Donald Trump has equated the removal of statues honoring Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson to the removal of statues honoring George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. In doing so, he was speaking to a far-Right Wing supporters who honestly belief the removal of Confederate monuments is simply part of an insidious liberal agenda to culturally and psychologically sterilize the American People in order to neutralize any threat to government oppression. To this faction, the Civil War was a heroic attempt to defend States’ Rights from government oppression. President Trump, at the very least, appears to see the removal of Confederate monuments as a counterproductive attempt to whitewash history.
As a Nation, however, Confederate symbols are offensive. When the US began embracing the spread of democratic values and freedoms to the disenfranchised and dehumanized, the Confederacy was attempting to destroy the Nation in order to preserve the white privilege enjoyed by wealthy plantation owners and blunt the spread of individual freedom. Because the freedom to dissent is sacrosanct to democratic society, however, the fate of Confederate monuments is a local issue. If it was an issue of building new Confederate monuments to sow insurrection or glorify white supremacy, it would be a national concern. That said, all US citizens have the right to be offended by Confederate relics and the ideologies of those defending them as well as statements that stain the name of American heroes like George Washington.
George Washington may have owned slaves, which demonstrated how fundamental slavery was to the economy at the time and how tone-deaf people were to the moral questions surrounding the ownership of a person, but he is honored for his efforts to build a nation where individuals would be freed and empowered. Washington also willed his slaves to be freed upon his wife’s death. Robert E. Lee fought for States’ Rights, yet he fought a Federal government that was defending individual freedom from State oppression. Men like Washington fought for States’ Rights in order to secure individual freedom, not empower State governments. Lee fought for the privilege of minority slave owners and States’ Rights for the sake of States’ Rights, even though that meant the oppression of individuals.
With the American Civil War in mind, there are also those who see men like Syrian President Basher al-Assad as victims of US imperialist plots to remove them from power. Some have tried to equate Bashar al-Assad’s fight to secure his rule to Abraham Lincoln’s fight to secure the United States. Lincoln may have resisted the Confederate insurgency, which resulted in a terribly bloody and prolonged civil war, but his decisions were not simply an effort to persevere his Presidency or even his government. Unlike Assad, Lincoln was fighting a to secure freedom. Assad faces the oppression of Islamic extremists, yet he is the one who started the Syrian Civil War when he chose to use violence to crush peaceful protesters seeking representation, security, and the freedom to personally fulfill their neglected needs.
Lincoln fought to preserve a Republic defined by democratic governance, which meant the eventual loss of his power. In democracies, the consensus of a majority determines public policies. A majority was coming to a new consensus, a consensus that meant blacks were to be treated as human people instead of living objects, among other things. It was a consensus that meant the slave economy of the South and the legal institutions, which protected the property rights of slave owners, could not longer be shielded by the Federal government. In truth, the Confederate way of life was largely being outmoded by cultural changes, even though Confederates blamed Washington and tried to use armed force to subdue the consensus of a growing majority.
Assad is like Jefferson Davis in his unwillingness to accept dissatisfaction with his minority rule amid social and cultural changes. Assad, like Davis, Lee, and Jackson, chose to rely on violence rather than risk the formation of a consensus that would threaten his privileged way of life. In the US, growing nationalist movements represent the fear many Americans have of a changing world that could bring a loss of freedom and security. For some, all change is a threat. For so-called “white nationalists,” there is an attempt to divide people along racial lines in order to secure the futures of some. The empowerment and enrichment of others does not, however, have to mean a loss for those who already enjoy the benefits of society. If the goal is to actually empower individuals, conflict only serves those who seek to disempower others.
White on black racism in the US tends to evoke a great deal of public outrage due to America’s history with slavery and black disenfranchisement. Racism is, however, just a bold example of how people are divided into subcultures that compete for resources and the privileges of society instead of united to improve the lives of all through cooperation and innovation. With their strongly defined national and regional cultures, Europeans also tend to practice racism against each other. In the Middle East, racism takes a sectarian tone. Through their caste systems, countries like India take racism to a whole new level of complexity. Even blacks within the US will discriminate against each other over the darkness of their skin. Racism is as much an individual decision as a widely shared mechanism to divide and conquer. Discrimination of any form simply secures a privileged class.
Discrimination is a means to create enemies and conflict. It is human nature to form groups, from families to nations, that will ensure their survival and improve their standing in life, thus discrimination is part of human nature and, in many respects, a survival mechanism. Men like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln fought enemies to secure groups that furthered their survival and their way of life. What they did different from men like Robert E. Lee and Bashar al-Assad was fight against those who would deny others freedom and privilege to secure their own. What they did was value the power of personal freedom as means to improve everyone’s life. Instead of securing their privilege at the expense of others, they sought to secure the survival and privilege of everyone by creating an environment where that might be possible.
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