President Trump is not known for circumspection. His usual style is to shoot from the lip. He is a verbal volcano of vulgarities and insults. Yet when it came to white supremacists chanting racial slurs and committing murder the president was strangely reticent. It took Donald Trump two days to make any statement about the standoff that has transfixed the United States and indeed the globe. When Trump addressed the nation he was uncharacteristically statesmanlike and decent. His fulsome condemnation of white racists was just what Republican politicians and his staffers had been prodding him to say.
Then Trump undid his good work. He went back to equivocating between the Ku Klux Klan and those who oppose this terrorist outfit. Trump said there was violence “on many sides”. This is not so. The anti statue caucus has not committed violent acts. Several anti statue demonstrators were severely injured and one killed when a car was driven into them. Everyone has the right to be presumed innocent. No one doubts that the car was driven by someone from the pro statue side. Perhaps it was an accident but I doubt it.
David Duke is an erstwhile Grand Dragon of the KKK. Dr Duke spoke the truth for once when he said it was white nationalists who put Trump in the White House. Trump’s low cunning perhaps tells him that these bigots are his base. He is chary about upsetting them.
There are two groups that Trump does not wish to upset. These are white supremacists and the Russian Government. Is it because these two sets of people are the ones who made him win the Electoral College?
This Charlottesville embroglio has distracted public attention from Russiagate. To get the public away from watching the investigation is good news for Trump. Does he wish to up the ante for this reason? Perhaps I attribute him more logic than he really has.
With anyone else Trump lashes out. Politicians even from the Republican Party who critique his administration are subjected to a broadside. Journalists especially women who ask him worthwhile questions are insulted in the most scatological manner. Only when it comes to Putin and the KKK does Trump tiptoe around people’s sensitivities. I credit him with a little political intelligence. Do I overestimate him?
Let me be fair even to someone as nauseating as Donald J Trump. He said that there were reasonable people who wanted the statue to stay up. I am one of them. I hold no brief for Robert E Lee. I recognise slavery for what it was; satanic. I simply do not wish statues to be taken down. Should Hitler statues have been removed? I believe that they should. Hitler committed genocide as well as every other crime in the statute book and there was almost nothing he did in mitigation. Lee has a few good attributes and worked for reconciliation after the war. I heard he was civilised towards black undergraduates in college after the Civil War.
Trump also said something sensible. If Lee’ statue is taken down do we have to demolish statues of all who owned slaves? That means those of several presidents. Do institutions and toponyms in their honour have to be renamed like Washington DC and Washington State? This is the beginning of too much upheaval and revisionism. It is right that the record of presidents and generals should be scrutinised. The adulation of such figures was excessive. Taking away statues of Confederate generals is the beginning of a silly campaign of iconoclasm. Almost every politician in bygone generations advocated policies which are now seen as unacceptable such as a ban on same sex generation. If we were to dishnonour these people then we would be rubbishing our heritage. There were countless unethical things done in the past. It is churlish and irrational to view past centuries through a 21st century lens.
If the statue of Lee was taken away then I would not be upset. I would prefer that it is not taken away. Some of the statue’s adamant defenders are motivated by racial animus. To call them idiots is too kind and excuses them for their wickedness. Their attitude is so rebarbative that it tempts me to become anti statue.