“I was talking about people that went because they felt very strongly about the monument to Robert E. Lee, a great general . . . Whether you like it or not, he was one of the great generals. I have spoken to many generals here, right at the White House, and many people thought — of the generals, they think that he was maybe their favorite general.” -President Trump
Donald Trump literally said the above. It’s not a misprint and he’s not being taken out of context. That was President Trump’s defense to being accused of equating neo-Nazis with those who protested them.
Question: Why did Trump, a President of the United States, laud Robert E. Lee?
Answer: Because Donald Trump has no problem pandering to white supremacists. This isn’t the first time and it won’t be the last.
Republicans used to like to brag about being the party of Lincoln. Abraham Lincoln of course was a Republican. But can you imagine Abraham Lincoln uttering any of the myriad of hateful things that Trump has uttered? Can you imagine Lincoln taking the political positions that Republicans take nowadays? Of course not.
Abraham Lincoln was someone who said: “Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves.” He also said: “Whenever I hear anyone arguing for slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally.” Finally, and of important note today, Lincoln said: “As a nation, we began by declaring that ‘all men are created equal.’ We now practically read it ‘all men are created equal, except negroes.’ When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read ‘all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics.’ When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty – to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy.” Abraham Lincoln cherished freedom and liberty, to put it mildly.
Now let’s discuss Robert E. Lee. On the plus side, Lee eventually denounced slavery after the Civil War was over. On the minus side, he led the secessionist army, inflicted countless casualties (read: deaths), and opposed racial equality. This is not to say that Robert E. Lee does not have a place in our nation’s history. He absolutely does. He should be studied in history books and displayed in museums. But deification? Statues? No.
Robert E. Lee is no hero and he never was, at least to the side of justice and equality. He was a brutal slave owner who broke up families, jailed those who demanded their freedom, and there are conflicting reports of Lee’s whipping slaves who tried to escape. He was also a war tactician, but one who did not exactly value human life.
Now Robert E. Lee was good at making war by most accounts, but does that make him someone to be upheld? Especially now, or at any time since the fall of the Confederate States Army? No. The truth is that Robert E. Lee was a traitor, the worst kind of American there is. Some will say that he was initially against secession before the war, but let’s just agree that he didn’t do much to stop it. Robert E. Lee led the rebel forces of his home state of Virginia against the Union Army.
Those defending Robert E. Lee or the Confederate States Army, or the Confederate flag for that matter, claim that it’s about Southern pride and Southern identity. Unfortunately for them, there are a few other s-words more commonly associated with Robert E. Lee and the Confederacy: Slavery, Secession, and thereafter, Segregation.
The Republicans, led by Donald Trump and his unbelievable defense of the “very fine people on both sides” remark, have now hitched their wagon to Robert E. Lee. How ironic that a party that was once the party of Lincoln is now the party of his most famous adversary. However, it’s not just ironic, it’s fitting for a Republican leadership that has either willingly joined Trump or been unwilling to distance itself from him.
I’ll end this with a quick story. Several years ago I went to visit a childhood friend of mine who had moved to South Carolina. Everybody was nice to me there but I started to notice something. What was the deal with all the Confederate flags hoisted from restaurant roofs and the Confederate flag at on state capital lawn? My friend responded that, based on his time living there, those flags were the new “No people of color allowed” signs. Really? “Yes,” he responded, “South Carolina: First state to secede, last to give up hope.”