Yesterday was memorable for all of the wrong reasons. I typically try to stay out of my studio on Tuesdays because my radio taping schedule is so crazy during the rest of the week that I have to force myself to take that day off. But it just so happened that I was at my studio on Tuesday for a meeting. It also just so happened that a friend of mine who works in politics (who is African American) decided to randomly pop by.
My meeting also coincidentally ended minutes before President Trump’s infamous press conference began. With my meeting over and now focused on fraternizing with my friend, I just so happened to turn on CNN in the studio at the precise moment that the president began one of the most disgraceful displays that I have seen in my lifetime.
I struggle to find the words to give justice to how horrifying the President’s words were. Put yourself in our shoes. Two black men (along with my mother, who was also in the room) watching the President of the United States say that there were “some good people” on the side of the Nazis and white supremacists who protested in Charlottesville. The President of the United States attempted to downplay white nationalists and we saw this all happen in real time.
For the record, his actual point was garbage. As Gianno Caldwell emotionally said on Fox News this morning, good people don’t pal around with nazis and white supremacists. Anyone who does not have the moral wherewithal to understand that any protest that prominently displays nazi and confederate flags are not comprised of folks running for Miss Congeniality is either morally bankrupt or criminally stupid.
But beyond that, the things that the President said struck a nerve with so many of us to such a degree that it is hard to explain.
Contrary to popular belief, not every black person is a descendent of slaves. I am. My great grandfather, who I am old enough to remember personally, was the grandson of a slave. My grandfather, who passed away in 2016, was one of the first black sheriffs in the states of Kentucky and, ironically, Virginia. My uncle’s father fought the Nazis in World War 2. My mother lived in the Cleveland neighborhood of Hough during the race riots and vividly remembers seeing army tanks driving down her street as a child. On my mom’s side, my generation of the family are the first to be born nearly exclusively outside of the south. My family has a particular understanding of the history of Jim Crow, white nationalism and white supremacy. This is personal.
To those who don’t come from that background and do not have the understanding to put these issues in the proper context, it may be difficult for them to comprehend what people are so upset about. After all, ANTIFA was violent too, right? What’s the big deal about the statues anyway?
ANTIFA is violent at times and political violence of all stripes should be condemned, no matter what side of the aisle the people committing the violence claim to be on. But ANTIFA does not have a legacy of hundreds of years of violence and political terrorism in this country. White nationalism and white supremacist ideologies have no equal in the United States.
Today’s bigots are the ideological heirs of people who shot a woman in the head for the “sin” of shuttling marchers and protestors. They are attempting to emulate the same people that bombed a church and murdered four children, who assassinated Medgar Evers in 1963, who kidnapped and murdered 3 civil rights activists in 1964, who shot five elderly black women in 1980, who lynched a black teenager in 1981, who tried to beat a teenager to death in 2006(!) because they thought he was an illegal immigrant. This is the legacy that the people who marched in Charlottesville are trying to claim. They seem to be on their way to doing just that, as this evil and murderous ideology has taken another life, that of 32 year old Heather Heyer. There are no “good guys” on the side of white nationalism.
This shouldn’t be complicated. When you have an opportunity to condemn white nationalists, white supremacy, neo-nazis, the Klan and their fellow travellers, you do it. Period. No hesitation. No equivocation. No whataboutism. No changing the subject. No moral equivalency. No middle ground. You condemn and condemn and condemn again.
Good guys? Not everyone who was there protesting the removing of the confederate statue were neo-nazis and white supremacists, Mr. President? It was marketed as a white nationalist rally. For those of you that are tempted to believe that ridiculous nonsense that the President spewed about the protesters, watch the Vice News report about them from that day and tell me if you see any “good guys”.
To the issue of the statue itself, some people (including the President) claim that removing them is erasing history. That is utter nonsense. First of all, why are people so dedicated to preserving the statues of traitors? The Confederacy was a rebellious movement that betrayed the United States. There is no obligation to honor the legacy of treasonous people.
Furthermore, I do believe that the history of that painful time should be preserved–in museums, where they belong. It is not erasing history to say “maybe it’s a bad idea to use public grounds to honor men who fought for a ‘country’ whose central reason for leaving the United States was the preservation of slavery.” (Don’t give me that crap that slavery wasn’t the main reason for the civil war. It was.)
Advocates for keeping up Confederate statues have one big opponent: Confederate General Robert E. Lee himself. At the time, he said:
“‘I think it wiser not to keep open the sores of war, but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavoured to obliterate the marks of civil strife and to commit to oblivion the feelings it engendered.'”
So if Robert E. Lee believed that monuments to the Confederacy kept “open the sores of war” then those who are advocating for it to remain are (maybe unintentionally in some cases) doing just that. The Confederate sores of the civil war belong in a museum, not a public park.
The President also ludicrously compared confederate generals and leaders to the Founding Fathers. This ridiculous argument is ripped right out of conservative talk radio. There are gigantic differences between the two.
Yes many of the Founding Fathers were flawed men. We all know that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson owned slaves. But the Confederacy was created to preserve the institution of slavery. Without the fight over the “right” to keep people in bondage, the Confederate States of America would likely have never existed to begin with. There is a difference between flawed men who had severe moral failings in the area of slavery and people who fought for a “country” whose sole purpose was to maintain and expand the “right” to enslave other human beings.
This is painful to write, because even though I have never been a fan of this President, I care about the United States. It is bad for the country if the President fails. So while I am not surprised, I am heartbroken. It is heartbreaking to have to come to the conclusion that the President of the United States is either a sympathizer of bigots (and therefore a bigot himself) or he is the most ignorant, clueless and racially tone deaf President we have had in the modern era. It is one or the other. His press conference took away all other options for reasonable people.