I remember traveling the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe after the fall of Communism. I found it interesting to see all the empty pedestals that used to have statues of Lenin, Stalin, and other tyrants in their history. At the time I was fairly philosophical about it. To me, it made perfect sense for these countries to distance themselves from their dark history of totalitarianism and oppression. I must confess, I did not think of the United States and its own statues, at the time.
Now we are grappling with our past, I think there is a strong conservative case that can be made for the end of these monuments and not one just for minorities, who see them as a symbol of oppression. Conservatives should want these statues to go to to the trash bin of history to end the romanticism around government.
Those people who espouse a conservative worldview should think twice about their emotional attachment to statues of humans that are honored, largely, for their involvement in government. I have always found it odd to essentially deify historical characters of the government. Throughout world history, statues have often been used to honor the supernatural and that which is often the subject of worship. Why would conservatives want to support these types of tributes for those in government? I strongly believe the possibility of glory after “government service” — in the form of such monuments — is among the reasons politicians pursue power for so long. Ending such statues might be a very effective form of term limits.
For most of my adult life I was a very traditional conservative and was a big believer in the “three legged stool” of conservatism, which included “free enterprise, strong national security, and pro-family.” Over time, I saw the incongruity on many of these fronts. What most conservatives were advocating was anything but free enterprise. Both parties were guilty of crony capitalism of epic proportions. The often tactless approach to social issues showed an incredible lack of empathy when it came to some of the most sensitive challenges people face. Meanwhile, national security evolved into a policy of nation building that has cost an untold number of human lives and worldwide resentment towards the US. I find it bizarre that conservatives support a neoconservative military agenda of nation building, when we cannot even maintain our own country. It is the epitome of arrogance for the US to be the world’s moral compass, with a near $20 trillion debt, chaos on every level of government, and a plethora of other problems that should foster an attitude of embarrassment rather than patriotism.
When we start doing an inventory on statues and slavery, we can expect any tributes to the following to eventually disappear: Andrew Johnson, Ulysses Grant, Zachary Taylor, James K. Polk, John Tyler, William Henry, Harrison, Martin Van Buren, Andrew Jackson, James Monroe, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson and yes, George Washington. Why? Each of these Presidents were all slave owners. Some of these Presidents, such as Grant and Jackson have additional strikes against them for their war on the native population of this country. But it will not end there. Take FDR and his mass incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II. Even an icon, like Abraham Lincoln, will not hold up well in history. Lincoln made it clear that “I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races.” He also said, “And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.” Lincoln also said, “ I have never seen, to my knowledge, a man, woman or child who was in favor of producing a perfect equality, social and political, between negroes and white men.”
No President — until Woodrow Wilson — did much of anything to support women and their pursuit for the right to vote (which finally happened in 1920). Many Presidents throughout history could be seen as imperialistic and exploitative of militarily weaker populations. Time has not been kind to our nation’s leaders.
I say let the statues fall. However, I do have a problem with how they are doing it. It should be done with a strong sense of the importance of the rule of law. There should be debates in the halls of government so that those who want them to fall can make a case that will resonate with others. Meanwhile, those who want them to stand, will have to defend their positions. The way they are puling them now — through mob action — are doing harm to their credibility and message. Conservatives should get on this train too. It is an opportunity to separate themselves from its tributes to government and to be on the right side of history.