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While our present President’s moral character seems stuck somewhere between boorish and brutish, it’s only fair to note that he also has an aesthetic dimension.
This surprising side of Trump popped out several days after the Charlottesville attacks by raging white supremacists. In a presidential tweet, he said: “Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart.” Yes, very sad to see a resurfacing of raw bigotry ripping so viciously into America’s historic attempts to create a culture of mutual respect and unity in a nation of extraordinary diversity – e pluribus unum, as our national maxim puts it.
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Oh… wait. That’s not what Donald meant. Rather than criticizing those who are out to rip apart the American culture’s Big Idea of Egalitarianism, this was just more babble from the boorish Trump. He was actually advocating the continued presence of statues of Confederate champions of racism – pieces of bronze and granite that publicly celebrate America’s shameful period of slavery, secession, and white supremacy.
The KKK thugs invaded Charlottesville in violent objection to the city’s planned removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee, who led the southern states’ war against the USA so they could keep enslaving African-Americans. Trump’s lament, then, was not about the attack on America’s humanitarian ideals, but merely about “the removal of our beautiful statues.” Apparently, it never occurred to him that most Americans do not consider those statues either “beautiful” or “ours.”
Ironically, Robert E. Lee himself opposed erecting Confederate statues across the south: “I think it wiser not to keep open the sores of war,” he said, but instead “to obliterate the marks of civil strife.”
We could use a leader with such wisdom today, when bigots feel newly empowered to incite civil strife across our nation.
“Lee didn’t support memorializing war,” Austin American Statesman, August 20, 2017.
“In tweets, Trump digs in on Confederate icons,” Austin American Statesman, August 18, 2017.
“Confederate Statues and ‘Our’ History,” The New York Times, August 21, 2017.