance it. Given an opportunity to serve his country (being offered command of the Union Army), he chose instead to serve the cause of slavery, about which there is nothing noble or deserving of admiration.

    Neither Washington nor Jefferson lived long enough to be presented with the sort of choice that Lee had to make, and all we can do is guess about what choice they might have made in the spring of 1861. With that in mind, Eric’s conclusion—“In dragging Washington and Jefferson into it, Trump was actually just trying to take their reputations hostage, for his own purposes: Instead of thinking about why he was so slow to denounce neo-Nazism and white supremacism, he’d like to change the subject to (unnamed) people who someday might malign Washington and Jefferson.”—is certainly a reasonable one. The statues are a distraction from both the unsurprising thuggishness of the neo-Nazis, and the weakness of Trump’s condemnation of the murder-by-vehicle action of one of them.

  16. Submitted by Curtis Senker on 08/17/2017 - 02:57 pm.

    The author is correct. The removal of statues is a distraction.

    Those well intentioned folks warning about the slippery slope in removing the physical monuments to our history distract attention from the left’s (for I have seen nothing like it from the right) attack on the monuments of Freedom the founders left us.

    Already, there are growing calls to restrict the 1st amendment’s guarantee of the freedom of speech.

    And of course, the 2nd amendment has been a target for years.

    Forget the statues, they are a lost cause. We need to steel ourselves for the coming fight to protect the very foundation America was built on.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 08/17/2017 - 03:40 pm.

      You are calling for

      the abolition of the National Guard?
      That is the “well regulated militia” that is the subject of the Second Amendment, and the only subject for the first 200+ years of its existence.
      And one opinion article does not constitute ‘growing calls’.
      The main modification to the First Amendment was the Roberts court’s extension of legal persons covered by that amendment to Corporations.

      • Submitted by Curtis Senker on 08/17/2017 - 05:08 pm.

        I included one link as an example, there are plenty just like it. If you dont believe it, fact check me but I’m not going to waste time or bandwidth providing information you’ll reject anyway.

        The US Supreme Court has weighed and measured the well regulated militia angle of attack and found it wanting. Your comment actually confirms mine, BTW.

        The Citizens United case expanded a right. I thought the left was all for more freedom…am I mistaken?

        • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 08/18/2017 - 10:02 am.

          The left

          generally favors more liberty for individual people, not for corporate entities, which tend to reduce the rights of individuals.
          As for the Second Amendment, its meaning is grammatically clear; it starts by stating that its subject is a well regulated militia.
          The writers of the Constitution were quite literate; if the meant ‘the rights of individuals to possess and own firearms’ they would have said so. At a minimum, they would have said ‘persons’, not ‘the people’. When the Preamble begins “We, the people of the United States….” it is an aggregate noun.
          When they are referring to individuals, they use the term ‘person’, as in “No person shall be a Representative who shall not have attained the age of twenty-five years…”, or “the whole number of free persons….”.
          It’s an interesting document; you might try reading it.

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 08/17/2017 - 05:34 pm.

      2nd Amendment In the Crosshairs

      Thanks to conservative judges, the 4th amendment exists in name only. What makes the 2nd so special?

    • Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 08/17/2017 - 05:42 pm.

      I’m not sure if Curtis is aware that one of the boldest attacks on American freedom of speech–and its companion First Amendment right of free assembly–is taking place right now in and by the Trump administration’s Department of Justice.

      There is an attempt by that Department to force internet service providers to reveal the computer identities of Americans who organized protests of Donald Trump’s inauguration as President in January 2017. the ISPs are resisting this attempt to identify those anti-Trump organizers.

      But apparently, while Trump blathers on about his mistaken ideas about American history, he is seeking to limit rights of ALL those who dare to oppose him symbolically. By marching peacefully. No swastikas or Nazi flags or guns or shields and clubs involved.

      Donald Trump will not recognize the rights of ALL Americans. Be afraid, people!

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 08/18/2017 - 10:17 am.

      Sure, a Distraction

      We can call it that. It’s distracting Americans from Republican efforts to take health care away from millions, eviscerate environmental protections, and conduct a foreign policy that your average raving psychotic would dismiss as poorly thought out. Yes, we’re being distracted from all that, and that’s probably not a good thing.

      What the controversy is doing is reminding us–yet again–of an unpleasant truth. We are being reminded that there is an ugly nativist/racist strain in America that has not gone away; in fact, it is barely below the surface. What is even uglier is the importance of the adherents to that strain to the Republican Party. They are the base. They are the people who elected Donald Trump. They are the people whose hatred is minimized as “economic insecurity.” Now, they don’t look so good. Now, they are a “distraction.”

      The Republican Party has been going down this road for decades, ever since the ascendancy of Richard Nixon and his “Southern Strategy.” In the 80s, Reagan and his minions added religion and culture issues to the mix. That works, after a fashion. It’s all fine when the Kulturkämpfers limit themselves to voting. It’s when they start getting vocal about policies most Americans don’t care about, or find offensive, that their issues become “distractions.” Issues like Confederate memorials or who uses which bathroom are important enough to merit decisive action, but when the public starts to voice their opposition, well, never mind. Focus on something else.

  17. Submitted by Edward Blaise on 08/17/2017 - 04:03 pm.

    A different look at it…

    “Take a lesson: How Germany handles monuments from Nazi and communist eras”:

  18. Submitted by mark nupen on 08/17/2017 - 04:17 pm.

    Slavery history includes all of us!

    If each of us goes back far enough into our own ‘pedigree’ we all used slaves in our culture at sometime in history. From my Viking, Norwegian, origins I jokingly comment, “we only took white slaves”!

    Slavery was universal among all cultures I have ever read, whether be North American native American or European cultures. Just go back far enough and those Slave histories are present. Slavery exists in Some Muslim cultures today because of ‘belief systems’. Abolishing slavery is not universal as much as some may think. Saudi Arabia outlawed slavery within the last 50 yrs.

    • Submitted by Curtis Senker on 08/18/2017 - 06:08 pm.

      You’re right. As an American with relatives in Ireland, Im dissapointed when deniers discount 200 years of Irish slavery at the hands of the English.

      • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 08/19/2017 - 07:03 pm.

        Serfs and slaves

        Technically, the British may have exploited the Irish; they did not enslave them any more than rich Irish enslaved poor Irish.

        • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 08/21/2017 - 09:12 am.

          Don’t Fall for It

          The whole “Irish slavery” theme is a piece of revisionism thought up by pseudo-historians to minimize the systematized enslavement of Africans. It is an idea that has been repeatedly debunked by legitimate historians (including a group from Ireland who made a public statement urging everyone to give up on the idea).

          Frankly, I’m surprised it took this long to bring it up. It must not be the first hit on the websites that tell one how to argue that “slavery wasn’t all that bad” anymore.

  19. Submitted by Craig Johnson on 08/17/2017 - 09:09 pm.

    Eric Black – a Craftsman Writer

    Clearly a top 10 piece. And that achievement is against a pantheon of great writing. Thank you, Mr. Black. You teach us well.

  20. Submitted by Bill Willy on 08/18/2017 - 03:11 pm.

    What do you mean, “It’s over”?

    This whole issue and people’s reaction to it kept reminding me of Ta-Nehisi Coates and his excellent writing on numerous aspects of “The African American Experience.” So I looked at some of his articles and settled on his 2015 horse’s mouths explanation of what the Confederate flag and southern Civil War monuments myth (and the original “state’s rights” idea) is REALLY about.

    Not that all that many people still do, but anyone who buys the “cultural heritage,” etc., rationalizations might want to read it before making any (or any more) public displays of the lack of historical perspective and basic ignorance that goes with them. (Which, of course, would go double for the current “leader of the free world” if he could read.)

    “What This Cruel War Was Over

    “The meaning of the Confederate flag is best discerned in the words of those who bore it”

    And speaking of those who still believe the “heritage” or “honoring war heroes” stuff in 2017, it reminds me of this guy (and more than a few others who shared his views and did the same thing):

    “A Japanese soldier who hunkered down in the jungles of the Philippines for nearly three decades, refusing to believe that World War II had ended, has died in Tokyo. Hiroo Onoda was 91 years old.

    “In 1944, Onoda was sent to the small island of Lubang in the western Philippines to spy on U.S. forces in the area. Allied forces defeated the Japanese imperial army in the Philippines in the latter stages of the war, but Onoda, a lieutenant, evaded capture. While most of the Japanese troops on the island withdrew or surrendered in the face of oncoming American forces, Onoda and a few fellow holdouts hid in the jungles, dismissing messages saying the war was over.

    “For 29 years, he survived on food gathered from the jungle or stolen from local farmers.

    “After losing his comrades to various circumstances, Onoda was eventually persuaded to come out of hiding in 1974.

    “His former commanding officer traveled to Lubang to see him and tell him he was released from his military duties.”

  21. Submitted by joe smith on 08/21/2017 - 06:57 am.

    Biggest distraction I see in all of this is

    the left feeling regular folks care! Nobody I know who is trying to make a living, pay bills and raise kids care that left wing liberals feel monuments cause violence. Classic distraction by liberal mayor in Baltimore, taking down monuments at night to calm the city down, while murder rate explodes. You can’t make this stuff up and some actually buy into this distraction.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 08/21/2017 - 09:57 am.

      If Nobody Cares . . .

      If nobody cares about this issue, why did so many people come to Charlottesville to protest the removal of statutes of the traitors? Or why did the memorials in Baltimore have to be removed at night, if nobody cares?

      Are the “regular folks” who are “trying to make a living, pay bills and raise kids” all indifferent to this issue, or is it only white regular folks?

      • Submitted by joe smith on 08/21/2017 - 03:10 pm.

        RB, after I saw 10’s of thousands fill

        arenas to be married by the Rev Sun Myung Moon (to complete strangers non the less), crowd size doesn’t do much for me. If a black father working 2 jobs, trying to make ends meat in Mpls ever thought about a statue of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville before last week I would be shocked. It takes liberals looking to be offended, to blame racism on a monument.

        • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 08/21/2017 - 04:25 pm.

          You Would Be Shocked

          You’re kind of missing my point here, aren’t you? You said that “regular folks” don’t care. Maybe not. Who, then, are the people protesting the removal of the monuments? If this is a matter of indifference to “real people,” who are the “unreal” mobs objecting so mightily?

          Have you ever personally asked any African Americans what they think about this? I’ve seen the opinion polls, but has any African American of your acquaintance ever weighed in on this subject to you?

          “It takes liberals looking to be offended, to blame racism on a monument.” We’ll skip over the point that there is no one more easily offended than the American conservative (what’s on the Starbucks winter cup this year?), I will point out that the monuments are symbols and celebrations of racism, not its cause

  22. Submitted by joe smith on 08/21/2017 - 05:36 pm.

    Yes I’ve talked to many black friends and

    they are not concerned with a bronze statue. They understand the issues that truly affect them and they don’t include a statue that can’t speak, move or hurt anyone. They also don’t give the KKK crowd much energy, as they said, “there is nothing I could say or do to persuade them to change their mind, why waste energy”. They are older and understand words can’t hurt them but actions and policies do hurt them. Any other questions you want to ask me?

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 08/22/2017 - 09:33 am.

      One Last Question

      My original one; namely, if no one really cares about the statues one way or another, why are conservatives in such an uproar about seeing them removed?

      You’re telling me that the only people who care about the continued presence of Confederate memorials are a few easily offended liberals. Okay, for the sake of discussion, I’ll grant that. Why, then ,should anyone else care either way if they are removed? The people of Charlottesville, Virginia, acting through their elected officials, have chosen to remove statues. What difference should it make to anyone who “doesn’t care? Why the outrage from the White House (occupied, as you know, by a man whose aesthetic judgment is at the very least suspect)?

      If it’s no big deal to leave them up, it should be no big deal to remove them. You can’t have it both ways.

      PS The African Americans I’ve talked to are either opposed to the memorials, or ambivalent. Since we don’t have any up here, the matter is largely of academic interest.

    • Submitted by Bill Willy on 08/22/2017 - 10:01 am.

      Just one

      What is it that has made so many supporters of the president and the “right wing” think and say the main issue involved is statues?

      I may have it wrong, but I thought the main things lots of folks, regular and otherwise, were most concerned about were things like a bunch of mostly young mannish white folk parading around after dark with torches yelling things like “Jews will not replace us!” “Blood and soil!” and, of course, the occasional “Heil Hitler!”

      And then, the next day, there were all those mostly young white mannish folk in their matching outfits that included lots of helmets, shields and baseball bat-like sticks lining up for their parade-turned-rumble that, I guess, made one of those men folk so mad he had to jump into his Dodge Charger and use it to murder a young woman and put about 20 other people in the hospital.

      (As far as potentially relevant statues go, someone ought to make a statue of THAT, call it something like “United Right Ride” and put it on a street replica slab in a Charlottesville park. You and those regular folks you know would be okay with, or wouldn’t care about that either, right?)

      I may have this wrong too, but seeing as how the title of this column is, “Trump plays distraction card with statue-removal remarks,” it seems like your comments on it (and the comments of most other apparent supporters of the president and the “right-wing” commenting here and elsewhere) are a near-perfect example of what the column’s about.

  23. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 08/22/2017 - 06:04 pm.

    And now

    he’s starting another war as a further distraction from his failures at home — a classic move.

  24. Submitted by Edward Blaise on 08/22/2017 - 08:51 pm.

    An easy solution…

    No doubt, even Donald Trump will have a Presidential Library. What better testimony to his views and the tenor of his time in office than a sculpture garden filled with thousands of Confederate statues….

  25. Submitted by joe smith on 08/23/2017 - 08:06 am.

    I personally don’t care about the statues but I

    understand why folks feel both ways about it. I think taking part of our history and destroying it will not help anyone understand the birth of our nation, growing pains and all. I just think it is a distraction to divide America. Typical Dem tactic is to divide, isolate one group versus another. For 6 months it was Russian collusion, now its race baiting.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 08/23/2017 - 09:36 am.


      Those statues are not history (except for the revisionist variety).
      They’re an attempt to rewrite history — making heroes out of men (no women as far as I know) who waged war against the United States of America.
      Since many of them were former military leaders, they were violating the oaths that they swore to protect the Constitution of the United States of America,

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 08/23/2017 - 09:58 am.

      In That Case . . .

      Why are there no statues of Benedict Arnold? Or Ethel and Julius Rosenberg? They were all parts of our history, and ignoring them does not help anyone understand the “birth of our nation” or the birth of the Cold War.

      The Confederate statues and war memorials are not about “understanding” our history. They present a one-sided view of an individual’s record. The statues of Robert E. Lee are there not to give a full account of his role in secession and the preservation of slavery, but as a reminder of where the political power in the South really lay.

      “Typical Dem tactic is to divide, isolate one group versus another.” But standing up for the memory of segregationists and militant defenders of slavery is all about inclusion, right? It’s only divisive if it’s about Those People.

      • Submitted by Edward Blaise on 08/24/2017 - 10:01 am.

        I would…

        Like to amend my previous post on installing all Confederate statues on the Donald J Trump Library grounds and add commemoration to all traitors, alleged and proven: Benedict Arnold, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, etc.. to create the Donald J Trump Sculpture Garden of Scoundrels. This could be the library’s primary visitor attraction since we know an 18 month Presidency won’t offer a lot of content…

Leave a Reply