It has always been astounding to me that symbols of the Confederacy could enjoy any legitimacy whatsoever in American politics and society. The Confederacy was, after all, a revolt against the United States of America. It was a revolt whose fundamental purpose was to preserve the institution of slavery. I have no tolerance for the claim by some Southerners that Confederate symbols are innocent markers of the South’s heritage. What heritage is that? Do New Englanders proudly proclaim a distinctive New England regional heritage? Midwesterners? Why is the South different? There’s really no getting around it: the distinctiveness of the South as a region of the United States lies most of all in its history of slavery and Jim Crow. It’s not a heritage to be proud of, but Confederate flags and statuary loudly assert that it is.
So, the push in recent years to remove Confederate symbols from public places is long overdue. Now we have a President of the United States who suggests that that trend is misguided, who clearly sympathizes with people’s nostalgia for a white supremacist past. A President who seemed strangely unmoved by a blood-curdling demonstration that combined KKK imagery with Nazi sloganeering. Is anyone really surprised? Trump’s political persona from the start has been based on promoting and exploiting racial fear and hatred. So, when pressed, Trump will disavow the David Dukes and the neo-Nazis, but don’t expect him to work up too much outrage. The assortment of deplorables who descended on Charlottesville on Friday were his kind of people.