As a quick reminder for those who may have dozed off during American history class, Grant was the brilliantly bold general of the Union Army who engineered the defeat of the Confederacy and ended the Civil War in 1865.
In 1869, he was elected the 18th president of the United States, and during his two terms in office aggressively pursued policies to establish and ensure equal rights for former slaves — including using military force to hunt down and exterminate the Ku Klux Klan that erupted early in the Reconstruction era.
The mob in San Francisco directed its sanctimonious fury on the Grant monument because it selectively focused on Grant’s very brief and reluctant history as a slave holder.
Grant owned one slave, an unrequested gift from his father-in-law. He freed that slave a year later at great personal cost; he was virtually bankrupt at the time and could have sold the slave for a large sum of money.
In the continuing rage following the police killing of George Floyd, puritanical political correctness has targeted other monuments to “imperfect” U.S. historical figures, such as President Theodore Roosevelt and abolitionist Matthias Baldwin — both accused of “colonialism.”
Given the new, high hurdle for historical moral purity there may be few monuments left standing in America. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson and Woodrow Wilson, among others, will all fall far short of acceptable virtue. Mount Rushmore may have to be dynamited to appease the sensibilities of the politically pious.
While involuntary servitude, regardless of historical context, is a wicked inhumanity, applying today’s moralities to people who lived during a far different time can be an exercise in self-righteous anachronisms. In his lifetime, Grant did more for black Americans than have any of the wanton rabble who tore down his statue in San Francisco.
Wanting to remove public monuments to Confederate luminaries is reasonable given that the Confederate states initiated war against the United States, mainly to preserve and extend an economic system sustained by slavery.
Monuments to people who supported such selfish evil and fought and killed Americans to do so are as abhorrently incongruous with America’s fundamental values as would be monuments to Adolf Hitler or Osama bin Laden.
But, frenzied malicious destruction of monuments won’t end systemic racism any more than will looting and burning. Changing the mindsets of millions of people is what ends racism. Pitchforks and torches are a crude form of politics that will more likely disaffect people than win them over.
And, the more troubling problem with revolution by rabble, is friendly fire. Anyone, including allies and even fellow insurgents, can be condemned as enemies of the revolution — a fatal lesson learned by Maximilien Robespierre, Leon Trotsky and many others.
Just as the BLM revolution quickly expanded its righteous fury beyond Confederate monuments to include monuments to anyone not clearing an arbitrary moral hurdle, living, breathing, human beings also become targets of judgmental scrutiny.
Say the wrong thing, don’t take a knee upon demand or show insufficient enthusiasm for the cause, and you can be put on the enemies list — shouted down, pelted with insults and carted off to the guillotine.
This is not how a civil society behaves or how a well-ordered democratic republic should work. But is ours either?
While the frustration with America’s corrupt, incompetent and politically paralyzed government is understandable, it has precipitated desperate, and sometimes spiteful, circumventions of normal politics, like electing a demagogic blustering buffoon to the presidency, or filling the nation’s streets with outraged throngs demanding better. Better meaning adherence to the nation’s founding principles of justice and equality under the law, and honest, responsive government.
But, if we Americans don’t reject the ideological radicalism that spins every issue to the extremes of a left/right political axis, we will simply wind up with a “meet the new boss same as the old boss” situation. We won’t get better.
Americans have proven that we can come to our senses and make major changes relatively quickly to correct long-entrenched social evils.
Less than 10 years ago, what were the odds for gay rights, including marriage, and for legalized marijuana? What are today’s odds of rehabilitating government, ending systemic racism and getting the police under control?
We determine those odds.
The current national awakening and explosive outrage ignited by the George Floyd fuse, is another instance of America coming to its senses and moving to correct a lingering, festering social evil.
Meanwhile, all the noise coming from the wacky right and loony left is to be expected, but doesn’t have to be tolerated. Leave them to strap on their tin-foil hats while we move on.
The vast majority of Americans are decent people; rational, fair and caring — but occasionally they need a good kick in the ass to get things done.
That kick has been delivered this year. The mishandling of the deadly coronavirus pandemic by the clearly incompetent, dishonest President Donald Trump, and the undeniable evidence of persisting racism illuminated by pervasive police power abuse have delivered that kick.
Tearing down monuments and vandalizing property is not only unnecessary, it is counterproductive. There is a distinct difference between a movement and a mob.
— Randy Alcorn is a Santa Barbara political observer. Contact him at email@example.com, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.