The clamor to remove statues from the public square is a minority movement, and though many thoughtful commentators have said the statues should come down to signify that America has moved on from the divisions associated with the Civil War, the Left is not signing up for any implicit bargain. The failure of others to draw a distinction between true symbols of hate and flawed heroes such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson does not mean that conservatives can’t draw it. We can, we must, and we will do so.
Nevertheless, an urge to destroy icons, once unleashed, can be a mania that proves too powerful to easily arrest.
There are more than 700 Confederate monuments in public places all over the country. For conservatives to support tearing down the statues now, in such a heated moment, strikes me as pouring kerosene on a brush fire whose path is unknown. It’s like inviting a tiger to nibble on your little finger but expecting it to stop there. If conservatives are saying, “Take the statues of anyone you define as racist, but go no farther,” that message is not being heard, much less accepted, by the Left.
The reality is the Left doesn’t really care that much about them, at least not in the way they claim. If they did, you would have heard Nancy Pelosi’s opinion about the Confederate statues in the Capitol before now. The Obama administration would have made this an issue, too. But only now does Jeh Johnson, Obama’s secretary of homeland security for three years, declare that removing Confederate memorials is a matter of “public safety” and “doing what’s right.”
Rather, the Left sees an irresistible opening to indulge its glee for denouncing and destroying things associated with the Right. The more sagacious ones among them counsel that now is not the time to mention that the Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorial are homages to slaveholders, because when you’re upending institutions you have to take them in the proper order. You have to mow down the front ranks before you can jump into the enemy’s trenches.
Once most of the Confederate statues are down, as they might well be in very short order, that will be the time for the Left to do what it always does — push on to new frontiers so boldly defined that they would have shocked even its own diehard partisans just a generation earlier. The Teddy Roosevelt protests are coming. (Indeed, there has already been one, at the statue of the Rough Rider outside the American Museum of Natural History last October. It seemed like a fringe thing at the time.) The Woodrow Wilson protests are coming. (Indeed, they too have already started.) The Christopher Columbus protests are coming. (Same.)
The Mount Rushmore protests will come in due course. “Let’s Blow Up Mount Rushmore,” read a tweet from the Millennial-progressive Web journal Vice. Oops, that sounded a bit too terroristic in 2017, though it may be standard progressive rhetoric in a few years. So Vice amended the headline to “Let’s Get Rid of Mount Rushmore.”
Get ready. Mob rule has a slippery slope.