Four men have been thrust posthumously into the front of the national debate over the removal of statues.
The president of the United States launched an impromptu press conference this week at Trump Tower. Donald Trump began answering questions about the Charlottesville, Va., riot that left three people dead. White supremacists, neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klansmen were protesting the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee. Counter protesters clashed with the racist protesters.
It got real ugly real fast.
Then the president weighed in. He said “many sides” were at fault. Then he blamed the hate groups. Then on Tuesday he doubled down on his initial response, saying “both sides” were to blame for the mayhem.
Then his press conference veered into some truly bizarre territory.
I mentioned Gen. Lee already. Trump decided to mention that Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson’s statue also is targeted for removal. Then he asked: Should we take down statues of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson? They were slave owners, too, just like Lee and Jackson, he said.
Time out, Mr. President.
If Donald Trump had a clue about history he would realize this:
Yes, Washington and Jefferson enslaved human beings. They were imperfect men. However, they led a revolution that resulted in the creation of the United States of America. Washington commanded our armed forces fighting against the British Empire; Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence and was a key author of the U.S. Constitution. Those contributions to the founding of the nation does not pardon them for their slave ownership, but it is a mitigating factor that grants them greatness.
As for Gen. Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, they fought to destroy the Union that Washington and Jefferson helped create. Gen. Lee struggled whether to fight for the Union or to fight for the Confederate States of America. He chose to side with Virginia, which seceded from the Union. Jackson joined him in that terrible, bloody Civil War. Those men were traitors. Moreover, they were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans who died in the bloodiest war this nation has ever fought.
To his everlasting credit, President Lincoln declared during his second inaugural address — just weeks before he would be gunned down at Ford Theater — that the nation should bind the wounds that had torn it apart. “With malice toward none and charity for all,” the president said, signaling that Confederate leaders wouldn’t be prosecuted for their high crimes against the Union.
Donald John Trump doesn’t grasp any of that, as he made abundantly clear when he attached moral equivalence between two of our nation’s founders and two men who sought — and fought — to destroy the nation.