Opinions Live with Eugene Robinson: Remove all Confederate monuments

Jun 23, 2020

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Hello, everybody, and welcome to our weekly chat. Well, we have the usual five- or six-ring circus underway today. President Trump is on his way to another couple of maskless campaign events, this time in Arizona, where covid-19 cases and hospitalizations are spiking. Dr. Fauci et al are testifying on covid before the House. Governors in Florida and Texas are scrambling to contain their covid spikes. This afternoon, funeral services will be held for Rayshard Brooks, the young man shot dead in a Wendy's parking lot by Atlanta police. Protests continue, including in D.C., where police just cleared much of Black Lives Matter Plaza of demonstrators; last night, a futile attempt was made to pull down the statue of Andrew Jackson in Lafayette Square. For reference, today's column is about what to do with all the Confederate monuments that mar the nation's landscape. My solution: Remove them. All of them. Those who say "you're erasing history" have it backwards. The monuments were erected for the sole purpose of erasing the true history of the Civil War and its aftermath. We need no monuments to traitors who took up arms against their country to defend their "right" to perpetuate slavery. Let's get started.

The right projects the teardown of Washington, Jefferson statues with those of the Rebels. It makes those taking them down look really bad, and they play the two side coin, if you aren't for us...... How do Dems counter that narrative? Could they get out and say that we support our founding fathers, or does that provide risk in the election?

It's not hard or controversial to say we should honor the founders of this nation while recognizing and condemning their embrace of slavery. And it's not hard to point out the difference between them and the Confederates who tried to destroy the union.

Whereas much of German citizenry was at least complicit with Naziism, post WWII Germans have atoned for generations. There are no statues to Hitler, no Nazi flags flying in Berlin. How did they get it right, while the descendants of the losers of the US Civil War continue to speak of heritage, history, and pride in the actions of their ancestors? If history is written by the winners, how did the Union let this one slip away?

Shelves of books have been written to answer your question. Basically, the victorious Union was all too willing to let Southerners reestablish their repression of African Americans -- and cultivate the false "Lost Cause" narrative of the Civil War. Reconstruction was strangled in its crib.

Hello Mr. Robinson: Rightly so, the deaths of George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks have compelled people to protest and demand change. Their deaths have been in the forefront of the news. But what about Breonna Taylor's death? Doesn't her death warrant the same uprising in the name of justice? Shouldn't her death, in her own home, be considered as repugnant and illegal as those of those of Floyd and Brooks? These comments from a news report from CNBC: "Kentucky's attorney general on Thursday asked the public to remain patient with his office's investigation of the police killing of Breonna Taylor. "Taylor, who was Black, died after being shot eight times by cops during a no-knock search warrant raid on her Louisville home. "No charges have been filed in the case, three months after she was killed. Police have been charged in killings in Minneapolis and Atlanta of George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks, respectively'' Thank you.

In my limited experience -- I've been out to cover some of the demonstrations in Washington -- Breonna Taylor's death is not being forgotten. Perhaps we hear less about it because there's no cellphone video of the atrocity. But people remember, and they are demanding justice.

Quaker Foods has announced plans to do away with the "Aunt Jemima" brand. But the family of Lillian Richard, who was the model for the product, apparently objects. Queen Latifah dismisses "Gone With the Wind," entirely but I find myself wondering how Hattie McDaniel's heirs might feel. Get rid of "Gone with the Wind", and one also loses the powerful story that includes the fact that Ms.McDaniel, who won an Oscar for her performance, was not allowed to attend the premiere, had to sit in a segregated section during the Oscars ceremony, and was only allowed to stay in the hotel "as a favor." How to balance all this out?

I've never been a huge fan of "Gone With the Wind" but I have nothing but respect for Hattie McDaniel and cannot imagine what her struggle was like to survive and succeed in Hollywood. But as for Aunt Jemima -- and Uncle Ben, and the guy on the Cream of Wheat box -- my question is how such stereotypes survived so long. I'm afraid I have no fondness for these images whatsoever and am glad to see them go.

Tear 'em down. Now, what about slave holding Presidents GW and TJ, the political and military founders of this country? I, for one, would be strongly opposed, despite hating racism, and being a minority person.

Look, if you're going to have any monuments in this country at all, you're going to honor the guy who wrote the Declaration of Independence and the guy who won the Revolutionary War. I have no problem with that whatsoever, as long as we acknowledge their vile and hypocritical ownership of slaves.

I agree with you about the Confederate statues. I was raised in the south and am acutely aware of what they stand for. But you seem to let Washington and Jefferson off too easy. Shouldn’t their memorials be turned into lessons about their active participation in slavery? So for example everyone who sees the Jefferson memorial knows both sides of him?

More context is definitely needed. But even if Jefferson didn't really mean the beautiful words he wrote -- "All men are created equal" -- they have been used to make this still-deeply-flawed nation a more perfect union.

Bill Barr's ever escalating Roy Cohn routine seems to now be crossing bright lines of illegality. If he ordered the teargassing of lawfully assembled protesters (as has been alleged), that sure sounds like a criminal violation of their civil rights (a felony punishable by jail time). And if anyone uttered a word to him about investigations into Giuliani or Halkbank/Erdogan, then the botched Friday night massacre sure appears to be obstruction of justice. This is the kind of "legal" work Trump got from his stooges like Michael Cohen (currently in jail, btw). Is Barr out of his mind?

I wish I knew what, if anything, is going on inside William Barr's head. I really do. He is acting not as attorney general but as the president's personal lawyer-fixer, and that's a betrayal of all that Barr claims to stand for.

Trump and his allies are just digging themselves in deeper and deeper. I'm maybe a natural pessimist, and not optimistic about Biden's chances in the election. He seems so below-the-radar, while Trump's side seems to be rigging the election process everywhere, and the guy has, incredibly, 82 million Twitter followers. My god, he uses them to take credit for every piddling DOT grant for highway construction. Has he time for anything else? Does a bot tweet for him? Maybe 81.9 million are 'following' for the amusement value, but I see them as 'likes'. Scares the hell out of me. Still I have hope, and worry about how Trump et al, having dug in so deeply, might act in the days leading up to the election and following a defeat. What might we expect, and is there any way to prepare?

If Biden is flying under the radar, more candidates should try his technique -- every poll shows him widening his lead over President Trump. But of course take nothing for granted. If Trump loses, he will wail and moan and scream about "voter fraud" -- but then state election officials will certify the results, the Electoral College will cast its votes, and Trump will leave office next January 20. If, and only if, people make the effort to vote.

If Trump manages to snake his way into a second term (let us pray that doesn't happen), can the Democrats in the House impeach him a second time for other crimes he has committed while in office? Also, if Trump loses (please make it so), can the state and federal courts come after him for crimes he has committed while not in office such as tax evasion, etc.?

To your first question: The House could impeach Trump as many times as it wanted. To your second: Yes, depending on whether the statute of limitations has expired (or is ruled to have expired; long story).

At one point I thought racism would end or mostly end because the racists would die off. Now at age 70, that doesn't seem realistic. Is age even a factor? Are these younger people protesting the ones who can root out racism, starting with the police, or is that just a dream?

I don't think the generation now coming of age will magically eliminate racism. But I know that this generation did grow up at a time of growing diversity, and I believe they will move the ball substantially toward the goal line.

I agree it is hard to say that one gathering is okay, and another is not. But to ignore that one is indoors and the other outside is equivalent seems misleading. Why don’t they rally on a football field or hay field?

Judging by Tulsa, if Trump wants the big crowds he had in 2016, he's going to have to stage outdoor events. Not all of his aging supporters are willing to risk their lives to bask in his presence...

I'm convinced that in a fair election, Trump will lose. Yes, I know it's still five months away, and polls will narrow, and something unexpected could happen. But it's not like he's going to get any better at his job or become less racist and belligerent. It's not like there are going to be fewer people dead of coronavirus, or that systemic racism will be solved, or the economy completely recovers. My concern is that Trump and McConnell and Putin and Barr and various Republican secretaries of state will conspire to steal the election. How likely do you think it is they can get away with it, and what should be done to stop it?

That's the vital question: How can we insure a free and fair election? The answer is that we have to wage battle towards that end at every level -- national, state and local. The ability to cast mail-in ballots and the availability of sufficient Election Day polling places are key. If Democrats can win those battles, I believe they win the election.

I cannot believe more attention has not been paid to the CONTENT of Trump's speech Saturday versus the small crowd. I only tuned in to see the spectacle, and it was astoundingly bad. I have watched part of his speeches before, and there is always something reprehensible, but never before have I felt so scared. It was deluded ramblings, with no coherent thread (he can actually speak effectively at times, otherwise we would not be here). It is almost as if people are not calling attention to it to save face and protect the US--the fact that our enemies could watch that and plot with glee is truly terrifying. People better vote and save us!

That speech was indeed worse than usual, but I've heard others that were nearly as bad. If you record his words and transcribe them on paper, it's gibberish. The Tulsa audience, frankly, at times looked pretty bored. (Sad trombone music.)

If we could only win the White House or the Senate Majority, which would be more important? I think a case could be made for either.

If you can have only one, take the White House. But go for both.

Hi Eugene, How are you? I saw an interview that you did with Brian Williams and James Carville on MSNBC several weeks ago. I really enjoyed the interview and you guys appear to have great rapport. One topic that you guys covered during the interview was really interesting - the ads that Lincoln Project guys were putting out. Carville suggested that Dems. could learn a lot from the Project Lincoln guys about how to create campaign ads. I agree with him - those ads are great and they really seem to get under Trump's skin. Do you agree with Carville and if yes, why don't you think Dems tend to go for these types of attacks on their opponents?

I've written about this occasionally, including in a recent column. Democrats tend to target voters' intellect. Republicans tend to go for the heart and the gut. There is indeed much that Democrats could learn from those brilliant Lincoln Project ads, which hit like a hammer.

As you and many others have commented, the multi-racial and multi-generational composite of the protesters is extremely encouraging. Do you think the young, in particular, will translate this into actually voting, in large enough numbers to make a real impact? BTW - your latest columns on Racism in America have been both enlightening and poignant. Thank you for your voice.

That's one reason to pay attention to today's primary results. I'll be looking to see if young turnout is bigger than normal. If it is, there will be panic in GOP circles.

John Heilemann characterized it as "Tulsa Trump is the new Fat Elvis" and Steve Schmidt dubbed it as the "Emptysburgh Address" - it's close, but I think I have to go with Heilmemann. Your thoughts?

I'm going to go with Mike Barnicle's description (on Morning Joe) of Trump's sad late-night walk from the helicopter into the White House. He said the president looked like Willy Loman in "Death of a Salesman."

Along with many others, I've been watching the video of Trump walking from Marine One to the White House Saturday Night, and in particular I'm struck by the still photo. As a reality TV star, a showman, a conman, a snake oil salesman, someone who cares a lot about how things look on television, I would have expected him to polish up before getting off the helicopter. (How could his staff let him walk out the door looking so disheveled? That alone should get someone fired.) He knows cameras will be there, how hard would it have been to tie his tie and comb his hair? Is he really as destroyed as he looks to be in the picture and the video?

That was such a striking moment because we simply don't see Trump like this. He is so curatorial about his image. It stuns me that he allowed himself to be captured on video in such a beaten-down, disheveled state. It made me wonder about his health.

Based upon the current toxic police culture and the lack of adequate training, why isn’t more emphasis being placed upon establishing an accreditation agency to ensure best practices are adhere to in policing? The training of police officers should definitely be longer than six to twelve months. For example, doctors, nurses, lawyers, teachers, child care workers, and every other profession require extensive training and certification. Why not for police officers who have been authorized to use deadly force?

There should be more training and there should be consistent standards and policies about the use of deadly force. The House wants to move meaningfully in this direction. The Senate and the president do not.

For a guy who eked out an electoral college win by a scant 60,000 votes scattered over 3 states, it seems like election malpractice for Trump to continue to make statements that drive away yet more voters from his shrinking base. Does he somehow think there are Trump voters who didn't turn out last time? Obviously that wasn't the case in the midterms. Or is it that he's a 74 year old one-trick pony, incapable of change or reaching out? Sometimes I swear he's trying to lose.

You ask a smart question and I don't know the answer. I think you may be right that he's intent on rerunning the 2016 campaign. It's always a mistake to fight the last war rather than the next one.


Regrettably, that's all for today, folks. I need to duck out a few minutes early. Thanks so much for participating, and I'll see you again next week!

In This Chat
Eugene Robinson
Eugene Robinson is an Associate Editor and twice-weekly columnist for The Washington Post. His column appears on Tuesdays and Fridays. In a 25-year career at The Post, Robinson has been city hall reporter, city editor, foreign correspondent in Buenos Aires and London, foreign editor, and assistant managing editor in charge of the paper's award-winning Style section. In 2009, he received the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary for his columns on the 2008 presidential campaign that focus on the election of the first African-American president. In 2005, he started writing a column for the Op-Ed page. He is the author of "Disintegration: The Splintering of Black America" (2010), "Coal to Cream: A Black Man's Journey Beyond Color to an Affirmation of Race" (1999) and "Last Dance in Havana" (2004). Robinson lives with his wife and two sons in Arlington.
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