So I have decided to make some observations about the Confederate Monuments Controversy. After all I have a little experience on the subject having written a book on the subject of Savannah’s monuments. So here it is.
There are several issues to consider when talking about the Confederate monuments that must be considered. The first is all about place.
Where is the monument placed? Is it placed in front of buildings where justice is meted. Places such as County Courthouses and their squares or Statehouse’s properties where laws are made? This would be the most offensive. They could be viewed as suggesting the power and the laws are meted out by the standards of the old Confederates. Another place they would be offensive is as is the case of Richmond Virginia on a Confederate Row. I can still remember the humbug when an Authur Ashe (the Black Hall of Fame tennis player from Richmond) statue was placed amongst confederate Row. A row or place that glorifies the confederacy in lieu of no other places or other individuals is unfair ‘media time’. If there is not an equal time for other people, times, or causes there is an explicit lifting of the Confederacy above any rank. No cause about a rebellion against our government and the enslavement of others deserves this stature.
This leads to the next question do the monuments in the city’s culture represent all. Are their monuments to the fullness of the city’s culture? In other words are there monuments to African Americans, Asians, and other periods of time. In Charleston the tourist industry is primarily centered in the antebellum period. The glorification of the pre-Civil War era. This is changing some as their tourist industry has become so prominent in their economy and they add museums about slavery. Although slavery is a return to antebellum period and if not careful can be only an amplification of the importance of the antebellum period. As a picture of a community that has embraced more of its culture look at Savannah. The antebellum period is present and they do have a confederate monument but their Revolutionary War monuments are even more evident in the historic district ( i.e, Sgt. Jasper, Casimir Pulaski, Nathaniel Greene monuments and Battlefield Park commemorating the Revolutionary War Battle of Savannah). There are also three monuments on River Street to Savannah’s Maritime History (i.e, Waving Girl, Steamship Savannah, an Anchor for lost mariners at sea, Savannah also has a Ships of the Sea Museum). They also have monuments that mark slavery and honor the African American population two prominent monuments the Haitian Monument and the African American Family Monument and one lesser monument to Louis Toomer. Most of the Civil War history told in Savannah’s historic district is of Sherman’s march, where he stayed, his giving Savannah to President Lincoln as a Christmas Present, the reading of the Emancipation Proclamation, and so forth. So the climate of the city is different. That is not to say it is not bereft of racial problems but the story they tell is not saturated with the Civil War and the antebellum period as other southern cities. The history of Savannah is not defined by these two periods but has an ongoing varied history to tell.
Another question about place is does the monument have any connection to place. For no apparent reasons some monuments to Confederates and their cause have been erected in Northern cities. Why? But why are monuments to Stonewall Jackson found in the South where he never was and had no direct connection to the city. If you offer the reason he was a general in the Confederate army, this is odd that you choose to celebrate with a costly monument that is taking limited public space a general of a rebellion from the country we currently live. Do you not have people and events closer to home that need remembering?
The next question is: Why was the monument made? There seems to be to significant differences in the reasons for the monument’s erection according to when it was built. Pre 20th century monuments for the most part appeared to be made as memorials to the dead. Post 20th century monuments for the most part looks as though they were established in a resurgence of white power in the South. That is why you have Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee, and other Confederate Generals proudly sitting atop their steeds ready for battle once again as the South (read here the old or slavery South) rises again. This makes sense when one thinks about it. The earlier monuments are made in the devastation of the loss of friends and family that the Civil War left. They were also made in the wreckage that the war had left the South. These memorials were made by the people who actually lived the War. They were not built by as persons who only heard about the war. The other monuments are made as the Union troops have long left and the white South is beginning to start their resurgence over blacks through Jim Crow and the ouster of blacks from of their Congressional seats that they had achieved during Reconstruction. The post-Reconstruction monuments are erected not for memorial but for the reassertion of the old South.
The next question is who is it to? A memorial to a general who led a rebellion against the country is one thing. But if the posture is not mournful but triumphant that is a different creature from a disheveled or lone foot soldier at parade rest. If the monument was made to a general who later formed a terrorist group such as the KKK (Nathan Bedford Forrest anyone) one has to question the motivations of those who would want to keep this monument up.
The last question is how is the monument used today? Does it sit and is ignored? This actually can work for and against it. If no one even observes it anymore why do you care if it stays or go? But if a monument has become a symbolic place for alt-right group to meet and use the monument as a symbolic background to bolster themselves in a racist agenda it needs to go. If it is used as a place where racist politicians choose to announce their runs for office makes a difference. So if the alt-right chooses to rally around the preservation of a monument it does make one wonder if the monument should be allowed to stand and has any useful civic good.
In a democratic republic we need to listen to the voices of our minorities. We need to be sure their voices are not only heard but are evidenced in the monuments and names of places we use to remember our history together. Otherwise we lose something as a community. There is no history that is greater than another.
President Donald Trump is a proud man. He never admits failure or wrongs. He believes he comes from more superior genes than us. His life has been one where he has always been wealthy and privileged. He, I am sure, has been told by the world that he is special. His family lore has told of the rise of this ‘great’ family. The lore would exclude, as most family lore does, the dirt and shenanigans that happened along the way. He is convinced he is the white knight in shining armor descended from greatness.
So the question, why does he have a hard time denouncing the alt-right, is answered: that is his heritage. His grandfather was arrested during a Klan march on Washington DC. His grandfather was a very fine man. Thus this makes him a very fine man. So of course there were fine people marching with the alt-right in Charlottesville. Otherwise he has a very flawed heritage and he by default would be a flawed man. His money does not come from a good place. His election does not come from a good place. His whole life has a stench to it. He stands as the emperor with no clothes and the truth of his small hands is exposed for all to see.
He must fight as though his life depended on it. But in essence it is something more than his life that is at stake for him. The whole of his existence is at stake. The life of his ancestors is questioned. His view of who he is, is questioned. The life of his memory is questioned. His lineage is questioned. His worldview is questioned. And because of this he will fight to make white right no matter the cost; even if the cost is a nation. He has no choice.
But this is the rub, as any good existentialists would tell him. Because our existence is a happenstance and flawed creation, the only thing we have left is choice. He has the freedom not to repeat the patterns of our nation and our families. We have the choice to defy the chaos by making a meaning in the chaos. He can make his existence have meaning by choosing to change course. All of the flawed nature of his fortune and family can have brought him to the point of advocating for change and challenge to the system on which he has relied. He is free to choose. So far he has chosen to continue to justify his existence by not questioning any of his past or present deeds. And he proactively defends them as if in a death grip of existential horror. It is said that after he reaffirmed the alt-right as having fine people he stated he felt free. He is choosing to pretend he is the white knight when the emperor has lost all of his clothing.
In a recent study it was discovered that Christians are more likely to ascribe negative attributes to the poor than any other group of people. Christians are more likely to use the word lazy, crooked or derogatory than, let us say, atheists. I believe this demonstrates a cultural shift in Christianity that has steadily moved away from a social gospel to an individual gospel. In other words Christians are now influenced more by Libertarianism than the words of Jesus.
No longer are we convinced of institutional sin and corporate guilt. We no longer look to save our institutions from greed, neglect and other evil things. The goal is no longer to build a shining city but to keep the shining city from interfering with our lives and give us more freedom. Less government means a better society. Of course as we learned from the Libertarian Rand Paul that means if we have to live through a few more decades of segregation that is okay. The important thing is that government does not impinge on the shop owner’s right to be bigoted. He would not have voted for the Civil Rights Act he said, based on this principle of individual rights.
This change in Christian thought was bound to happen. Institutions are hard to change and it can cost you jobs, societal prestige, and make you an outsider in your neighborhood. So I see why you would want to change your thinking to “it only matters how I am” and the social ills of society are created by an individual’s choices and not by the conditions with which society has surrounded them. So there must be something wrong with the poor. I am making it. So anyone can make it. Now I may have come from a middle class family and attended better schools, lived in better housing, ate better food, had more opportunities outside of school than others, but that does not matter in the new Christian thinking.
All of this leads to an emphasis on how am I doing and not how are we doing. Which in turns leads to a fractured and partisan society. I only care about what makes my life easier, not what makes your life work better. So you gather only with people who agree with you and will work for your causes. Everyone else is the other or does not matter.
The power of this thinking is it has a little truth in it. We do need to work on ourselves and the government does need to interfere as little as possible with my day to day life. But nobody believes the government should keep entirely out of lives. Christians do not want the government to engage in monitoring our businesses and social groups. But in a duplicitous turn of thinking many Christians do need to have government interfere in private issues such as who we sleep with or a woman’s pregnancy.
The larger truth is that we all need to grow and live more spiritually, economically, intelligently, mentally, and physically. Society needs to enhance this, not hinder this growth. But institutions are needed to move us on in these efforts. No human is an island and no one (Sorry Emerson) can be totally self-reliant. And it does matter what values we promote as a people. And these must constantly be revised and challenged. We live in a society where the gap between the rich and poor is the largest it has ever been and the gap continues to increase. Our society still does not have universal healthcare for our workers. Our society does not demand a living wage from its employers of any size and wealth. Our society still has glass ceilings and redlining for housing. Our school systems in many districts are lacking. College costs continue to grow. In this environment it is almost criminal and definitely biased to say the poor are lazy.
Maybe we should return to Christian teachings. We should listen to the Sermon on the Mount and the great prophets of justice Amos, Hosea, and Isaiah. We should revive gospel that demands salvation for the nations as well as individuals. Strangely, the group who most have Jesus’ view of the poor, according to this study, are the atheists. Could it be Christians are the ones who have forsaken god and the atheists have embraced what little of God is left in our society?
Now that the repeal and replace the health care bill effort has been defeated three times in one week it is time to discuss the healthcare bill. And I have a fundamental question why is it we as a country do not want everyone to be covered for their healthcare? At no point in the discussion did the Republicans say we want everyone covered. At no point will Obamacare ever cover everyone it is only made to lower the amount of people not covered.
I want to propose that it is because America is a country ruled in part by classism. The elite do not think most of the poor deserve healthcare. That is the real issue. We already have too many freebies for these people is an often refrains heard. Why should we give them another cent for another freebie. That is why some felt free to cut Medicaid and look at cutting back on Social Security whenever it is political viable. They conclude that the reason you are poor is because you do not know how to budget or you have moral issues such as laziness and drunkenness. If these are not your issues you lack the ability to learn any significant skill in other words you are too dumb to be employed caused by inbreeding or inferior genes.
Class has always been a problem in America. If you are interested in this further read the book White Trash which traces our the United State’s class history. Our peculiar class problem is we cover it up by downgrading the poor an uplifting the upper classes. We create myths about the self-made man and the better bred folk to convince us to go along with the class biases. Why should we take from these outstanding individuals by taxing them to provide for a motley lot of poor who will always be poor? The poor are less than and built different. If we leave the rich alone they will by osmosis create more jobs and a better America for all of us.
Healthcare is a right in every other first world country. If we a far richer country cannot afford it how can they? Because they believe it is an essential part of providing a good quality of life for their citizens. We at least in practice do not believe this. So we do not even talk about healthcare coverage for everyone.
A single payer healthcare program for all is now being discussed. But watch if the idea receives traction the debate that occurs around it. The first question besides how to pay for it will be who should be covered and not how do we cover everyone. And if you listen very carefully you will hear the code terms and dog whistles that will reveal America’s classism.