Conservatives have been rattled by Charlottesville, mainly because it’s been bad publicity for Trump and his (that is, their) policies. Last week I talked about their attempts to deflect negative coverage of the “alt-right” by drumming up fear of the “alt-left” as President Trump had. Some of the brethren are still fighting that battle — most spectacularly, the 4chan fungi who tried to tie alt-lefty antifa to a fake “#PunchWhiteWomen” campaign. (A sign of how badly that went for them was guys like Jay 5.1 claiming the smear campaign was actually “satire.”)
But many rightbloggers and conservative columnists are working another angle now, having to do with the root cause of the Charlottesville rally — the drive to take down Confederate monuments. Buoyed by polls that show a majority of Americans don’t want the statues removed, conservatives have rushed to defend all heroic effigies of the Lost Cause, otherwise known as treason in defense of slavery, and so get right with at least some of their Lost Voters.
The trouble for them is, unlike poll respondents, pundits have to try and explain why they want the statues left up, which can be embarrassing to those still capable of feeling embarrassment.
The last previous big flare-up in the statue wars came in 2015 after Dylann Roof massacred nine black people in Charleston. Even South Carolina governor Nikki Haley called for some de-Confederization then. Rightbloggers were caught off guard, as shown by their half-assed defenses of rebel replicas at the time.
National Review’s David French, for example, praised “the South’s decision to venerate Confederate valor” and argued that Dixie had “given our nation some of its greatest heroes.” He didn’t say who besides the slave power’s statuary generals he meant by “heroes,” but it’s a safe bet they didn’t include Frederick Douglass or James Longstreet.
French’s colleague Charles C.W. Cooke lamented that while the “attempt to rid Southern governments of insidious and inappropriate symbolism” was “admirable,” it had “spun dangerously out of control” — because someone had proposed erasing a Confederate flag and replacing it with the Yankee version. The Confederate flag of which he spoke was the one on the roof of the General Lee from The Dukes of Hazzard. No, I’m not kidding. “The General Lee is a piece of America’s cultural history,” protested Cooke, a recent transplant from Great Britain, “and civilized people do not vandalize their antiques.”
Some persistent themes emerged from those defenses: Ben Shapiro was among those who said the statues should stay up because, contrary to their original purpose (i.e., reinforcement of white supremacy) and common sense, their mission had miraculously changed, and statues of slavers on horseback now served as “a reminder that evil once held sway in our world, and that we cherished it” — you know, like Roots, only if Roots had no black people in it and we only saw slavers who were all presented in the most flattering possible light.
Flash-forward two years: Right after the Charlottesville violence, a few conservatives got cold feet about the statues; National Review editor Rich Lowry even said, “If these monuments are going to become rallying points for neo-Nazis, maybe they do all have to go.”
But most of the brethren snapped right into formation for the Southron cause.
Some took up Shapiro’s Reversible Monuments strategy from 2015. A spectacular example of this came from Doug Parsons, a member of the Cape Ann GOP in Massachusetts, who posted an image to the group’s Facebook page that said keeping the monuments was like keeping Auschwitz intact because “Jews who survived” requested it. Parsons seemed to miss that Auschwitz is not full of statues of Hitler and Goebbels looking majestic on horseback. (He apologized, but right-wing orgs like the Media Research Center and Conservative Institute continue to make this argument.)
Others don’t even bother: At the Federalist, David Marcus said the monuments were always good, because they were built after the war, and thus “were not symbols of the South’s defeat in war, but of its victory in peace.”
If your instinct is to ask Marcus whether he’s aware that the monuments mostly went up in times of anti-civil rights agitation, and that this “peace” came at the cost of black oppression, don’t worry, he knows about it — he just doesn’t seem to care. More to the point, for him, is that “when we tear down a statue, we are not merely condemning the subject, but the entire community.” I’m trying to imagine some old black guy discovering Nathan Bedford Forrest missing from the town square one morning and crying, “Man, we just can’t catch a break!”
At National Review, Arthur Herman generously admitted Jim Crow was bad but added, “What American blacks suffered under segregation was nothing compared to what liberalism has inflicted on them since the 1950s, as it destroyed their families, their schools, and their young men and women’s lives through drugs and guns and the gangster-rap culture ‘lifestyle,’ which is really a death style.” Note to the DNC: Maybe this year cut the pro-guns-and-drugs plank from the platform. (You may have to keep the gangster rap, though, now that Kid Rock is a Republican candidate.)
Some post-Charlottesville excesses of iconoclastic enthusiasm, including a mob attack on a confederate monument in North Carolina and the vandalism of a Christopher Columbus monument in Baltimore, inspired slippery slope arguments, which were as elegant as such arguments usually are.
“Before we know it the #ViolentLeft will ban the names ‘Robert’ and ‘Lee,’” tweeted contender for the Virginia GOP Senate nomination Corey Stewart. “#Antifa and #BLM will punch anyone with those names.” Wing-nut cartoonist Ben Garrison portrayed SJWs tearing down a statue of The Thinker (marked “Reason”) on the grounds that “LOGIC IS RACIST!” Because, ha ha, black people think everything is racism, even statues of people who fought to keep them enslaved.
The best in this category, for my money, was John S. Roberts at Young Conservatives, who argued that “Leftists Are Now Doing Exactly What the KKK Did to Statues, Going After Them.” The Klan hated Columbus, see, because they were anti-immigrant; leftists hate him because he enslaved and murdered Native Americans. Same diff!
At National Review, Jonah Goldberg had what he surely thought was a killer argument: After a load of yak about how liberals hate the West, Goldberg quoted New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who said that a lot of people back in Puerto Rico don’t like Christopher Columbus “based on what he signifies to the native population” (again: enslavement, torture, and murder).
Aha! cried Goldberg: “Mark-Viverito is from Puerto Rico… As far as I can tell, Mark-Viverito, who is of mixed European ancestry (her mother, Elizabeth Viverito, was of Italian descent and a prominent Puerto Rican feminist; her father, Anthony Mark, was a prominent doctor), does not speak Taino, the native language of the Arawak tribes who inhabited Puerto Rico when Columbus arrived. Rather, she speaks the languages of her alleged oppressors — Spanish and, of course, English.”
You read that right: Goldberg actually suggested that it was hypocritical for Mark-Viverito to criticize Columbus because she spoke Spanish. If he finds out she has an iPhone he might get a whole column out of it!
Rightbloggers and columnists weren’t the only ones fighting for the Confederacy. Last week, Alabama attorney general Steve Marshall brought suit against the city of Birmingham for covering up its Confederate monument. (Other jurisdictions are being sued or prosecuted for disrespecting their Confederate heroes as well.) Marshall cited the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act; not being a rightblogger, he didn’t have to pretend he was bringing suit so children could learn from the monument how bad the Confederate cause was.
Some ordinary citizens of the South seem to have been paying attention, too, and learned to defend their statues without just yelling racial slurs. Regarding a proposed removal of a noble Robert E. Lee equestrian statue from the Antietam battlefield (where Lee probably didn’t ride), the locals quoted in the Hagerstown Herald-Mail make such complaints as, “Are they going to quit teaching history in school now because it offends everybody?,” “People just need to stop being politically correct,” and “My best friend is black.”
If this seems nuts to you, remember: In America, a winning argument isn’t necessarily a coherent argument. As polling shows Trump fans would prefer President Jefferson Davis to President Barack Hussein Obama, I’m sure it doesn’t take a whole lot of reasoning to rally them to what conservatives seem to hope is no longer a Lost Cause.