#Charlottesville: Divide, not unite

We now have the second side to the “both sides” dichotomy of #Charlottesville that President Trump tried to sell us on.

“The same moderates who condemn the hate that came to Charlottesville one month ago fetishize the legacy of Jefferson, and imagine him as our collective moral compass. We cannot create a hierarchy within white supremacy,” an unidentified speaker said, as reported by the Daily Progress, at a rally of  about 100 UVA students, professors and community members last night, that in addition to that interesting line in the sand also included the placement of a tarp on a statue of Thomas Jefferson on Grounds, along with signs proclaiming him a “racist” and “rapist.”

Leading to the question: is #Charlottesville what Trump claimed it was all along?

Think back to what the president had to say so controversially on the subject post-#Charlottesville, back at that oddly contentious Aug. 15 press conference, in which he deflected legitimate issues raised with the location of statues in Charlottesville and locations across the country commemorating Confederate Civil War leaders by playing the “who’s next?” card.

“How about Thomas Jefferson? What do you think of Thomas Jefferson? You like him? OK, good. Are we going to take down his statue? Because he was a major slaveowner. Are we going to take down his statue?” Trump sneered at the assembled media, trying desperately, it seemed, to take the heat off the white nationalists who were trying to use the Confederate statue removal issue as a white power rallying point.

The president, as we all know, was called out for the pathetic obvious effort at whitewashing, almost universally decried for dog-whistling to Nazis and other race-baiters that he had their backs, to proceed, basically, with the race-baiting.

How wrong is he now?

It’s not a coincidence that last night was the one-month anniversary of the Aug. 12 Unite the Right rally. The protesters made it clear that they want to link the two events.

“We can and must condemn the violence of one month ago and simultaneously recognize Jefferson as a rapist, racist and slave owner,” the speaker at last night’s rally said. “The visibility of physical violence from white supremacists should not take our attention away from condemning and disrupting more respectable racists that continue to control the structures that perpetuate institutional racism.”

Which is to say, all this talk about unity in the aftermath of the ugly events of Aug. 12, and the night before, at the now-infamous Tiki Torch rally, with images of entitled mostly young men bringing to life the Leni Riefenstahl propaganda film library, was nothing more than fog of war.

That unity, or desire for it, anyway, is now being exploited to ends that few, moderate fetishists or otherwise, would ever endorse.

It is not at question that Thomas Jefferson owned slaves, as did George Washington and many others among the leaders of this nation dating back to its founding.

Countless others stood idly by after emancipation as Jim Crow laws were codified to a point where the newly-freed slaves and their descendants were held in a state of near-bondage for another 100 years.

Women were also legally treated as second-class citizens into the 20th century, denied, chief among other things, the right to vote.

Women, African-Americans, Latino immigrants, the LGBTQ+ community, to this day, have to fight, scratch and claw to achieve in their lives the words that Jefferson set to paper 241 years ago.

There is not nearly enough tarp can cover that ongoing reality.

But it is also an ongoing reality that progress is forever incremental, and far from linear.

Viewed through the lens of the 21st century, Thomas Jefferson is a hypocrite for writing about all men being created equal when he himself owned slaves, and would later father children by one of his slaves.

Abraham Lincoln, the Great Emancipator, was not so much a moral crusader, or pointedly, was not at all a moral crusader, but rather a political realist, trying to win a war and preserve a Union at the moment in disarray.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, who led us through depression and war, also signed off on the Japanese-American internment camps.

Lyndon Johnson, who pushed the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act through Congress, was also an unabashed racist.

Martin Luther King Jr., the Baptist preacher led the civil rights movement, plagiarized portions of his doctoral dissertation and engaged in numerous extramarital affairs.

If we’re going to tarp over the legacy of Jefferson because he owned slaves, there is no legacy that will stand the moral purity test.

Climb the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to place signs labeling him a “racist” and “opportunist.”

The World War II Memorial facing that one is a complete sham. Some war against fascism, considering the situation back at home.

The Washington Monument: a monument to a slaveholder who led a Revolution that freed white male property owners only.

And every Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, Street and Boulevard, and the national holiday in his name, honors the immoral man who led a moral crusade.

See how that works?

None of us is pure, so if purity is a requirement in terms of whether the contributions of a particular historical figure to our social and cultural progress are worthy of recognition, well, you can see where that will go.

But the protesters weren’t actually trying to make moral purity the end here. Their goal was similar to that of the white nationalists who saw the pending removal of the Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson statues as an opportunity.

And look at what the white nationalists got for their troubles: an endorsement from a sitting POTUS, plus endless TV and media coverage of their hateful, bigoted worldview, exposure that they hope will bring more of what they consider the fellow-minded to come out of the woodwork to join their movement.

Last night’s protest was a PR stunt with similar aims, in this case drawing lines in the sand aimed at cowing sympathetic white Americans into supporting their black nationalist cause, at risk of being labeled racists if they don’t.

That the PR stunt has failed to gain any traction in the media has as much to do with poor planning as anything else. Basically, if you want CNN, FoxNews and the New York Times, all you have to do is text them, with a press release guaranteeing the presence of counter-protesters, and thus images sure to resonate thereafter, in a follow-up email.

This still being 2017, though, we can still consider the message sent, however awkwardly, and so now the battle lines are drawn.

The white nationalists want you to believe that monuments to traitors erected to remind the world that the Civil War would never really be over and done with are actually just monuments to valorous men who fought for their homeland.

The black nationalists want you to believe that monuments to Founding Fathers who in the name of Revolution breathed to life the concept of modern humanity are actually just monuments to those who held black slaves as personal property.

There was a mad rush to condemn the white nationalists on Aug. 12, and the president thereafter, for his effort to make the events of #Charlottesville about “both sides.”

Now that we have the second side, hate speech is hate speech, right?

Column by Chris Graham

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