"So this week it's Robert E. Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down. I wonder, is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?" President Trump asked on August 15, 2017.
Removing Confederate memorials doesn't mean Washington and Jefferson are next, assured Jamelle Bouie of Slate at the time. "Trump's comparison there is dumb. It doesn't really even make any sense. And the notion that there's some slippery slope is dumb," he said.
The New York Times ran an article headlined "Historians Question Trump's Comments on Confederate Monuments," quoting a historian calling Trump's query a "red herring." Another historian said "the answer to Mr. Trump's hypothetical question about whether getting rid of Lee and Jackson also meant junking Washington and Jefferson was a simple 'no.'"
NPR's Steve Inskeep purported to do a "fact" "check" on President Trump's statement, opining that Trump "used one of his standard rhetorical techniques, 'whataboutism.'" His "fact" "check" concluded: "To have the president of the United States compare Lee to Washington is simply, factually wrong."
"Trump equates Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson with George Washington in bizarre press conference," opined Business Insider's Sonam Sheth. "Lee and Jackson were the leaders of the US' secessionist movement that was organized to preserve the institution of slavery. Washington and Jefferson are two of the country's most notable founders, as well as the first and third presidents," wrote Sheth, wrongly suggesting that mobs would never come for the latters' statues.
The Washington Post's Kristine Phillips wrote a piece smugly headlined, "Historians: No, Mr. President, Washington and Jefferson are not the same as Confederate generals." Not a single one of the historians Phillips chose to interview in her critique of the president could even imagine a world where mobs might tear down statues of slaveholding Founding Fathers, much less where organized protesters would secure their removal. Jim Grossman, executive director of the American Historical Association, called the suggestion "absurd" and "unacceptable for the president of the United States."
Douglas Blackmon, a senior fellow at the University of Virginia's Miller Center, said President Trump either does not understand history or was racist for worrying about the removal of Founding Father statues. "It's the difference between a monument to the founder of our nation, and a monument to a key figure in an effort to break apart the nation," Blackmon said. "The most kind explanation of that can only be ignorance, and I don't say that to insult the president."
Denver Brunsman, a history professor at George Washington University — which this week removed busts of George Washington, apparently to protect them from mobs decrying the first president as beneath contempt — was quoted saying that Washington and Jefferson should not be in any way equated with those who seceded from the union.
It was all made possible by the courage of 56 patriots who gathered in Philadelphia 244 years ago and signed the Declaration of Independence. (Applause.) They enshrined a divine truth that changed the world forever when they said: "…all men are created equal."
These immortal words set in motion the unstoppable march of freedom. Our Founders boldly declared that we are all endowed with the same divine rights — given [to] us by our Creator in Heaven. And that which God has given us, we will allow no one, ever, to take away — ever. (Applause.)
Seventeen seventy-six represented the culmination of thousands of years of western civilization and the triumph not only of spirit, but of wisdom, philosophy, and reason.
And yet, as we meet here tonight, there is a growing danger that threatens every blessing our ancestors fought so hard for, struggled, they bled to secure.
Our nation is witnessing a merciless campaign to wipe out our history, defame our heroes, erase our values, and indoctrinate our children.
AUDIENCE: Booo —
THE PRESIDENT: Angry mobs are trying to tear down statues of our Founders, deface our most sacred memorials, and unleash a wave of violent crime in our cities. Many of these people have no idea why they are doing this, but some know exactly what they are doing. They think the American people are weak and soft and submissive. But no, the American people are strong and proud, and they will not allow our country, and all of its values, history, and culture, to be taken from them. (Applause.)
AUDIENCE: USA! USA! USA!
THE PRESIDENT: One of their political weapons is "Cancel Culture" — driving people from their jobs, shaming dissenters, and demanding total submission from anyone who disagrees. This is the very definition of totalitarianism, and it is completely alien to our culture and our values, and it has absolutely no place in the United States of America. (Applause.) This attack on our liberty, our magnificent liberty, must be stopped, and it will be stopped very quickly. We will expose this dangerous movement, protect our nation's children, end this radical assault, and preserve our beloved American way of life. (Applause.)
In our schools, our newsrooms, even our corporate boardrooms, there is a new far-left fascism that demands absolute allegiance. If you do not speak its language, perform its rituals, recite its mantras, and follow its commandments, then you will be censored, banished, blacklisted, persecuted, and punished. It's not going to happen to us. (Applause.)
Make no mistake: this left-wing cultural revolution is designed to overthrow the American Revolution. In so doing, they would destroy the very civilization that rescued billions from poverty, disease, violence, and hunger, and that lifted humanity to new heights of achievement, discovery, and progress.
To make this possible, they are determined to tear down every statue, symbol, and memory of our national heritage.
Against every law of society and nature, our children are taught in school to hate their own country, and to believe that the men and women who built it were not heroes, but that were villains. The radical view of American history is a web of lies — all perspective is removed, every virtue is obscured, every motive is twisted, every fact is distorted, and every flaw is magnified until the history is purged and the record is disfigured beyond all recognition.
The philosophy of division is a philosophy that derides any notion of American unity as a lie, and bathes that which links us — Abraham Lincoln's "bonds of affection" and "mystic chords of memory" — in acid, disintegrating our ties and casting us all adrift.
I call this strain of thought "Disintegrationism."
In order to argue that America's philosophy is wrongheaded, her culture diseased, and her history evil, Disintegrationists must engage in an extraordinarily selective reading of reality. They must home in, in excruciating detail, on America's sins, which, in context, would be fine — but rob that history of all context or subsequent history. Exploitation is a feature of every human society, and repeated mistreatment by some groups of other groups is a similarly common feature. What is uncommon — indeed, unprecedented in human history — are prosperity, peace, and freedom.
It is simply undeniable that capitalism, founded on protection of property rights — the ideology of the Founding Fathers — has been uniquely successful in spreading peace and prosperity both domestically and around the globe. Since the dawn of the Enlightenment, the enshrinement of individual rights, and the advent of protection for private property — the roots of capitalism — global GDP has increased exponentially, in shocking fashion. In the year 1 BCE, global GDP amounted to $183 billion; in 1000, global GDP was approximately $210 billion; in 1500, it was still just $431 billion; in 1700, $643 billion; as of 2013, $101 trillion. That is a 15 percent increase in the first millennium, and a 15,700 percent increase from 1700 to present.
It is similarly undeniable that the spread of peace has been a direct result of American hegemony. On a year-by-year basis, international war deaths have decreased precipitously since World War II, from a high of nearly 200 deaths per 100,000 people at the end of that conflict to a low of well below 0.5 deaths per 100,000 people at the turn of the twentieth century. Global life expectancy has doubled since 1900. Furthermore, America has become the most tolerant country on earth. According to the Washington Post, a new Swedish survey found that people from the United Kingdom, America, Canada and Australia, as well as certain Latin American countries, were "most likely to embrace a racially diverse neighbor." Other European countries aren't nearly as tolerant. And none of those countries has ever elected a black man — twice — with more than 65 million votes each time, to serve as the leader of those countries
This is an emotionally resonant pitch. Traditional Americanism suggests that while our system has never been perfect, it has grown increasingly so — and this means that it should be easier to succeed today, without the obstacles of bigotry that have plagued our history, than ever before. That worldview places an awful responsibility on individuals: If you fail to succeed, you can certainly blame personal disadvantages, but it becomes difficult to blame a miasmatic, existential, systemic, flag-draped boogeyman haunting your dreams. Additional freedom means additional responsibility.
If, however, all disparity can be chalked up to the system, then personal responsibility becomes a secondary concern. Failures are no longer individual, but systemic. In fact, every failure becomes an additional brick in the wall of evidence against America.
This outlook has become a rote part of radical Democratic politics: the notion that a coalition of the supposedly oppressed must rise up and rewrite the entire nature of the American bargain. Thus Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand announces that "resistance is female, intersectional and powered by our belief in one another." Sen. Kamala Harris of California explains that identity politics shouldn't be eschewed — in fact, she argued, the phrase itself was designed to "minimize and marginalize issues that impact all of us." As former Texas Democratic representative Beto O'Rourke, the id of the Democratic Party, put it in 2019, "this is a country that has been defined by foundational systemic endemic racism since the very founding of this country."...
All of this is deeply divisive. But in the Disintegrationist view, the true anti-unity forces lie among advocates for traditional Americanism. Unity, say the Disintegrationists, can be born of opposition to the system. This is why Disintegrationists have categorized culturally unifying symbols like the American flag as inherently divisive. Kneeling for the national anthem represents more authentic unifying behavior than standing for it (Beto O'Rourke suggested, "I can think of nothing more American than to peacefully stand up, or take a knee, for your rights, anytime, anywhere, in any place"). Scientific investigation is deemed bigoted, and meritocracy itself derided as discriminatory. Belief in free markets — even opposition to nationalized health care — is evidence of America's roots in slavery. Adherence to American institutions like federalism and the Electoral College is castigated as inherently discriminatory. America's traditional reliance on reasoned conversation is itself deemed polarizing, as was seen when moderate opinion editor Bari Weiss resigned from The New York Times, accusing the paper of squashing any ideas that diverge from a left-wing orthodoxy....