Liberals and Democrats have widely criticized President Donald Trump and joined in the efforts to remove Confederate monuments following the events — and Trump’s first remarks — in Charlottesville, Va., last weekend. Polling and reporting suggest this might have been a huge mistake, however.
“I want them to talk about racism every day,” Breitbart CEO Steve Bannon told the liberal magazine The American Prospect. “If the left is focused on race and identity, and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the Democrats.”
Bannon’s trust in “economic nationalism” might be overly optimistic, but polling backs up the idea that Democrats are falling into a trap on the issue of Confederate monuments.
According to an NPR/PBS News/Marist poll taken this month, a whopping 62 percent of Americans said “statues honoring leaders of the Confederacy” should “remain as a historical symbol.” Only 27 percent said these statues should “be removed because they are offensive to some people,” while 11 percent said they were unsure.
This does not mean Americans support white supremacy or the alt-right, however. A full 86 percent said they disagree with the white supremacy movement, while 73 percent said they disagree with white nationalists and 48 percent said they disagree with the alt-right (35 percent said they were unsure, suggesting Americans don’t know a lot about the movement).
More Democrats supported removing the statues (47 percent) than keeping them (44 percent), but both Republicans and independents strongly favored preserving them. A whopping 86 percent of Republicans favored keeping the monuments, along with 61 percent of independents.
Interestingly, even African Americans favored keeping the statues (44 percent) over removing them (40 percent), while both whites (67 percent) and Latinos (65 percent) strongly supported keeping them.
Unsurprisingly, whites without a college degree — Trump’s strongest base — fervently supported the statues, with 75 percent saying they should remain.
Only a few groups actually supported removing the statues more than preserving them, and each of these groups is firmly on the Left. Opponents of the statues include those who disapprove of Trump (47 percent for removing, 39 percent for preserving), those who identified as “very liberal” or “liberal” (57 percent for removing, 31 percent for preserving), and strong Democrats (57 percent for removing, 34 percent for preserving).
In other words, opposition to Confederate monuments is an unpopular position, held primarily and almost exclusively on the Left. It may unify Democrats against Trump, but it will also divide all other Americans against them.
In the same poll, most Americans — besides Republicans and Tea Party supporters — said President Trump’s response to the violence in Charlottesville was “not strong enough.” But this poll took place the day after Charlottesville, and most respondents were contacted before Trump’s second statement, which more firmly denounced white supremacists.
Trump muddled his response to the violence, but a few of his comments over the past week struck a chord. When he asked “where does it stop?” when it comes to removing Confederate monuments, he unleashed a firestorm that played right into his hands.
Liberals demanded the removal of far more than just Confederate symbols: One black pastor in Chicago has called for excising George Washington’s name from public parks, VICE magazine (jokingly?) called for blowing up Mount Rushmore, and one particularly ignorant protester vandalized a statue of Joan of Arc in New Orleans, La.
Trump has positioned himself opposite such vandalism. He has called Confederate monuments “beautiful statues” that reflect “our nation’s history and culture.”
Andrew Young, a Democratic former UN ambassador, warned that the monuments are “a distraction” for his party, the Associated Press (AP) reported. He told reporters it is “too costly to refight the Civil War.”
Other Democrats agreed. Boyd Brown, a former state lawmaker in South Carolina and onetime member of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), told the AP that Democrats might be right to criticize Trump’s remarks, but warned that every time they do, it distracts from important issues.
“He tweets something crazy, we react — and we’re not wrong,” Brown said. Even so, “we have to talk about a lack of jobs and education in poor districts, voter suppression laws. Ask why Medicaid funding is always the target. And then explain how all those things hurt more than just African-Americans.”
The AP’s Bill Barrow argued that Hillary Clinton lost to Donald Trump partially because she “concentrated so much on Trump’s deficiencies and outlandish statements that her own policy proposals received less attention.” By dominating the airwaves by directing all attention on him, Trump has been able to “prevent [Democrats] from getting out their own messages.”
“As horrifying as what the president has said is, you have to have an affirmative agenda,” Brian Fallon, a former spokesman for Clinton’s campaign, told the AP. Even so, he argued, “Sometimes it’s important to take a stand regardless of electoral impacts.”
Fallon suggested that attacking Trump on such issues may harm Democrats politically, but he claimed it is the right course for them to take, regardless. He drew attention to Clinton’s speech against the alt-right last year, warning that white nationalists rose alongside Trump’s campaign.
Andrew Gillum, mayor of Tallahassee, Fla., and a candidate for governor, has called for monuments to be moved to museums or cemeteries. Gillum, as a black Democrat, suggested his party should claim “these monuments have been weaponized.”
Jeh Johnson, President Obama’s former Homeland Security secretary, said the removal of Confederate monuments is “not a matter of political correctness, that’s a matter of public safety and homeland security.”
But Johnson undercut his own argument by suggesting local leaders should choose whether or not statues should be removed. If Confederate monuments were truly a threat to national security, the federal government would have to step in. Violent riots will happen with or without the monuments, as those inspired by Black Lives Matter showed during the last few years.
Some, like AP’s Bill Barrow, compared former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley’s removal of the battle flag of Northern Virginia (commonly known as “the Confederate flag”) from the statehouse to the removal of Confederate monuments. South Carolina removed the flag after white supremacist Dylan Roof killed innocents at a Bible study in a black church in 2015.
But Haley herself, now the U.S. ambassador to the UN, drove a wedge between the two issues in an interview with ABC News on Tuesday.
As for the battle flag, “it was the state that decided,” Haley told ABC News. “The Confederate flag was a living, breathing thing … and there was no place for that, especially when we say nine people murdered with the killer raising up the Confederate flag, so that’s why we brought it down.”
“When the issue of monuments came up in South Carolina at the same time, we knew that we couldn’t take down every monument, or change every street sign, or change the name of every university, because there’s history all throughout South Carolina,” Haley explained. “But instead, what we did is, we worked with the mayor of Charleston to work on building an African memorial, and an African museum.”
“It’s not just about what you take down, it’s about what you proactively do to lift up your state and lift up your country,” Haley declared.
That powerful response — don’t remove the monuments, but put up more monuments to commemorate former slaves, black pioneers, and inspiring figures who were overlooked in history — encourages the country to heal. Rather than a divisive call to tear down history, Haley presented an inspiring suggestion, to elevate historical figures which bring Americans together.
So long as Democrats insist on tearing down the past, Americans will find themselves opposed to the “progressive” party. Liberals continue to demand the removal of Confederate monuments at their own peril. Ironically, by demanding the erasing of history, they may find themselves on the “wrong side” of it.
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