A few thoughts in the wake of violent demonstrations in Charlottesville, VA…
(1) A public monument isn’t a record of history, it’s a statement of something the community is proud of. History is recorded in books and other records that are there for anyone who cares to use them. Preserving history is no defense for public monuments. Replace “erasing our history” with “erasing our culture” or “erasing our values” and you might get a better sense of what’s really being said. Personally, I think the culture and values these monuments convey are no longer appropriate for public places anywhere in this country.
(2) The monuments in question aren’t “beautiful.” I don’t think Mr. Trump has a healthy sense of beauty, judging by how he lives. These monuments were put in place during the Jim Crow years (long after the end of the war) to intimidate blacks and other minorities who were thinking that civil rights might actually happen in their communities. They’re cultural signposts that say, “We may have lost the war, but you can’t make us change our ways.” Since “the ways” in question involve racial discrimination, that’s anything but beautiful: it’s ugly and mean-spirited. More likely, “beautiful” is being used as a code word for “what we believe in but can’t say out loud.”
(3) To those who say, “Slavery, discrimination, racial bias, etc. are over, and have no power,” one has to ask, then why are we still celebrating and honoring–in our public places–individuals who were best known for supporting slavery, discrimination, racial bias, etc? The simple fact that there are currently monuments in places of public honor in our country that represent and celebrate people who supported and fought to preserve racial discrimination makes it incredibly unconvincing that the culture they represent could possibly be gone and no longer has power in our society.