Symbolism Over Substance

Where did our street activists get the idea that all of American history, including statues of its leaders and heroes, is ‘problematic’ and needs to be eradicated from our sight? Most likely, from our elite universities and most prominent media institutions.

When protesters in Portland toppled George Washington recently, they spraypainted ‘1619’ on it. That was apt, because the toppling of statues embodies the outlook of the New York Times’ 1619 Project – an initiative that claims that the US was founded for the purpose of entrenching slavery, and will never escape that legacy. The ideology of ‘1619’ is one that says burn it all down and start over.

There is a parallel between the fervor and indiscriminate destruction we’re seeing applied to inanimate objects in city squares and a different kind of force being used on people in social life.

The rapid spread of ‘cancel culture’ – where individuals are accused of racism and shunned from public life – is destroying careers, livelihoods and reputations. At the same time that mobs are raging on our streets, another type of mob is, with the same ferocity and recklessness, tearing apart people’s lives. The destruction of public monuments is classic "symbolism over substance". Like most Liberal "show" causes, it, does nothing to help black Americans who face discrimination. Instead, it hijacks that cause and turns it towards vindictive and intolerant ends.

Further, those who say ‘they’re just statues, not real people’ are misguided. Our public monuments do matter, because they embody our cultural values and historical memory. They are part of what we call our civilization.

Of course, once erected, not all should stand for eternity, and our views on who deserves to be honored are likely to change over time. But that decision to remove a monument has to follow a democratic process, so all get a say, not just a mob that thinks it knows best. To give vandals free rein is to attack democracy and civic tolerance.

There will always be those who want to destroy rather than build. What’s unusual about the situation we find ourselves in today is that that outlook is widespread among people in positions of power. Those who are supposed to be leading society are instead tearing it down from within. As much as a street mob is a problem, our self-loathing and destructive elites in politics and culture are a far bigger problem.