On Confederate Statues

A statue of Robert E. Lee

 

In the past, I have defended the continued existence of the Confederate monuments.  My reasoning has been that they promote dialogue within a community and teach valuable lessons about that failed rebellion. However, I have come to realize that I can’t square their continued existence with my logic as it pertains to the Confederate Battle Flag.

My primary argument for the removal of the Confederate Battle Flag from government property was (and is) as follows: we must judge a symbol by the worst thing it represents.  We can only judge the inherent goodness of a symbol as far as that symbol allows us.  The problem we face is that this judgement will always be subjective.

For example, we venerate other slave owners in this country. We have slave owners on our $1, $2, $20, $50, and $100 bills. But, in the case of some of those men, George Washington for example, we don’t judge them for slave owning. That’s because slave owning doesn’t define their reason for veneration.

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Washington, Jefferson, Jackson, Grant, and Franklin all owned slaves at some point.

There comes a time when you have to accept that slavery was simply a part of the culture.

 

Why, then, do we venerate Confederate leaders?  Is it because they represent the fight against federalism?  The fight for the right of the individual over the collective?  The right of the state over the nation? Sure, you can say that.  But, you have to ask yourself why.  Why did Confederate leaders fight for states’ rights?  Why did they fight for the cause of anti-federalism?  The answer is simple  – to continue the practice of slavery.

There’s an oft-quoted line by Robert E. Lee that goes as follows: “Slavery, as an institution, is a moral and political evil.”  This is used to show that Lee, although a slave owner, viewed the casus belli of the Civil War to truly be one of states’ rights and not slavery.  What is ignored, however, is what else is included in Lee’s 1856 letter to his wife, from which that quote is drawn.  Lee also states that he believes that “slavery is a greater evil to the white race than to the colored race,” and that “blacks are better off [in America] than in Africa.”  Lee might not sound like a cookie cutter southern racist but he does sound like a prototypical African colonialist.  Indeed, if one were to study Lee’s beliefs, they’d see that Lee believed that it was necessary to civilize the Africans and that forced servitude may be necessary to accomplish that.  He didn’t like slavery, true, but he found it a useful tool.  He is emblematic of the phrase “White Man’s Burden.”

So, the question becomes, should we destroy the monuments? No.  We shouldn’t.  The Department of Veterans Affairs operates a number of Confederate Cemeteries.  The Department of the Interior operates hundreds of Civil War battlefields.  We have plenty of places to put these statues. These locations will ensure that the dialogue they create will be done within the correct context: an education of the past.  After all, that’s what the Confederacy is: the Past.  The South needs to stop pining for the past and look forward.

America and the Irish

St. Patrick’s Day, and the week leading up to it, is a chance to showcase America’s obsession with all things Irish.  Irish culture, or at least the Americanized caricature of Irish culture, is one of the most recognized European cultures in the cultural melting pot of the United States.

That wasn’t always the case, however. The Irish were once one of the most despised ethnic groups in this country. This was a cultural more that had carried over from the United Kingdom. To explain that, I must give a briefing on English history.

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Henry VIII

That briefing involves one of the, arguably, most famous monarchs in English history – Henry VIII.  Most of what is known about Henry is in regards to his famous penchant for , ahem, removing his wives from the equation. However, Henry’s main contribution to English history is the foundation of the Anglican Church, which is the official state church of the United Kingdom and all of its dependencies. Henry founded the Anglican Church mainly so he could divorce his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. In 1527, he requested of Pope Clement VII an annulment of his marriage to Catherine.  The Pope, citing church doctrine, denied this request. This lead Henry to officially break with Rome on all matters of religion.  In 1534, Parliament passed The Act of Supremacy, which declared Henry “the Supreme Head of the Church of England.” In that same year, the Deputy Lord of Ireland, Thomas FitzGerald, rose in rebellion.  The rebellion failed and Thomas FitzGerald was arrested and executed in 1537.

Thomas_FitzGerald,_10th_Earl_of_Kildare

Thomas FitzGerald

In 1541, Henry officially unified Ireland and England under his rule.  Prior to that decree, Ireland was only a de facto possession of the English crown.  It was technically a papal possession under the governorship of the Lord of Ireland, who was also the King of England. English Kings had taken a hands-off approach to Irish affairs prior to FitzGerald’s rebellion, however.  The Irish nobles were essentially autonomous outside of a territory on the East Coast under direct control of the English government known as “The Pale” which radiated outwards from Dublin.  This term also gave rise to the phrase “beyond the pale” as the lands beyond were seen as indecent, uncultured, and unsafe for an English person.  That phrase, to this day, carries the meaning that whatever it is describing is “outside the bounds of acceptable behavior.” That phrase speaks to how the English viewed the Irish.  They were viewed as, in a word, savages.

Henry’s abandonment of Roman Catholicism and crackdown on Irish affairs widened the cultural divide between the two nations.  The Catholic-Protestant divide continues to be an issue to this day as Northern Ireland, a constituency of the United Kingdom, is predominantly Protestant while the Republic of Ireland is predominantly Catholic.  Catholicism was a major driving force in negative perceptions of the Irish by the English.  In 1575, the Earl of Essex sent a regiment to Rathlin Island, off the Northern Coast of Ireland, to track down Scots-Irish Catholic refugees.  All of the inhabitants of the island were slaughtered and, according to Herbert Byrd in his book Proclamation 1625, a lieutenant in Essex’s army named Edward Barkley described the slaughter thusly:

“How godly a deed it is to overthrow so wicked a race the world may judge: for my part I think there cannot be a greater sacrifice to God.” – Edward Barkley

This type of sentiment was not uncommon in Elizabethan England.

Elizabeth I

Elizabeth I

Anti-Catholic sentiment had increased under Elizabeth I after her devoutly Catholic sister, Mary I, had cracked down on Protestantism in England and abolished the Church of England’s primacy in favor of the Catholic Church.  Through her mass executions of protestants, Mary had garnered the moniker “Bloody Mary.” In 1596, Edmund Spenser, an English poet mainly known for the epic The Faerie Queen, published a book about Ireland called A View of the Present State of Ireland in which he described the Irish as monstrous creatures who crawled around on their hands, ate dead bodies, murdered babies, and raped women.  He also advocated for the eradication of the Irish Gaelic language as he believed that conquered peoples should be forced to adopt the language of their conquerors.

Following another failed Irish rebellion, this time led by Hugh O’Neil, Earl of Tyrone, many Irish began fleeing Ireland and England for Europe and Colonies in the New World.  The Province of Maryland, founded in

Cecil Calvert

Cecil Calvert

1632 by Cecil Calvert, 2nd Baron Baltimore and an English born Irish lord, was explicitly founded as a refuge for Catholics.  But the majority of the Irish who emigrated during this time to the future United States weren’t Catholics – they were Presbyterians.  Presbyterians tended to be wealthier immigrants, thus they were afforded more opportunities in the New World.  They settled in more diverse places as Catholics were still mainly banned from colonies outside of Maryland. Although Maryland would also later outlaw Catholicism following a Puritan rebellion in 1650. Maryland would reinstate Catholicism in 1689 and it would remain the heart of the Catholic Church in the United States for nearly 200 years.

Understanding the Anti-Catholic and Anti-Irish sentiment in Elizabethan England is integral in understanding anti-Irish sentiment in America. Many Irish Catholics remained in Ireland until the Great Potato Famine in the 19th Century. It is through the Potato Famine that the story of the Irish in America really takes shape.  Although the United States was founded as a nation of no particular religion, it was, far and away, majority Protestant Christian.  Other religions represented very small percentages of the overall population. At the country’s founding, Catholics only represented about 2% of the total population of the United States.

That would change in the 19th Century when scores of immigrants from Catholic regions of Europe came to America.  Chief among them were, of course, the Irish.  The Irish came to this country due to The Great Potato Famine in Ireland.  Due to emigration and death, Ireland would lose around a quarter of its population as a result of the Famine. Anti-Catholic sentiment in the United States hadn’t disappeared with enshrinement of the Freedom of Religion and Anti-Irish sentiments hadn’t disappeared simply because the Americans weren’t English anymore.  Indeed, throughout the world, the Irish still weren’t viewed as that much better than Africans.  They were barely considered white. Two English historians described Irish thusly:

“I am haunted by the human chimpanzees I saw along that hundred miles of horrible country…to see white chimpanzees is dreadful; if they were black one would not see it so much, but their skins, except where tanned by exposure, are as white as ours.”Charles Kingsley, Cambridge Historian, in an 1860 letter

“This would be a grand land if only every Irishman would kill a Negro, and be hanged for it. I find this sentiment generally approved – sometimes with the qualification that they want Irish and Negroes for servants, not being able to get any other.” -Edward Freeman, writing in 1881 upon returning from America

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Here, Nast illustrates that Black men and the Irish are equal

If not for African slaves, the Irish would have been the most despised group in the United States.  Interestingly enough, for all of the social progressivism in the North surrounding the abolition movement, the Irish were roundly despised and treated like second class citizens.  The disparate groups that would eventually coalesce in to the nascent Republican Party prior to the Civil War were the parties most associated with anti-Irish sentiment.  Whereas the Democratic Party, the party most associated with slavery, proved most welcoming to the immigrants.  The conversation regarding the Irish Catholics was framed as a Church and State issue.  Many pundits of the day, including Political Cartoonist Thomas Nast, framed Irish opposition as a Church and State issue.

Nast 1870

Nast portrays an Irish immigrant sewing Church and State together after Lady Liberty tore it apart

This type of discrimination should be fairly familiar because we’re seeing the same thing happen today with Islam.  The nativist sentiment that influences many people’s views of Islam today is the same nativist sentiment that influenced anti-Catholic sentiment.

So, how did we get to where we are today?  How is it that the Irish seem to be so cherished in our society?  The truth is that they aren’t.  Not really. We’ve convinced ourselves that we cherish them.  Sure, we no longer view the Irish as Mr. Nast did.  We don’t see them as some invading horde.  But the negative depiction of the Irish hasn’t changed.  America’s celebration of the Irish consists of dressing up like leprechauns, getting drunk, and trying to fight.

Look at the two pictures below.  One is of another Nast cartoon and one is a current St. Patrick’s Day shirt.

So, how much progress have we really made as a society regarding the Irish? Not a whole lot.  We’ve essentially portrayed them the same way from the get go.  The major difference is homogenization.  The Irish have become white, essentially.  Nast portrayed the Irish as apes because he didn’t view them as being any better than Africans.  The English described the Irish as chimpanzees because they didn’t view them as being better than Africans.  As a global society, the Irish have, in a manner of speaking, earned their seat the table.  But the Irish still have persistent stereotypes about them and these stereotypes are what drive St. Patrick’s Day.  Think about what the Irish have given the world:

  1. Authors: James Joyce, Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde, Bram Stoker, William Butler Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, C.S. Lewis
  2. The son of an Irish immigrant, Henry Ford, invented the automobile
  3. Irish engineers, Joseph Holland and Walter Wilson, invented the submarine and the tank, respectively.
  4. John Joly invented color photography
  5. An Irish physicist, Ernest Walton, split the atom for the first time

These are just a handful of their accomplishments. But, above all these accomplishments, the one thing that ultimately brought the Irish in was the one thing they had had all along – their whiteness.

Following the American Civil War, America, more than ever before, became a nation of racial tribes.  All of the factors that had otherized the Irish (Catholicism, Gaelic) no longer mattered.  They weren’t Africans, they weren’t Asians, and they weren’t Indians.  They could assimilate. They became policemen, they became firefighters, they became politicians.  They became Americans in ways that other marginalized groups couldn’t. But the Irish still couldn’t shake stereotypes.  Speaking as a member of another marginalized Catholic diaspora, the Polish, there are certain things that will just never go away. For the Irish, this is drinking, leprechauns, and fighting.  For the Polish, it’s being dumb.  These stereotypes are persistent, but in many cases, no offense is taken anymore.  I think that is largely to do with the larger acceptance in to society of Irish people and their culture.  Even outside of St. Patrick’s Day, you see the beers, you see the whisky, you see the music.  Irish culture is one of the most recognizable old world cultures in this country.  They’ve come a long way.

I wanted to tell this story for two reasons. (1) I wanted to illustrate how far the Irish have come and (2) I wanted to draw illusions from how the Irish were treated to how we are currently treating immigrants.  One of the most oft repeated idioms relating to the historical field is that those who don’t learn history are doomed to repeat it.  We are repeating history in this country.  The United States is a rich tapestry of cultures from all of the world.  Some cultures originated here.  Some cultures were forcibly brought here.  Some came of their own free will. But they are all a part of one culture – our culture.  Our motto is E Pluribus Unum – out of many, one.  Our culture will never stop growing, it will never stop changing. We are a nation of immigrants and our stories run parallel.  Our ancestors came to this land looking for something better than where they came from.  We should never forget that. All immigrants seek something better. Let’s be that better. Never forget the words on the Statue of Liberty.  No, not the famous phrase.  Remember these words:

Mother of Exiles.

That is who we are.

A Simple Promise

Regardless of what happens in this country as we move in to this new era, I want all of my friends to know one thing: I support you. If you are Asian, Black, Latino, or White: I support you. If you are a man or a woman: I support you. If you are Gay, Straight, or Trans: I support you. If you are conservative or liberal: I support you. If you are Agnostic, Atheist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, or Sikh: I support you. Whether you voted for Clinton, Johnson, Stein, or Trump: I support you. I will always support you.

We may agree at times and we may disagree. But that’s life. A life lived in an echo chamber or a hall of mirrors is not a life worth living. Experience dissent. Experience disagreement. Experience difference. Open your mind to paths different from your own. Don’t reject them. Always seek enlightenment. Always seek understanding.

Although I may disagree with much of what President Trump has espoused over the course of his campaign, I wish him luck. I hope that he will be a President to all Americans and I hope that he will assuage many of the fears that are present amongst the people of this country. But I also vow that I will stand up for what I believe in. I will not be silent if the situation demands commentary. I will resist if the situation demands it. We must give the President the chance to succeed but we needn’t accept everything that he does.

America will live on. The dream is not dead. As long as you believe in her, she will survive.

Reflections on Dr. King’s Lessons and how we can apply them

Today would have been Martin Luther King’s 88th birthday. To mark that occasion, I’d like to share some quotes and how we can apply them to the coming times ahead.
 
“We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”
 
In the coming months and years, it does us no good to be purposely divisive. I have two major stances on the policies of Donald Trump. (1) If the policies of the President Elect and the Majority Party are truly as bad as the Opposition Party contends, they should fail on their own merit. They shouldn’t need any additional opposition. Generally speaking, the reason why an opposition party opposes any action by their counterpart is because they are afraid it will succeed and they won’t get credit. (2) We shouldn’t want Trump’s policies to fail. Remember, if Trump’s policies are successful, America is successful. Regardless of what party you ascribe to, you should want this country to be successful.
Am I saying that you should blindly accept everything that Trump does? No. But we should give his ideas the opportunity to succeed or fail based on their own merits.
 
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
 
In this country, we have the illusion of equality. Nominally, everyone has the same opportunities. However, where things fall apart is not in the rules and laws of this country but rather the people who make up the country. Be it the manager who would rather hire a white man instead of a black man or the woman getting paid less than a man for doing the same job, injustice exists. Be it the black man having the police called on him for trying to open his own car door or the police officer being attacked for the actions of others, injustice exists. To use another Dr. King quote, we must judge someone “by the content of their character,” and nothing else.
 
“The time is always right to do what’s right.”
 
If you see the injustices described above, if you see any injustice, you must speak up. You must act. If we do not oppose that which is wrong, we cannot stand for that which is right. But, in our opposition, we must adhere to Dr King’s creed, “Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” Do not hate your American brothers and sisters. We are all children of this great country. No one is less because of any characteristic. We are all American.
As we enter the last week of the last term of this country’s first African American President, I am reminded of the progress we have made since Dr. King’s assassination.  We have made tremendous progress as a country, as a society.  Dr. King once said that he had been to the mountaintop and he had seen the promised land.  I don’t believe that we have reached Dr. King’s promised land yet, but it is in sight.  Whether or not we get there is in our hands.  We can pick up the great wagon that is this country and propel it forward or we can allow it to set on the roadside with a broken axle.  I leave you with Dr. King’s words.  Take them in.

The Rise of “Real Americans”

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A recurring theme throughout this electoral season has been the growing voice of “real Americans.” For some, the phrase “real American” conjures up Hulk Hogan’s entrance music.

I am a real American.  Fight for the rights of every man.  I am a real American.  Fight for what’s right, fight for your life!

For others, it conjures up an image from Martin Scorsese’s now-classic  but oft overlooked film from 2002, Gangs of New York.  That film features a character called Bill “The Butcher” Cutting.  By today’s standards, Bill is a racist, a xenophobe, a sexist and plethora of other words that we’ve created to otherize people who don’t fit the societal norms crafted by our cultural elites.  But, in Bill’s time period, he’s a real American – “a native born rightwise in this great country.”  He’s the protector of America against the defiling horde of immigrants.

Mark Wahlberg recently said that Hollywood – essentially the Coastal Liberal Elites centered in the DC-New York Megalopolis and California by implication – hasn’t lived amongst “Real Americans” and doesn’t understand their voice.  This America doesn’t care about taking care of immigrants.  This America doesn’t care about gender equality or LGBT rights.  This America cares about putting food on their family’s table and just trying to survive.  This America exists everywhere.  It’s in New York, Chicago, Des Moines, Boulder, Tallahassee, and Tupelo.  This America is the one we don’t talk about.  This is the America that isn’t prosperous.  This is the America to which Donald Trump refers when he says he wants to Make America Great Again.  This is the America that felt heard.

So, who is a real American?  Is it the prosperous urbanites? Is it the middle class engine that drives society? Is it flyover country? Is it the East Coast? Is it the West Coast? The answer is all of them.  We’re all real Americans.  Our country isn’t just one thing.  We’re not simply a bunch of blue collar people scraping by.  We’re the white collar executive.  We’re the grocery store clerk getting ready to go to a second job.  We’re the bus driver.  We’re the local politician.  We’re the police officer.  We’re the criminal.  We’re the Marine. We’re that annoying barista talking about how latte art is underappreciated. We’re the immigrant taking the citizenship test.  We’re the White Supremacist.  We’re the Black Lives Matter activist.  America encompasses such a vast, rich, spectrum of people.  To say that any one person is more American than another is wrong.  There are bad people who are Americans – but they’re still Americans.  As Barack Obama once said, “There is not a liberal America and a conservative America – there is the United States of America. There is not a Black America and a White America and Latino America and Asian America – there’s the United States of America.”

We seem to have forgotten this in our political divisiveness.  Liberals don’t agree with Conservative ideals, so Conservatives are somehow less American and vice versa.  Although I personally do not endorse her or support her in any way, I feel compelled to quote Tomi Lahren.  The other night, during her appearance on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, she said that “true diversity is diversity of thought.”  Jon Stewart, late of The Daily Show, said earlier this year that the only discrimination allowed to exist in this country is “the discrimination of those whom you don’t agree with.”  In this country, despite our professed ideal of free speech and free thought, we have tried to force a hegemonic viewpoint on our citizenry.  We have otherized and ostracized people whom we don’t agree with.  In short, we don’t want to accept that people might just have a different opinion.  I’m not simply talking about racists, sexists, or xenophobes – people with objectively disgusting opinions.  I’m talking about the people who, maybe, just want to own a high capacity rifle.  The person who doesn’t want to pay higher taxes to take care of people they’ll never meet.  The person who wants to marijuana to be legal.  The person who wants LGBT people to be equal.  We pick out little issues and completely dismiss the rest of what a person has to say.

“You’re a Catholic? You must condone child abuse. You’re a terrible person.”

“You’re an Atheist? We can’t talk, I’ll go to hell because you’re a terrible person.”

“You’re a coal miner? Do you want to kill the environment? You’re a terrible person.”

Some people just are.  Some people are trapped by circumstance.  Some people do not have the luxury of caring about social issues.  Some people do simply just want to work and provide for their family.  A trans person isn’t trans because they woke up one day and decided to be the opposite sex – they’re trans because they’ve been forced to wake up everyday and present as something they know that they’re not.  A coal miner isn’t a coal miner because he wants to kill the environment.  He’s a coal miner because that’s all he knows.

We are all real Americans.  We just need to learn a little empathy and fight for the rights of every person – even those we disagree with.  At the end of the day, we’re all just space monkeys riding a rock through the universe.  We’re all that we have.

The Necessity of the Electoral College

I’ve seen a lot of people advocating for the dissolution of the Electoral College over the past few days. Allow me to defend it.

I feel it necessary to point out that the Electoral College is not functioning in the same capacity that the Founders intended. As originally intended, people would vote not for a Presidential candidate, but for an elector. This was meant to function in the same way that the House of Representatives functions – you choose an elector for your district and they vote on your behalf with their own ideas and opinions. The elector would then vote in the Presidential election. It was designed this way because men like Alexander Hamilton believed that the average person wasn’t smart enough to pick something as important as President. This system was upended by the creation of political parties and state laws that would see electors chosen along party lines.

Eventually, our system became as is, where elector votes are all but pegged to the popular vote of each state. Only two states don’t currently allocate their votes based on statewide results – Maine and Nebraska. These states allocate their electoral votes on a Congressional District basis. That’s why you saw that Hillary got three electoral votes from Maine and Trump got one. Now, it should be noted that electors are not required to vote for the popular vote winner in their state. “Faithless Electors” are those whom vote their conscience as opposed to what has been dictated they vote for. However, these are exceedingly rare. In the entire history of our country, only 157 electors have not voted for the candidate to whom their vote had been promised. I believe that there were three or four this year that pledged not to vote for Hillary if they were allocated to her.

Now, why do I think the Electoral College is necessary? I think it’s necessary for egalitarian purposes. What we’re seeing in this election, and what we saw in 2000, I think, will become the norm. Generally speaking, I believe that there are more liberals in this country than conservatives. This is because the Democrats have a strangle hold on the metropolitan areas of this country. Those places have more people than do Republican strongholds. If we do not wish to become a feudal society of sorts where the inhabitants of the cities make the policy decisions for the entire country, we must keep the electoral college. The Electoral College is all the Republicans have.

I consider myself to be a Center-Left Moderate.  A country without the Electoral College would most assuredly favor my personal beliefs as it relates to politics. But I also believe that every voice should be heard and that we should never put ourselves in a situation that could lead to one-party dominance. That’s how dictatorships are born. And yeah, we may be entering a political era in which the GOP controls all major branches of government, but this doesn’t mean that we have a system which creates one-party dominance. The Democrats lost this election because they took it for granted. They put up someone who was fundamentally unlikeable to a segment of their voting bloc and did nothing to try to persuade that bloc to vote for her. Instead, they focused on getting the groups that they already knew would vote for them. In the Democratic Party’s quest to be the all-inclusive party for minorities in this country, they forgot about the rural communities that were heavily white and generally voted Democrat due to its support for Unions. Had Hillary focused a little more on the more tenuous parts of the Democratic bloc than creating an echo chamber, she could have easily won.

In a Democracy, majority rules, but that doesn’t mean it should rule absolutely. There should always be a dissenting voice to be heard. Without opposition, you have tyranny, and no matter how well intentioned the ideas espoused by that tyranny are, it is still tyranny. The Electoral College helps us maintain a modicum of equality of thought. Remember, although you disagree with the beliefs of the opposition, they still have a right to their belief.