Why are we talking about statues?
White supremacism exists in the absence of statues; Antifa Leftism exists in the presence of statues. So why are we talking about statues after Charlottesville – an event that wasn’t about a Robert E. Lee statue at all, but about something else entirely: an evil worldview on display, a violent group opposing that worldview, and a violent white supremacist murdering an innocent woman?
The answer is clear: everyone is trying to use the issue of Confederate monument removal as a club to wield against political opposition, and as a broadening mechanism for their own movements.
Let’s begin at the beginning.
The controversy over Confederate statues has been a hot button issue for decades. There are good arguments on both sides: on the one side, arguments for history and against iconoclasm; on the other side, arguments against honoring a brutal and barbaric cause.
But those arguments have never really been heard. Instead, we’ve participated in a proxy argument: those in favor of removing the statues are merely attempting to wipe away American history in pursuit of a utopian vision that sees America as a place rooted in nastiness, according to those in favor of keeping them; those in favor of keeping the statues are merely white supremacists who honor their Confederate forebears, according to those in favor of trashing them.
The #UniteTheRight rally – an explicitly white supremacist rally, organized to that purpose – chose to protest the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue for two reasons. First, they are actually white supremacists who find sympathy with the Confederate cause. Second, they know that there are many non-white supremacists – normal, non-racist people – who don’t support getting rid of the statues. By using the statues as a rallying cry, the alt-right and white supremacists can suggest common cause with normies.
The Left’s reaction to Charlottesville is the flip side of this white identity politics. Just as with the massacre of black churchgoers by racist garbage heap Dylan Storm Roof, the Left has jumped to a debate about imagery rather than a debate about philosophy. With Roof, the Left claimed a mandate to remove the Confederate flag from places of honor. That wasn’t driven by some sort of charitable impulse toward the fallen, but by cynical manipulation: by decrying the Confederate flag in response to Roof, the Left could castigate all of those who didn’t favor getting rid of it as Roof sympathizers. They’re doing the same now with regard to Confederate statues.
Meanwhile, President Trump is merely acting out of political convenience. The Left has tacitly broadened the “bad guys” to include anyone who doesn’t want statues of Lee torn down; Trump responds by defending anyone who doesn’t want statues of Lee torn down as decent. Because Trump is a blunderbuss and a messy thinker who has been comfortable with the alt-right, that means granting the alt-right its wish: lumping them together with the normies, granting them more mainstream credibility.
None of this is good. None of this is true.
Here is the truth: Confederate statue removal is a local issue, not a national one. Broad national movements to get rid of local pieces of history are generally driven by politically convenient impulses. If we’re going to have a real debate about Confederate statue removal, let’s do it. But let’s not lump all statue supporters or opposers into the realm of the saints or the devils. That’s dishonest identity politics.