Angry mobs are tearing down and defacing monuments across America. They make no distinction between Confederate and Union, abolitionist and pro-slavery, 15th-century figures and 20th. They don’t care when a monument was erected, who built it, or why. They have not come to debate or persuade their fellow citizens to relocate these statues to museums or private property. They believe the debate is over and that they have won.
The Confederacy Isn’t the Target
Their target is not the Confederacy. It is the United States. They mean to destroy symbols of American history writ large, because to them all of American history is racist and genocidal. Their goal is not to cleanse a nation they love of monuments to Confederate traitors who tried to secede, but to cleanse their consciences of ever having loved such an evil and irredeemably racist country in the first place.
That is why you see mobs defacing statues of abolitionists like Matthias Baldwin and Union war heroes like Adm. David Farragut and Gen. George Thomas. That is why the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier of the American Revolution in Philadelphia was vandalized this past weekend with the words “committed genocide.” That is why statues of Christopher Columbus were torn down or beheaded in three cities last week. That is why officials in Dallas recently removed a Texas Ranger statue from Love Field Airport. That is why a mob of college students toppled two statues of American pioneers on the University of Oregon campus. That is why Black Lives Matter protesters in San Antonio, Texas, are threatening to march on the Alamo.
To suppose this has anything to do with the Confederacy or the Civil War is to misunderstand completely the nature of what is happening right now in America. The people who are pulling down monuments, defacing statues, and demanding U.S. military bases be renamed do not have a limiting principle. They don’t distinguish between those who fought for freedom against the British Empire and those who fought for union against the slave states of the South. To them, the Union itself was a crime against humanity long before the South seceded. What kind of moral monster would ever fight to preserve it?
This is the 1619 Project come to life. If the American Revolution was fought to protect and preserve slavery then the entire history of American colonization and westward expansion is a litany of crimes that no one should celebrate. The Founding Fathers are no less guilty than Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis — not just because they owned slaves but because they founded the United States, a nation conceived not in liberty but in white supremacy.
In this reading of history, the crimes of Gen. George Washington are worse than the crimes of Gen. Lee. In religious terms — and make no mistake, this is a religious movement of the radical left — the founders are guilty of original sin, which we have all inherited and which only public penance and indulgences can erase.
There Is No Limiting Principle
You will nevertheless hear, and likely have already heard, arguments for a limiting principle, a way to justify pulling down Confederate monuments while allowing monuments to Christopher Columbus or Thomas Jefferson to stand.
The comedian Andrew Schulz tries to make this argument in a recent YouTube video. Confederates were traitors and slavers, he says. Their monuments were built to glorify a treasonous and failed effort to secede from the Union. The Founding Fathers might have had slaves and Columbus might have been a slaver, but we didn’t build monuments to honor them for these things. Their monuments were built to celebrate the good things they did, not the bad things. Confederates, like Nazis, only did bad things, so their monuments must come down.
But to accept this argument, you must first concede that Columbus and the founders did something good, that the achievements for which their monuments stand are worthy in the first place. You must accept, in other words, that the United States itself is deserving of praise and reverence, that there is something to celebrate and honor in our national heritage, that despite its faults and failures America has achieved a degree of liberty and prosperity unparalleled in human history.
This is precisely what the mob rejects. Schulz pokes fun at the people going after Columbus and the founders, calling them “crazy.” But they are not crazy according to their logic. They do not love America because America is wicked. There is almost nothing worth celebrating in our nation’s history, and almost nothing in our heritage worth honoring.
There’s a reason, for example, the anarchists and Antifa rioters in Seattle’s “autonomous zone” set up barricades and hung a sign saying, “Now Leaving The United States.”
These people don’t want to improve America. Like the monuments they despise, they want to tear it down.