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STEINBERG: Traitors to our country should never have been honored

A statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee sits in Emancipation Park in Charlottesville, Virginia. | Julia Rendlema/Associated Press

Say I take up a hobby: drowning puppies in a bucket, then using a tennis racquet to serve their limp, dripping carcasses at neighborhood children who flee, shrieking, while I laugh and laugh.

You object to this practice, citing cruelty to animals, to children.

I reply, “What? You don’t realize what a huge problem over-population is among pets? You don’t care about animals? And obesity is a major problem among the young. How can you oppose exercise?”

OPINION

Welcome to what passes for discourse in America, 2017, where no moral lapse is so extreme that it can’t be reframed and explained away.

A mob of Nazis march, on the pretext of defending Civil War monuments. The marchers clash with counter-protesters, then return to the holes they came from. Decent Americans exhibit their displeasure by pulling down the same monuments the Nazis used as pretext, those honoring traitorous Civil War leaders who took up arm against their own country — our country — in open rebellion trying to preserve the grotesque institution of slavery, monuments often set up in the 20th century as a middle finger to Civil Rights protests.

Our current leader, Donald Trump, can’t bring himself to sincerely denounce racism, so instead expounds on the Nazis’ excellence, so much that corporate CEOs, not a group famous for morality, draw away in visceral horror.

At his instantly notorious press conference Tuesday, in a leap far more acrobatic than my puppy-drowning defense, Trump presented Robert E. Lee and George Washington as equals because both owned slaves — intending not to degrade Washington, one hopes, but to elevate Lee — ignoring that slave-owning is not the issue here.

One betrayed his country (Lee, in case you’re confused). One created a nation which, the Trump administration notwithstanding, has generally encouraged freedom (that would be Washington).

Trump, who you’d think has better things to do, reflected for two days on the wound he inflicted, then began picking at the scab anew Thursday.

“Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments,” he tweeted. “You can’t change history, but you can learn from it. Robert E Lee, Stonewall Jackson — who’s next, Washington, Jefferson? So foolish!”

“You can’t change history, but you can learn from it.”

Really? Really? From Donald Trump? The guy who thinks Frederick Douglass is still alive and doing a great job? The man who can’t learn from anything? Who by believing he can never be wrong contrives to be almost always wrong?

OK, Mr. Learn From History, a few quick history lessons:

Slavery was bad. Those who rebelled against the United States to preserve it were traitors. They should never have been honored in the first place.

Nazis are bad. They once plunged the world into global horror, and now their false creed is the trapdoor into a cesspool that a tiny minority crawl through, searching for a way to feel good about themselves. People proud of being white invariably have nothing else to be proud about.

Still, history is our biggest comfort here. It explains why racists must lose, eventually. Ready? Let’s begin.

Dial back 10,000 years, and you’ve got the nationalist dream: tightly knit tribal societies, sleeping in piles for warmth, all the same race, all related, all worshipping the same tree, no outsiders welcome.

Every step away from nasty, brutish and short life demands cooperation — farming, trade, cities. Every time you open the circle and let in somebody different, someone who doesn’t paint themselves blue like you do but can help you grind grain or erect a wall, moves us into this modern world.

Yet, the president thinks the guys who want to go back, to create their special white person paradise are “fine people.” Those who would oppress the descendants of slaves, who would take my grandchildren and smash their heads against trees, have a buddy in the White House. I could worry that their evil will prevail. And it might happen. It has before.

But it won’t. Americans covered their eyes and took a risk Nov. 8. They are now daily reminded of the result of that folly. Not all of them are. But enough. You know you’ve screwed up when Campbell’s Soup rejects you.