North and South

There’s a readable article in Slavery in the North. Here’s the first couple of sentences:

African slavery is so much the outstanding feature of the South, in the unthinking view of it, that people often forget there had been slaves in all the old colonies. Slaves were auctioned openly in the Market House of Philadelphia; in the shadow of Congregational churches in Rhode Island; in Boston taverns and warehouses; and weekly, sometimes daily, in Merchant’s Coffee House of New York.

And there is an article in The Conversation about the removal of the statue at the centre of the Charlottesville controversy.

The meeting of white supremacists in Charlottesville was originally held under the pretext of demonstrating against plans to remove the statue. The Charlottesville city council voted in February for it to be removed from the recently renamed Emancipation Park (formerly Lee Park). The decision came as part of a movement to challenge the ubiquity of Confederate symbols in the South.

On 15th August, Politico published a transcript of President Trump’s address on infrastructure given at a news conference at Trump Tower, and the interview with reporters that followed it. Among other things, the reporters asked about Charlottesville.

I read the transcript and I noted how Trump was at pains to be even handed, to criticise everyone who behaved badly, irrespective of labels. And then I think back to one of his rallies when he talked to the crowd following a disturbance and lamented how in days gone by the offender would have been taken around the back and shown a little discipline. I think he made a fist when he was talking, but my memory may be playing tricks with me.

So I understand his point, that we can’t airbrush people out of history (well you could in Stalinist Russia, but that’s another story), and we can’t remove the heroes of yesterday without sanitising our view of ourselves.

Well, yes, maybe. But society is a fluid thing. It moves on, and this event of renaming the park and taking down the statue is exactly that – moving on.

Trump makes the point that the protesters from the Right had a permit to be there and the anti-protest protesters from the Left did not. And he dislikes ‘fake’ bleeding-heart liberals, and he has made no secret of that.

But somewhere in the narrative of being even handed and getting beyond the rhetoric to the truth of the matter, he fails to condemn a group that wants to use (and uses) violence to subvert freedom and inclusiveness. And he is OK with that. He will tell you he did condemn them the day before – and he did. But when he goes back to being ‘even handed’ as though it is a badge of honour to see all sides in all situations, my feeling is that he is being supremely disingenuous and knows exactly to which choir he is preaching.