Night after night, in cities across the US, we witness marauding mobs toppling statues and celebrating as if such destruction constituted a great accomplishment.
To these statute demolishers, and their apologists in our politics and the media, these destructive acts are righteous victories over the forces of racism. But performative violence against marble figures has nothing to do with George Floyd, police brutality or discrimination.
At first, media reports stressed that vandals were concentrating on Confederate monuments. They presented the vandals as valiant avengers who were righting historical wrongs and ridding the US of symbols of its racist past. But it has quickly become clear that Confederate figures are not the only focus of these activists’ wrath.
In Portland, Oregon, protesters recently tore down statues of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Back in 2017, Donald Trump predicted that the people protesting against Confederate monuments would set their sights on Washington and Jefferson next. His critics scoffed, called him paranoid, and blamed him for stirring up division. But he was right.
Toppling Washington and Jefferson is a justifiable act of anti-racism, say the apologists, because these Founding Fathers were slave-holders. But the US has never honored Washington and Jefferson for owning black slaves. Without Washington, there is no U.S. as a country. Jefferson, among his many achievements, penned the famous words of the Declaration of Independence, ‘all men are created equal’. In doing so, he paved the way for Abraham Lincoln to go to war to end slavery, and inspired Martin Luther King and countless others around the world to fight for equality. But that counts for nothing with these myopic vandals.
The arguments made in favor of destroying images of the Founding Fathers, which the media indulge with sympathy, are deeply flawed. They offer no balanced assessment of history. But they also have no limit. What comes down next – the Washington Monument? The Jefferson Memorial? Mount Rushmore? All would seem to be fair game by this logic.
Any claim that this statue-toppling is about anti-racism has already been demolished by the mob themselves. In San Francisco, demonstrators tore down a statue of Ulysses S Grant.
That’s right, the general who defeated the Confederates in the Civil War, and the president who worked to secure the rights of former slaves in the South during Reconstruction. Even more insanely, protesters in Washington, DC have taken aim at Lincoln, and a statue known as the Emancipation Memorial.
It is as if these people are deeply proud of their historical illiteracy and want everyone to know it. The Emancipation Memorial was funded entirely by free slaves (an amazing story), and its unveiling in 1876 was commemorated by the famous former slave and abolitionist, Frederick Douglass. But to these idiots, tearing down a statue of Lincoln funded by slaves is somehow a blow for racial equality.