Confederate leaders, by contrast, aren’t a close call at all. They were traitors who fought to preserve slavery. Whatever personal virtues they might have had are inconsequential compared with the evil that they did. Yes, Robert E. Lee was a brave man and a skilled general, but so was Erwin Rommel. Yet there are no statues of the World War II German general scattered around America — nor are U.S. Army bases named after him. Just as we should stop honoring Lee, so, too, should honors be denied to markedly inferior Confederate commanders such as Braxton Bragg and Henry Benning. There is no excuse for naming U.S. Army bases after these losers — to adopt one of Trump’s favorite insults.
Yet this is where Trump and much of the Republican Party have chosen to draw a line in the sand. In Tulsa, Trump complained that “the unhinged left-wing mob is trying to vandalize our history, desecrate our monuments, our beautiful monuments.” “Our” history? “Our” monuments? Trump was born in New York, not New Orleans. New York fought for the Union.
That Trump has adopted the history of the Confederacy as his own makes obvious his real agenda. This isn’t about “preserving” or “remembering” history; we can keep alive the history of the Civil War without paying tribute to the losing side. If Trump truly wanted to honor our past, his Treasury Department would have replaced Jackson on the $20 bill with Harriet Tubman…
This is about preserving white supremacy. Monuments to the “Lost Cause” were expressly erected to maintain support for segregation. As a towering Confederate monument in Augusta, Ga., puts it: “No nation rose so white and fair / none fell so pure of crime.” Communities that maintain such monuments are implicitly endorsing their white-power message.
When we celebrate Confederates, we do so because of their racism. By contrast, when we celebrate other great Americans, from Jefferson to Theodore Roosevelt, we do so despite their racism. That’s a crucial distinction that should not be lost in the heat of the moment.
There are some close and difficult calls to be made here, but Confederate Generals are not a close call.