The Confederate President Trump
For those of us who love historical studies and focus on the American story, there is much to be learned from the Civil War and the presidency of Abraham Lincoln. However, one must read to gain that knowledge, or at least watch these fantastic documentaries: Unforgiveable Blackness, The Civil War and The Address by Ken Burns. And while you’re enjoying those fine works of Mr. Burns, check out The Central Park Five. It’s more relevant now, than ever.
Let’s examine the beginning of human beings’ affection for monuments and statues. The emperors of ancient Rome loved to honor their own heroic deeds by erecting statues of themselves around the city. Why did they do that? Well, to remind those they ruled about their power. Roman sculpture was modeled after statues in ancient Greece, so once again the Greeks get credit for the concept.
In 1866, Congress issued an act prohibiting any living person being portrayed on American currency. Our Founding Fathers believed it was unpatriotic to place a living person’s likenesses on circulated money. It could be this concept was biblically inspired under the heading of graven images. America holds the belief that there must be some distance between the living and the legends. For example, the baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown cannot nominate a player until they have been out of the game for five years. It’s sewn into our common value system.
I am a northerner by birth, but I’ve lived almost half my life in the south. I get the big-deal importance of the Civil War, especially when witnessing Southerners and their elaborate war reenactments at Stone Mountain in Atlanta. That park has the largest piece of exposed granite in the world, and carved into that majestic mountainside are huge, high relief sculptures of the most famous Confederates, Jefferson Davis and Generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson. I refuse to put the word “president” before Mr. Davis’ name because he was never the president of any country, I’ve ever lived in.
Here’s a good place to mention that when the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) was brought back to life in 1915, members assembled annually at Stone Mountain to participate in things like cross-burnings and other recruitment festivities. It wasn’t until 1960 that Georgia Governor Ernest Vandiver condemned the park and took full control of the property to stop the embarrassing KKK events. I’ll share this ironic side note. When I first visited the site in 1980, they still had two men’s rooms and two women’s rooms in the main building. Yes, those were once used to segregate the visitors by race.
A few miles away, the Atlanta Historical Society runs a Cyclorama where you can see a theatrical display of the battle of Atlanta. It’s very well done, and I recommend it to anyone who loves history. There is a deep need for old family southerners to believe that the Civil War was a political conflict about state’s rights. Well, that’s true, but not true. To say it correctly, the southern states wanted to keep free slave labor in their farms and plantations, while the northern states wanted to end slavery. Let’s not sugarcoat it; the south wanted their sugar cane harvested and were willing to fight for it.
As a kid, I looked up at the anatomically exaggerated statues and wondered if they really were that big or were the creators of the works just trying pay homage to them. Whatever those giant men did was not revealed unless the plaque fastened to the statue’s pedestal told a story. Even then, the words could be twisted and arranged in ways that none of the bad things would ever be known. If the person whose likeness is carved into a statue owned a slave, many today would condemn the monument to death.
I was highly disappointed and depressed to read the 1801 Last Will and Testament of my ancestor Thomas Douglas, in which he ceded his “negro wench” Hannah to his wife Susanne. Shocking, given that all my relatives on that side of the family were devout Scottish Presbyterians, but then, so was President Tommy “Woodrow” Wilson who left office in 1921. That was sixty years after the Civil War, and most historians claim Wilson did not consider the races fundamentally equal and had no intention of aligning them under the law. The more you read about him, the more you understand that he was a racist. Not only was the KKK becoming politically active and vocal during that era, but southern American towns decided to “honor” those Confederates by putting up statues. It was a distasteful burp of racism in the mouths of those who decided to rewrite history using statues to make the actions of those traitors look more acceptable. It was all a giant lie and bold endeavor of face-saving.
The Black Lives Matter movement is an attempt to unwrite the rewrite, and the statues beg the question, “Why do we need them?” What I am about to say may be greeted with anger, but those large masses of bronze and stone are nothing more than Americans trying to imitate Europe. Visit France and you will see statues in many parks, sidewalks and on all the bridges. The obsession with these “works of art” can be traced back to Napoleon, the self-titled Emperor of the liberated France. It’s funny to me that the people revolted and killed the King and Queen, then they put Napoleon in charge who decided he was an Emperor and up went the statues.
Statues are un-American and demonstrate a gaudy commercialism of our values. We use them to promote Bob’s Big Boy hamburgers and to commemorate Presidents, Generals and slave owners. I am sure there is no statue of my immigrant great, great, great, great, great grandfather, Thomas Douglas. He was a slave owner, but he’s still my relative. I could dismiss the issue by saying, he didn’t know better, or that he was just following the laws and culture of the time. I want to believe deep down inside that he treated Hannah fairly and never inflicted any demonic pain or punishment on her, but I don’t know what really happened.
This would be a great time to ask Donald Trump who he is protecting with his rage against the purge of Confederate statues. His executive order tough-talking against those who are tearing the statues down is extremely inappropriate. Trump said, “They’re tearing down statues, desecrating monuments, and purging dissenters. It’s not the behavior of a peaceful political movement; it’s the behavior of totalitarians and tyrants and people that don’t love our country.” He wants those who deface or destroy these statues to be put in jail for ten years. Really? If he were a real president and patriot, he would convene a council to determine which ones stay and which ones go. Donald Trump is a walking monument to lies and deceit, and his aggressive language is stoking the radicals into destruction. It’s interesting how he always does the wrong thing when it comes to global and local politics. He’s a complete and utter failure. We should forge a large statue of the fat, orange man and when the monument is finished erect it here.
PERFECT FOURTH OF JULY GIFT
The book that tells it like it is…
Gold, God, Guns & Goofballs: If you only read one chapter of this book, try “Take a Knee for America” and think about our never-ending conflicts between minorities and the police. I’m not asking you to take a stand but having a deep and honest conversation about why some people think the way they do would be productive. This is a book for the moment which seeks to start a conservation about peace. And if you are worried about social media, you really should check out the chapter called “Social Media Menace.”