Do Confederate monuments in Arizona have much to do with what’s really ailing America?
The answer is “Not really,” but that doesn’t mean the status quo is acceptable.
The danger is in focusing on symbols when deeper issues still fester, both in Arizona and the U.S.
How much do symbols matter? When the Facebook pages of Dylann Roof, the white supremacist who murdered nine black people in a church in South Carolina, were found to be festooned with the Confederate flag, those flags came down off the tops of state buildings almost immediately.
And last weekend in Charlottesville, Va., one person died and more than a dozen were injured in a vehicle attack by a suspected neo-Nazi during a protest and counter-protest over the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee. If Confederate monuments weren’t high-profile in most states before Charlottesville, they are now – including Arizona. Various groups have asked Gov. Ducey to remove the half-dozen monuments and memorials to the Confederacy – put them in museums, they say, but don’t award them places of honor in the public square. The Civil War was fought for several reasons, and one of them was to perpetuate slavery in the Deep South, a cause that today cannot be defended.
GET LEGISLATURE INVOLVED
It goes without saying that most Confederate monument supporters are not racists or White nationalists. Their argument for retention is one of heritage and honoring the soldiers who fought and died – we have a Vietnam War Memorial for just that purpose, too.
But we also note that Arizona’s memorials were not erected soon after the Civil War. They came about in the early 1960s as a defiant repudiation of the civil rights movement for racial equality. A half-century later, modern-day racists who make up the white supremacist movement have seized on their removal as an excuse to emerge from the shadows of the Internet with swords, clubs and guns at the ready. Some carry the Nazi flag, too, and shout Nazi slogans.
When the history of the monuments and the bigotry and hatred they have spawned are combined, it is past time to lay out the arguments for removal in the Legislature and let democracy do its work. Gov. Ducey understandably is not willing to act unilaterally. But if a bill for removal to a museum is placed on his desk, we’d expect him to sign it.
And what if such a process prompts another Charlottesville-style confrontation? We would hope police have learned their lessons and would not only keep protesting groups apart but disarm them – it is no threat to free speech to insist that demonstrators leave their weapons in the car or at home.
As for the president, it is beyond comprehension that someone charged with leading a democratic republic cannot condemn Nazis and white supremacists without equivocation. Some counter-protesters were indeed violent, but not in a way that is remotely equivalent in belief or practice. As more than one commentator has noted, Charlottesville has finally revealed to the world a chief executive without the moral authority or temperament to lead effectively. More seriously, his comments appear to have emboldened the domestic terrorists who make up the fringes of the white nationalist movement.
Beyond Confederate monuments, however, are the economic and cultural grievances of not just white males but of working and middle-class America. Trump leveraged their discontent with globalism and technology into an electoral victory based more on resentment than solutions. It’s not surprising that into that policy vacuum would flood fringe groups all too willing to pin the blame for larger financial and cultural problems on minorities, foreigners and cultural elites. Simple answers fit into campaign sound bites; it’s more than worrisome when the White House continues to display such shallow thinking six months into the administration.
Again, it goes without saying that Trump voters and many others don’t have to be racists to want a better deal. Many are still feeling the fallout from the financial crisis – their wages have stagnated, their savings are nil and the aspirations for themselves and their children have withered. They see shrunken opportunities in traditional trades and manufacturing as high-tech takes over and they see government protecting big banks and Wall Street at the expense of Main Street.
BIPARTISAN FAIR DEAL
The way forward that wins back confidence in a fair deal for the working class and middle class isn’t clear. But after Charlottesville, it’s likely the White House is not going to be part of a unifying solution. Leaders in Washington and state capitals need to commit to an independent and bipartisan course that addresses these grievances in a constructive and deliberate way. Confederate monuments deflect that energy – put them away in museums and let’s get on with facing the challenges of the 21st century.