President Trump once again has placed himself on the right side of history, by lamenting the recent removal and desecration of the Robert E. Lee-on-horseback statue that adorned Richmond, Virginia’s Monument Avenue.
Trump declared that Lee “should be remembered as perhaps the greatest unifying force after the [Civil] war was over, ardent in his resolve to bring the North and South together through many means of reconciliation and imploring his soldiers to do their duty in becoming good citizens of this country.”
No one could have said it better. How indeed can we bring America together in the 21st century by canceling the very heroes who dedicated their lives to the task of national reconciliation and renewal? And, if gentle souls, pious Christians and selfless (if flawed) patriots like Robert E. Lee are beyond the pale, who will be left to admire?
More importantly, though, we should reject the latest campaign against Robert E. Lee and Southern pride for the simple reason that it is inspired by the same neo-Marxist ideology that underlies Critical Race Theory, which is currently warping the minds of America’s schoolchildren.
Leftists believe that history is nothing more than a pantheon of heroes and villains, chosen by them, to drive home the more fundamental lesson that all of us are defined by our racial, ethnic, religious and gender-based identities, which in turn cast us as either victims or oppressors, as good or evil, for all time, regardless of any actions we take as individuals in our own lifetimes. In other words, we study history for one reason only: to remind ourselves how right “progressives” are when they castigate us for our “whiteness,” our Christianity, or our Y-chromosomes, or when they praise us for our BIPOC heritage, our secular humanism, or our status as “transgender.”
Elements of history that portray any kind of ambiguity, on the other hand – like Robert E. Lee, who was both a traitor and a patriot, a slaveowner and a champion of liberty – are to be erased, or demonized, because they confuse the issue. And “the issue,” in case any one is in further doubt, is the ongoing moral imperative, as the left sees it, to take up arms against the forces of “white supremacy,” Christian fundamentalism, patriarchy and homophobia/transphobia, which, we’re constantly assured, still dominate every aspect of American and Western culture. Yeah, right!
Robert E. Lee is a historical luminary beloved especially of Southern whites, and we all know which side of history’s moral ledger these reprobates belong on, as far as the left is concerned. Southern whites have no right to feel pride or self-respect, as the progressives see it, because their history and current social standing are permanently stained by the sins of slavery and racism.
Of course, one could say exactly the same thing about the Democratic Party, which stood for generations for both slavery and segregation, but if there is one thing the left believes in almost as fervently as its binary/Manichean interpretation of history’s moral lessons, it is double standards. Thus – presto! – the Democrats get a pass. The South emphatically does not.
There is, however, a deeper truth in American and Western history, and it is one that the left is laboring mightily to obscure. It is the simple fact that all of us, in terms of our national, racial, religious, gender-based, or familial history, have ample reason to feel both pride and shame. There is no Southerner alive, of any race, who is ignorant of the horrors and injustices that some of his ancestors committed. Likewise, we – all of us – can point with pride to forebears who exemplified some species of excellence, or virtue, or wisdom, or courage, and we are entitled to do so. We take the good with the bad, in other words.
The left’s latest victory – against a mute, impassive, utterly defenseless statue – should not deflate us. They won this battle, yes, but they will not, they cannot, win the wider war they are waging against the human condition itself.
They might wish to imprison half of America eternally in the chains of shame, based on identity politics alone, but the basic truth of our individual and collective moral complexity will always set us free.
Simply put, we are all oppressors, and we are all victims. We are all good, and we are all bad. We are mere mortals, so how could it be otherwise?
Robert E. Lee was a great man partly because he never believed that he was or could be anything but a poor sinner. It’s that humility that Lee’s modern detractors entirely lack. And for that reason we are right to oppose their arrogant dictates and demands with every fiber of our beings.
We are equally right to pity them, however, for, in denying the agency and humanity of their enemies, they also inevitably deny it to themselves. How sad.
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