When I was a junior high school student in Maryland, I had a history teacher who was adamant about the reasons for the Civil War. “People think the Civil War was about slavery,” he told us, more than once. “But it wasn’t. It was about economics.”
Wow, I thought. That’s intelligent. That’s incisive. I went around saying it, too.
It wasn’t until I was in my forties that I realized: “Oh. Actually, the Civil War was about economics… the economics of slavery!”
What my teacher had done, for whatever reason, was refuse to finish the sentence.
There’s a lot of that going around, these days.
For example, at a recent press conference about torn-down statues, President Trump said, “To go forward we must build upon our heritage, not tear it down.”
But what “heritage,” exactly, does he mean?
When Trump says “our heritage,” does he mean the part from our Declaration of Independence, that says “all men are created equal”? Or Article I, Section 2 of our Constitution, which insisted that enslaved people would, for Census purposes, equal only 3/5 of a person? (And receive no vote at all, along with women of every color.)
He spoke of “safe, beautiful, elegant justice and liberty for all” — but if he has been near a television or radio or smartphone at all in the past many weeks, he surely knows that not all Americans feel they have equal access to that “justice and liberty,” and that indeed the whole reason for their protest is that they feel the very opposite of “safe.”
I am afraid that when President Trump speaks of “heritage,” he means only “the heritage …of slavery.” Of segregation. Of racism.
Who knew that ten of our largest Army bases were named after Confederate military leaders? I certainly didn’t. Not until President Trump adamantly refused to consider renaming any of them (after the Army amazingly said they were open to the idea!). “These monumental and very Powerful Bases have become part of a Great American Heritage,” he tweeted.
But surely our bases would stay just as “Powerful” no matter what we called them. It’s not like a Harry Potter magic spell, for heaven’s sake, where the power resides in the wording! It is our soldiers, and the weapons we give them, that create our power. So what “Great American Heritage” is Trump talking about?
I’m afraid that he can only mean the “Great American Heritage… of the Confederacy.”
Oh, sure, he tweets about “a history of Winning, Victory and Freedom.” But one look at history confirms that the bases in question are all named after men who LOST their war.
I want to give my fellow Americans the benefit of the doubt. I do not believe that every person who pines for “states’ rights,” or the South’s “Lost Cause,” is an out-and-out racist. But what I do believe is that, like me, many of them never examined their assumptions enough to finish the sentence.
Because when you talk about “states’ rights,” what you really mean is “a state’s right …to continue discriminating against some of its citizens.”
When people wave the Confederate flag as a symbol of rebellion, what are they rebelling against? An overweening Federal government…that insists they treat everyone as equals.
When people speak of “The Lost Cause,” what do they really mourn? I think they mean a genteel world of tea cups and corsets …that never could have existed without the unpaid labor of others.
When you live or work in D.C., you get used to traffic circles cluttering up the place, each with its own obscure statue. There’s only a handful of statues in the whole wide world that I would miss, and none of them are in those circles. I don’t believe that’s why Trump cares about them, either.
I cannot bring myself to believe that a President who thought Finland was part of Russia, and who didn’t know why Pearl Harbor was so famous, had ever heard of Brigadier General Albert Pike before his statue came down. I had no idea who that was even after reading about him…except that his was the only Confederate statue in D.C.
We are still in the midst of a deadly pandemic which has now killed at least 125,000 Americans; the number will certainly be higher by the time you read this. Black men and women are still dying at the hands of police. And we have yet to hear President Trump express a single regret about any of it. Instead he fiddles about the fate of statues and Army bases.
Something is terribly wrong…with him.