It’s the Treason, Not the Slavery, Mr President

Robert E Lee: It's the Treason, Not the Slavery, Mr PresidentAt his press conference yesterday, President Trump got into a exchange with a reporter about slavery. He said, “George Washington was a slave owner, so will George Washington now lose his status? Are we going to take down statues of George Washington? How about Thomas Jefferson? Do you like him? Okay good, are we going to take the down the statue? Because he was a major slave owner. Are we going to take down his statue?”

Trump clearly thought that he was on top of it. He had an argument that no one could counter. Trump is at his worst when he’s smug. As is usually the case, he had nothing to be smug about. I feel kind of silly even bringing it up, but the argument for taking down Confederate statues has nothing to do with the fact that the figures owned slaves.

Yes, there are some people who think being a slave owner — at least one of the particularly repugnant American system — is enough to make them unworthy of honor. I’m more or less one of those people. I have incredible misgivings about Thomas Jefferson[1], for example. He’s a mixed bag and I really don’t think that the good outweighs the bad.

The Confederates Committed Treason

But none of that matters. It still makes sense to have Jefferson statues. He was, after all, our third president. He is part of the history of our country. Robert E Lee is a totally different case. Having a statue celebrating him is like having a statue celebrating Julius Rosenberg. Is it possible that half the nation, including the President of the United States, does not understand this?

Robert E Lee — just like all the other leaders of the Confederacy — was a traitor to his country. He committed treason to keep slavery alive.

The biggest mistake of the Civil War was how the north ended it. They wanted to heal the wounds. As a result, no one was tried for treason. So within a decade, pretty much all of these southern traitors got their old lives back. And what did we get? Generations of southerns who act like they were the ones who were wronged.

Confederate Monuments Are Jim Crow Vestiges

But the situation is worse than that. The vast majority of these Confederate monuments were not erected directly following the Civil War. Instead, they were erected as part of Jim Crow — as a way to put people in their place — and most of all to say that the Confederacy might have lost the war but it wasn’t wrong.

I see Confederate monuments as a sign of arrested development. It’s been over 150 years since the Civil War. The world has made revolutionary changes in that time. But we still have certain sad people who just can’t get over that war. And it is impossible to not see that what they are really pining for is the days when white people could own black people. Those days are not coming back, but these Confederation lovers just can’t let go.

The American Sickness

And now, the sickness has really gone mainstream. We have a president who celebrates treason. In the end, did Julius Rosenberg really do much damage to the United States? Certainly not in comparison to the damage that Robert E Lee did.

I am disgusted by all this. We shouldn’t be having a conversation about Confederate monuments. We should be shamefully removing them at night. There is no more argument about this than that Jews are subhuman and deserve to be destroyed. And the fact that half the country thinks there is an argument shows that we have a terrible sickness. And it is one that will destroy us if we don’t cure it.

Update

I see that Matt Yglesias made much the same point, The Huge Problem With Comparing Lee and Davis to Washington and Jefferson. But he made an excellent point that I hadn’t thought of:

Jefferson Davis, Robert E Lee, and the other politicians and generals who served the Confederate States of America aren’t noteworthy historical figures who also happened to benefit from the institution of slavery. They are historical figures who are noteworthy almost exclusively because they led an insurrection against the United States of America, an insurrection whose primary purpose was to perpetuate slavery.

His main point is that people like Thomas Jefferson for the good things he did. They like Lee because of the bad things he did.


[1] To see what a charmer Jefferson was, check out Jefferson’s Declaration of “Merciless Indian Savages” and Thomas Jefferson’s Entitlement

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

3 thoughts on “It’s the Treason, Not the Slavery, Mr President

  1. “shamefully removing them at night”

    The city of Baltimore just did this! Last night! Smart move, Baltimore.

    • Yeah, I was thinking about that as I wrote it. Although in their case I think they were just trying to avoid confrontations. But they did right regardless.

  2. Driftglass and Fran over at their podcast discussed how the Republican party is and will be the last Confederate monument in America.

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