The Confederate flag is coming to mean something to everybody now. It means the southern cause. It means the heart throbs of the people of the South. It is becoming to be the symbol of the white race and the cause of the white people. The Confederate flag means segregation. — Roy v. Harris, editor of Augusta Courier, 1951, quoted by the Southern Poverty Law Center
It is not surprising that Donald Trump equates the removal of statues with ripping apart the “culture of our great country.” He seems incapable of understanding that his rhetoric encourages the worst part of his base to tear open a cultural wound that has not fully healed now for 156 years.
There are 1,500 Civil War memorials in the United States ― “beautiful statues and monuments” as Trump calls them. He’s sad about the “beauty that is being taken out of our cities, towns and parks.”
What’s going on in America right now, however, is not designed to deprive cities of handsome statuary. It is not meant to erase history, either. What happened happened. I think the motive of the people who want to remove monuments to the Civil War is to end the aggrandizement of fighting to preserve bigotry. We do not need any more young people to think it is heroic to start a race war by shooting and killing black Americans in their churches. Nor do we need the separatists who say they are not racists although they would prefer a nation of black states and white states instead of red states and blue states.
There is an important distinction to be made between remembering history and trying to revive it. There also is a distinction between famous warriors and famous patriots. We can think of Robert E. Lee as a brilliant general, for example, but that is not the same as being a great patriot in a land founded on the principle that “all men are created equal.”
But sadly, there still are the Americans who prefer to carry Confederate or Nazi flags rather than the Stars and Stripes. Those who say the Confederate flag is about “heritage not hate” miss the obvious point: They are proving that the heritage of the Confederacy is hate.
In his latest tweets, Trump repeats his argument that if the monuments of Confederate generals come down, perhaps the monuments to Jefferson and Washington should come down, too, since both presidents owned slaves. The best answer came from a light-night comedian who noted that however flawed Washington and Jefferson might have been, they built the country while the heroes of the Confederacy tried to tear it apart.
We cannot expect Donald Trump to heal the wound of racism or to purge our country of nationalists, separatists, and racists that still divide us. None of the presidents who served since the Civil War have been able to do that – not Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson, Ulysses Grant, Rutherford Hayes, James Garfield, Chester Arthur, Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley, Teddy Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush or even Barack Obama.
However, a president can and should express the moral standard required to be true to the Founder’s vision for America. Then if the wound is ever to be healed, it will be have to be done by people. Unfortunately, what we see right now are people so cemented in their racial biases that they are eager to defend them with violence, not unlike the violence we saw in the past they want to revive.