Monday, June 8, 2020

Eradicating racism (and history)?

Both on Psephizo: Adrian Chatfield and Ian Paul.


The death of George Floyd in Minneapolis has spawned uncountable news stories, many, many opinion pieces, and thousands upon thousands marching in protest across America and around the world.

Last week, Christians had cause to be shocked that President Trump used armed forces and tear gas to create a path through protestors to make a photo opportunity of him standing in front of an Episcopal church holding a Bible. (Literally "a Bible" because when asked if it was his Bible he said, No, it was "a Bible." One of the few true statements to come from his lips!)

(A subsidiary shock for some of us was that some Christians turned on those who condemned Trump for his behaviour.)

The protests have raised the question, not only in America, but here and elsewhere, with Coronavirus as a backdrop, When will we eradicate racism from the human story?

The vaccine, it has been observed, already exists, and each of us have access to it.

Certainly, for Christians, observing Trinity Sunday yesterday, there is much to reflect on:
- The Trinity as a community of love provides no basis for racism;
- The Gospel is always a call to repentance from behaviour and attitudes which are imperfect in their imitation of the holiness and love of God.

Overnight another question has emerged (albeit not an original question) as news reports from the UK tell us of a statue of a slave trader in Bristol being shifted by protestors and thrown into the sea, and also of a statue of Churchill being defaced with graffiti describing him as a racist.

Does eradicating racism today necessarily involve erasing historical memory of past sins of racism?

(In New Zealand, for example, we are in the midst of a period, 250 years after Cook's voyages of "discovery", of revising our estimation of Cook. In this case the direct charge against Cook is less about his racism (e.g. to the extent that he assumed the British were superior to all races met along the way of his voyages) and more about the racism he spawned (e.g. flowing from his voyages were the European settlers of these islands, we, their descendants today, have a natural tendency to celebrate Cook while not celebrating the Polynesian navigators 800 or so years before Cook who found their way here, back to the islands they came from and then back here with the firsts settlers of these islands).

My own instinct is not to remove and/or destroy statues - they are a monument to times past when things were different and thus a reminder to us of past wrongdoing and of present need to maintain our repentance of that wrongdoing.

But I imagine I have my limits - if I visited Germany or Austria I suppose I wouldn't be thrilled to find a statue of Hitler still standing.

But perhaps we can make useful distinctions?

There is nothing good to say about Hitler.

Churchill by contrast, for all his ill-chosen words about other races, did lead the fight against the scourge that was Hitler. That is, one can say good things about Churchill even as we reckon with his faults.

We might also observe that nobody is perfect.

If perfection is a criterion for erecting monuments to men and women, there should be none. But that seems a shame, for some of us humans have lived remarkable lives and leave treasured memories and memorable achievements.

Back to racism.

We should pray for America. Especially here in NZ. If the Treaty of Waitangi as a foundation document for our nation teaches us anything about racial harmony it is that it is very, very hard to achieve. Even with the Treaty as a starting point, we have made some terrible misteps, not least because for a long time we forgot about the Treaty!


Anonymous said...

When Canada's PM Justin Trudeau was asked on camera for a comment on recent events here up yonder, he was silent for 21 seconds, his expression changing several times as he searched for the right words. After that, the words did not matter; almost any could be sufficient.


Anonymous said...

It was a good thing that Christian missionaries from Britain ended slavery and cannibalism of one's enemy among Maori. There was nothing unusual about that. These cultural practices were found throughout Polynesia. What is strange is the invention of a mythical Edenic past. It's not a good thing that ignorance is so profound today. It's not a good thing that you can get sacked for teaching the truth today. The western world is currently losing its mind in lockdown fever. This will end in a very ugly way.

Anonymous said...

Actually I recall in school hearing all about Kupe and his great journey in 925 - and then learning it was all a legend. None of this gainsays the real achievements in navigation by Polynesians covering great expanses of ocean but the movement from Taiwan to New Zealand took maybe 2000 years to complete, while it is much easier to grasp the journeys of Tasman and Cook. That's just the way our imagination works. British pre-history is just as vague.


Anonymous said...

It is always good to join hands and sing Kum Bah Yah for racial justice up here. That is what participants in last week's protests enjoyed in their best moments. But the culprit in each of + Peter's examples above can be more clearly diagnosed, not as racism, but as authoritarianism.

(1) "The death of George Floyd in Minneapolis..."

Obviously, Floyd was black and the officer white. But the occasion appears to have been that the officer and those with him believed that his authority had been challenged, and responded with force to establish it. This has a political context.

Nobody in law enforcement seriously advocates random killings of black men. But police unions have emerged as powerful opponents of reforms that feature review of an officer's use of force. Who will most often challenge the authority of the police? Understandably, an underclass that is disproportionately black. People die because authoritarians side with unions defending all police officers from review that they fear will be unfair.

(2) "President Trump used armed forces and tear gas to create a path through protestors to make a photo opportunity of him standing in front of an Episcopal church holding a Bible."

Note: PBS reported Friday night that there had been protests in hundreds of US cities. These varied by day, place, and street location. Most arson and looting happened in the first nights. Obviously, Minneapolis and Lafayette Square were special but perhaps archetypal cases. Organizers led protests away from looting. In real time, all networks showed proportionately more crime than observers on the ground saw, and one minimized the activities of peaceful protesters.

Reports that I have seen make a composite picture of large multiracial crowds who could be said "to peaceably assemble for the redress of grievances" (US Constitution) who confronted cordons of police with military armour and weapons not normally present for sporting events, the opera, etc. Two tactics widely used-- kettling crowds into confined spaces, and firing on them with CS gas-- promote the spread of COVID 19. Is it a coincidence that protests against the excessive use of police force should be met by a militarization of police force?

(3) "...some Christians turned on those who condemned Trump for his behaviour."

The comments from the two sides that I have heard never quite engage each other. The salient questions are: (3a) Does Romans 13 permit a Christian to approve a ruler's violation of the law of the land? (3b) Absent violations of civil rights, is order in a city street subject to the local magistrate unless she asks for help from a higher authority? The reformers would have answered no and yes, and these are part of the theological fabric of evolved democracy. The Christians who retorted appear to be more rooted in their antipathy to the president's critics than in that or any tradition.

Anonymous said...

Some agreements--

(a) Yes, a cognitive distortion can produce an unconscious construct of *race*.

(b) Yes, there have also been conscious social ideologies of *race*.

(c) Yes, "race*-based practices and institutions have organized societies.

(d) Yes, beliefs and blindnesses about *race* are enmeshed in social injustices.

But unless one is considering open white nationalism (or similar ideologies in other cultures, eg India's BJP), this is only the *etic* explanation of non-participant observers. The whole story of any action integrates both causes and effects, both actors and observers. Might it not also be useful to have *emic* insight into what the participants themselves thought that they were doing in the actions above?

In each case mentioned in the OP above, the actors appear to have been acting on a construct of *forcibly compelling respect for authority*. And while they may also have had some thoughts about *race* as they acted, the *authority* trope better explains what they actually did in two ways.

(i) The notion that *authority* is of its nature the capability of compelling respect by force explains why force was preferred to say ridicule, and why destructive force was chosen over some problem-solving melioration.

(ii) As a moral sentiment, *authority* explains the actors' lack of empathy and respect for those affected by their actions.

Most Christians, having participative soteriologies, will necessarily resist their own propensities to racism (a, b) as they live out the implications of the Resurrection (human salvation) and Pentecost (unified diversity). When the theory is a practice, there is no gap between theory and practice.

On these occasions, Christians with more individualist soteriologies often advance the *imago dei* notion that Ian at + Peter's link and the ACNA at Ian's links favour. The notion is popular, although some find it exegetically sloppy. Personally, I have not seen it inspire any resistance at all to the propensities for racism (a, b,), but others may have stirring tales to tell.

The big fish is getting away. (1), (2), and (3) all concern official uses of state power in public streets, not mutual acceptance around the Cup. Perhaps because the Church of England establishes a different context for them, Adrian and Ian have missed the church-state problem on this side of the pond.

On the streets that I saw last week, the danger to black men and peaceful protestors was not that Christians have nothing to say against (a, b, c, d), or that they repeat it too seldom. It is that, in cases like those + Peter has selected, some Christians cheer on (i) and (ii) to the point where there is no restraint on the arbitrary use of state power against citizens. This is why, as distressing as (1) and (2) are, (3) may well be the most ominous for Christians and for citizens.

Exegetically, conversations about this have usually centred on Romans 13, which has been read as both mandating obedience and limiting authority. Each side of the culture wars here up yonder supports some use of state power that the other abhors on moral grounds. Both have traditions of resistance to illegitimate authority rooted in the resistance theory of the Reformation. I may like Thoreau, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King Jr, whilst you may prefer guns, the Second Amendment, and citizen militias, but they all go back to flaws in Western theologies of order that Bryden and I have discussed here from time to time.

The deepest division among Christians here up yonder is the one between those whose belief in unchanging transcendence cannot accommodate any change in a moral society and those whose reverence for social progress adapts everything to lived life. While the scriptures would seem to have the resources to bridge this divide, happy warriors have kept it yawning here since before the Civil War.


Jonathan said...

Justin Trudeau did more than emit a pointed silence; he declined to point to issues which seem (to my limited perspective) to be both racially motivated and authortarianism motivated in another country without recognising issues in his own country.

Anonymous said...

And in his own life. There are photos all over the internet of Mr Trudeau as a teacher aged about 27 wearing 'blackface' in parties. Like the Governor of Virginia, in his student Yearbook. As their politics are correct, however, they get a pass.


Peter Carrell said...

Thanks Bowman and James for comments which give food for thought.

With special appreciation for Bowman's analysis from within the US maelstrom itself!

I also harbour a concern, seemingly old-fashioned these days, for telling the truth.

For instance, whatever the merits of Romans 13 viz a viz supporting Trump as the legitimately elected "divine authority" over America, I cannot stand his lying and find it hard to imagine myself, were I an American citizen, supporting him on the basis of Romans 13 ... Revelation 13 seems more apt!

But then I also struggle with other aspects of the situation re accurate language: e.g. "defund the police" on closer inspection is not "disband the police" but "reorganise the police."

Amidst devastating, discombobulating images of protests that have become mixed with vandalism, looting and destruction of businesses, there have been heart-warming scenes of hugs between police and protestors; even a foot-washing! But how does one get to the truth of what is the overall situation? Do the media give us any idea whether hugs or destruction are the major character of the protests?

"What is truth?" ... Pilate knew how to ask a great question!

Anonymous said...

"Does eradicating racism today necessarily involve erasing historical memory of past sins of racism?"

+ Peter has two OPs in one this week, and the second above is framed with a rare balance of perspectives.

"Does eradicating racism today..."

Yes, there can be more mutual respect and felt dignity than there has been. But no, because brains naturally stereotype and often do so by race (see a, b above), that respect and dignity will be achieved among people who still view themselves both in and outside of racial lenses. At least some understandings of the phrase "eradicating racism" lack realism and may miss better sorts of idealism for the redress of (c, d).

Anonymous said...

"...erasing historical memory of past sins of racism."

No, free societies do not erase memories, and social freedom is our only hope of correcting (a, b, c, d). But again, there are alternatives.

In my native Commonwealth of Virginia, controversial monuments to the Confederate era are especially abundant, majestic, and prominent (see Monument Avenue, Richmond). Virginia's capital city was, after all, that of the Confederacy, and its ties to the south of England and even to the monarchy made it the spool of what we might call the Downton Abbey threads in the fabric of Southern culture.

Already in the early C20 when a very pale elite erected these monuments, the chiseled stones and cast bronzes had overlapping meanings-- commemoration of the dead from our bloodiest war, resistance to Yankee hegemony in the post-war United States, pride in family lineages reaching far into the English past. But as a conscious effort at culture making, they were mute about plantation slavery, the emancipation achieved by war, and the horrors of the Jim Crow era. As a response to humiliations of military defeat and occupation that no other Americans have experienced, this partiality is not surprising.

But it does not fit the much less pale Richmonders who live along Monument Avenue today. Those there who would remove those monuments are trying, not to forget slavery or the Confederacy, although they do detest both, but rather to stop these representations from standing, figuratively and literally, for the whole political community of the living.

So today, Monument Avenue is about history in the way that Versailles is about history. One can admire equestrian statues and formal gardens without agreeing with the defunct politics of those who created them, but neither Parisians nor Richmonders can reasonably be expected to enact the community of the present on a stage set painted for a tragedy that closed long ago.

Hypothetically, much as the answer to bad speech is better speech, one could raise corrective new monuments. And in fact, a monument was once erected on the Avenue to Arthur Ashe, the accomplished black tennis player. But that was ultimately seen as a further evasion of the realities of slavery, emancipation, and Jim Crow. It could hardly have been otherwise.

The half-truth is that the Confederacy was dedicated to slavery; the whole truth is that both it and its slavery conserved the tradition of a pre-American society that served and was ruled by its leisure class. Could Downton Abbey monuments of Lord Robert on horseback have made sense alongside others to his scullery maids who moved to London and his pig farmers who started over on their own?

The aesthetic problem-- we are talking about sculpture-- is that the living political communities of today do need to know their past with more balance and empathy than jacobins pulling down statues would like, but it is hard to imagine monuments that could help this. There is no past perfect enough; there is no future to which all aspire. Those most desirous of monuments seem hungry for representation, but new heroes are unlikely to be any less controversial than those of the early C20. There will always be a certain tension between the permanence of granite and bronze and the fluidity of freedom and voting.

You must be asking, are there no monuments to heroes of freedom and voting? Surely the United States must have equestrian statues somewhere to those of the Revolution who fought for its world-renowned ideals of liberty and for what Lincoln called "government of the people, for the people, and by the people." We do in fact have five of them in a small park in front of the White House where protestors have gathered since my childhood. Still, there is a certain tension.


Anonymous said...

Peter (and Pontius)

"But how does one get to the truth of the overall situation?"

As the Rt Hon Peter Hacker and Sir Humphrey Appleby famously noted, most media reflect the biases of their audiences--

Still, one can detect a lot of overlap in their accounts. The crowdsourced survey in Wikipedia seems an adequate first rough draft of history.


Adequate news reports tend to miss two grand realities.

(1) The protests have a breadth and depth of support in American civil society that is without precedent.

The George Floyd *protests* are in their fifteenth night in most major cities. The 1968 *riots* after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr lasted only 2-7 days in the dozen largest US cities.

Media of all perspectives have reported that many protestors are white, suburban, and apparently affluent. This is not simply a movement of poor blacks as earlier protests against police brutality tended to be.

President Trump has criticised the death of George Floyd. President Bush has done that and praised the protestors. The 2012 Republican nominee for POTUS, Senator Mitt Romney marched with protestors in Washington yesterday.

(2) Conversely, by every measure, a supermajority of Americans disapproves of the use of force against the protesters from top to bottom, from President Trump's photo op to New York patrolmen using batons on protestors.

Polls show this directly when 80% of respondents say that they disapprove of the president's handling of the crisis. More indirectly, his approval rating has dropped from 45% to 39% since the crisis began, while the steady 6% lead of Vice President Biden has increased by around 3-7% in the same time. For perspective, a US president usually sees his poll numbers improve when he faces a crisis.

Following the lead of General James "Mad Dog" Mattis, the former Secretary of Defense, and General Colin Powell, the former Secretary of State, most of the serving and retired leadership of US armed forces have criticised the president for his handling of the crisis in terms without precedent in US history.

Most interesting to me, local debate over excessive use of force against protestors (eg Portland) is less polarised than we might reasonably have expected. Those broadly defending the police are not necessarily criticising protestors or denying that there have been excesses. Trump supporters that I know hereabouts do not hesitate to criticise the use of CS gas on civilian protestors that we saw here.


Peter Carrell said...

It will be interesting, Bowman, to see how all the above insights translate into choices made in the November elections!

If Biden and the Dems win in landslide, the explanation will include the patterns of support you elucidate above.

Anonymous said...

"Defund police"

This phrase is confusing, Peter, but it makes two points, one fiscal and one cultural, perhaps even theological.

The proposal is that policymakers pay non-police instead of police to intervene in emergencies where the public safety is not at risk. These non-police would take the homeless to shelters, get those withdrawing from addictions to treatment, mediate non-violent disputes, etc. Perhaps the blessed isles have a corps like this already?

From the original London model to the present, police everywhere have intervened to enforce laws that ensure public safety. But here up yonder, if one shadows a patrolman through a typical shift on the job, one will be struck by the number of emergencies to which s/he is sent that are far beyond that mandate.

For timely example, a Minneapolis shopkeeper thought that George Floyd had passed a single counterfeit $20 bill. It is against Federal law to knowingly pass a counterfeit bill, of course.

But, applying the London model and common sense, what makes this a police matter? The public safety was not in jeopardy. If Floyd was credibly suspected of printing fake bills, that is a matter for US Secret Service field agents to investigate. If not, then he was as much a victim of the actual counterfeiter as the shopkeeper. Either way, why on earth did the city of Minneapolis send men with badges and guns to intercept him?

Because we send them for absolutely everything. We train people to stop crime with deadly force, give them badges and guns, and then dispatch them to solve every problem that gets called in to an emergency phone line. Then, when an occasional police officer uses the hammer he has to treat some poor soul as a nail, we are "shocked, SHOCKED" to find that force is being used out there.

At least that tragic Floyd example had something remotely to do with law-breaking. But as implied up top, officers today are also injected into many situations in which they themselves are the only actors with any propensity tkeo hurt people or break things.

If a mayor's son is suddenly in withdrawal from an addiction, this will likely happen in a posh clinic. Who starts to withdraw out on the street somewhere? A poor man, and more likely than chance would predict, a black one. If he has no clinic, he may have no home; if he has no home, he may be loitering; if he is loitering, he may be begging. If a man happens to be a dark and without means, he can find himself under a lot of police scrutiny that is expensive for us and dangerous for him. This is the backstory of the proposal.

Anonymous said...

The fiscal point. Defenders of defunding want to move dollars from armed intervention to actual help. As an indirect result, police departments would be smaller, but easier to run and perhaps better at their original purpose.

The proposal may evolve into something fiscally sound. But my back of envelope calculations show me that downsizing will not pay for the services we need. The voters will not accept a bare bones police force. Why?

The cultural point. The invasion of Lafayette Square by a police force was as much a cultural spectacle as the Washington Monument or an exhibition at the National Gallery. Absolutely useless, but priceless to those who love that sort of thing. Spending to train, dress, arm, transport, shield, and array local police for an imaginary "battlespace" is likewise as much a matter of aesthetic taste as spending on a public library, a sports facility or a fireworks display. Some like musical theatre, others security theatre.

And still others protest theater. In Istanbul, I often found television crews taping confrontations between police behind riot shields and neat rows of protestors for that day's just cause. After an hour or two of peaceful protest, the police would charge, take a few demonstrators to jail, mistreat them a bit, and release them after all the night's news programs were concluded. A people with a Kemalist tradition of authoritarianism, Turks expected to see riot police defending their conventional mores on the evening news. On the political margins, groups as varied as feminists, Maoists, Kurds, and Islamists planned protests to attract the riot police who would in turn attract the cameras. Whether Americans will respond to the militarization of our police with the same theatrical flair, I do not know.

The theological point. Romans 13 has long organised our thinking about the use of power to constrain evil with force. In that tradition, theologians have not treated the state as a body of symbolism, but that is how many Christians on the right's fringe seem to think of it. Thus when we evaluate state action by its consequences rather than by its meaning, we think that we are following St Paul, but they think that we are siding with the naughty world against God.

So rebel congregations have risked outbreaks of deadly infection just to make the point that they think that they are "essential." What to us may only be a wooden choice of words is to them the outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual curse. The tendency of states and even churches to evaluate everything technocratically rather than symbolically seems to some to be almost another fall of man. What scriptures can help us to understand this way of thinking?


Peter Carrell said...

As best I understand policing here, Bowman, our police try to do everything US police do. (And we have our own critique running here about police excess of force being used on Maori and Pacific Islanders; I think I have even seen some tweets re "defund" our force!).

Anonymous said...

Peter, the president certainly, and his senate majority probably, will lose.
Because most voters are tired of choosing between jacobins and reactionaries, and seek a return to normalcy, they are returning the country, not so much to his opposition, as to the elusive centre.

For three years, commentators noted that this White House had inherited a good economy and had not needed to respond to any serious emergencies. There were battles over the legitimacy, style, and legality of the president's rule. He likes sparring, so there were moments of brinkmanship with North Korea and Iran. His trade wars with China et al required some reparative stimulus. But despite the captain's dark moods, crazy rants, strange friends, loner instincts, and compulsive transgressions, the ship of state herself drifted in calm waters.

2020 has seen a ruthless regression to the mean-- plague, recession, urban unrest, no war or earthquake, thank God, but soon the hurricane season. In theory, all of these should help a president to win reelection. But in fact they are forcing everyone to recognise that this one has an insatiable appetite for bullying and conflict but none at all for doing the heart of his job. His contract will not be renewed.

Everybody has known and liked the former vice-president for a long time, which blunts the appeal of the negative "Lock her up!" campaigning that worked in 2016. He is especially popular in slices of the president's base, which is already too small to re-elect him. His good will and experience are trusted in a year when leadership and competence are sorely needed. His party seems on track to lose one senate seat, but gain at least three, which will give him a cooperative Congress.

This year-- as in 2018, but not 2016-- Republicans and independents in the suburbs who care about national security, foreign relations, civil rights, health care, climate change, and good government will vote for Democrats who can mend the holes in national institutions. Democrats have won every national popular vote since 2004; these right-leaning suburbanites, many of them women, will ensure that the Democratic nominee does not lose in the Electoral College in 2020.

If enough elderly voters who usually vote red in Florida and Texas vote blue instead this year, then by giving these big states to the Democrats, they will be giving them the Electoral College landslide that you mentioned. Winning is winning, but because the loser is expected to challenge any close outcome, and because the votes could take weeks to count this year, a landslide win would be helpful to the country.

After the election, Republicans will turn to the only real fight in this sleepy scenario-- the battle to win back their natural home in a centre-right party. While the president tests out new campaign slogans on Twitter-- all of them implicitly apologetic-- the professionals are exploring new possibilities for the Grand Old Party.

They need them. If its coalition were an easy one to build, the party would never have nominated an amateur from the fringe in the first place. Fortunately Republicans, like everyone, know more about America today than they did before 2016.


Peter Carrell said...

So, what kind of President will Joe make?!
(No need to answer, we will find out.)

Anonymous said...

A quieter one, please God.

Less talk, more work.


Anonymous said...

Peter, church leaders in this town are quietly talking about defunding.

Here, it is mostly not a response to brutality. Although the local police did slide into using CS gas on protestors, that excess seems to reflect a confused policy that could be changed rather than an institutional culture of fascism that needs uprooting.

Rather, those raising the question are pragmatists wondering whether dollars can be moved to fund real needs. For urgent examples, only contact tracing can bring the plague under control but there is no local agency staffed to do it, and the lockdown has exacerbated social problems faster than staff can keep up with them.

But those uncomfortable with the question do not feel pragmatic about expressions of authority. Intellectually, they can follow the arguments about civil rights, fiscal prudence, pressing needs, etc. But they believe that they would feel less safe and less satisfied if there were less expression of dominating power in the hands of people like them.

Also body arnour and riot shields look really cool in formation. And these are the same dear brothers in the Lord who are very fond of guns, the sheer pleasure of shooting them, and fantasies of being the glorious hero killing burglars at home and gunmen at Sunday worship. Would a smaller police department mean a larger militia?

The word *inculturation* sometimes expresses the thought that we of Protestant ancestry have the pure and correct gospel but need to accommodate our expression of it to places with a heathen past or a godless future. But if preachers are keeping an uneasy peace with a modern security culture, then they are no less *inculturating* than their colleagues amongst the traditional polygamists.

We know, more or less, where the scriptures are talking about marriage. Where are they talking, not just about getting along with Caesar, but about these fantasies of security through death and sanctity through dominance? And what is a preacher to do with them?

Thoughts for your other blog, perhaps.


Peter Carrell said...

Or for this blog, Bowman!

Here in NZ there is gathering pace for removal of statues and renaming of towns!

Is this a new Puritanism? (Or Pharisaism with a touch of Essenism thrown in?) Let it not be that the past contaminates our present purity!

I fear (as a "white person") that once again we white people will do a mighty work, getting rid of these ghastly statues, then rest from our labours, comfortable in the thought that eradicating the statues has eradicated racism ... which, of course, we will not have done.

Anonymous said...

A few months ago, Peter, one of my old adversaries-- honestly, the last person on earth that anyone expected to say this-- argued for a *local truth & reconciliation* approach to old racial divisions. He was triply right about that. It is wisest for locals to have their dialogues first, and then together to adapt their public spaces to their actual life.

I noticed this morning that the Monument Avenue statue of Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, did not make it make it through the night. Anyone down under-- anyone up here-- might reasonably wonder why a state capital would have a prominent statue of the leader of the secession.

But other states also have them, and so does the US Capitol in Washington. To an earlier generation, these statues did not signify secession, slavery, or racism but national reconciliation after independent America's bloodiest war and only occupation. The conflict reverberates in the culture wars of the living. Not to put too fine a point on it, millions of Americans still resent the intrusion of puritanical Yankees in their rather different locales and ways of life.

Reconciliation is a subtle and sometimes an ephemeral thing. Only the POTUS is likely to regret seeing the POTCS hauled away to recycling. But Robert E Lee, general of the Army of Northern Virginia, sits on his horse Traveler ** as a war hero who defended his homeland from invaders, and as an exemplar of the South under Reconstruction. They will soon join Jefferson Davis if the governor and the bishop in that place have their way. But if the courts allow this, the judges will be conceding that Americans have forgotten too much of the past to understand why Davis stood as a placeholder while Lee has the Avenue's most majestic monument.

The dilemma of the past half century has been that the symbols of reconciliation in the perennial inter-regional conflict are at least perceived to aggravate the inter-racial one. Pull down statues to please the liberal establishment and you renege on the premise of reunion and humiliate those who for whatever reason think of themselves as sons of the Confederacy. Leave them up and you make the descendants of slaves participate in the public honour of slaveowners, which they may think perpetuates (b, c, d) of my 11:42 of 9th June.

Anonymous said...

And although my rival and I would prefer to see each place resolve it as it can, the zealous nationalization-- even globalization-- of local conflicts is a feature of postmodern life. Yesterday, the president flatly forbade the renaming of US military installations named for Confederate officers. Why does a lifelong New Yorker even have an opinion on this? Because a Gone With The Wind nostalgia for the ante-bellum South resonates in the very states whose soldiers shot and killed Confederates.

Here up yonder, there are those who, as a hobby, re-enact the marches, encampments, and battles of the Civil War. When these began decades ago, those from Yankee states dressed as Yankees, those from Confederate states dressed as Confederates. No more. A friend in Michigan tells me that most of the re-enactors that he knows today have only Confederate uniforms. Indeed, there are now so few Union re-enactors that at the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Appomattox *** they were unexpectedly overwhelmed by the myriad Confederate ones, so that Grant surrendered the US Army to Lee. Before an appalled crowd of dignitaries, the South won the Civil War after all.

Pablo Picasso defined art as "a lie that tells the truth." Those who object to portrayals of the South that gloss over the realities of slavery are right that they are in that respect a lie. But in that lie some hear some ideal that they find both true and attractive. If monuments are pulled down with nothing to replace them, then by an irony of history men of bronze and marble may be martyrs.

** Traveler and his rider are still commemorated in Lee Chapel, Washington & Lee University. The cultus of Traveller is described here--



Father Ron said...

In the meantime, President Trump seems to be doing as much damage as he can manage, One wonders whether this is by direct intention or merely situational circumstance. Rule by Tweet seems hardly defensible in international politics. Will Americans have the intestinal fortitude to admit they made a grave mistake in electing Trump in the first place. We shall see!

Anonymous said...

Peter, The Economist has more time and data for forecasting than we do. Also, they have lovely charts. This is their first model, but its master mind, Columbia's Andrew Gelman, is among the most revered American statisticians and his past projects have illumined our politics.

What good is a forecast? In easy years, it is easy to pick winners. But in hard years, the comprehension, rigour, and precision of a model allow us to see exactly what would have to change from today to alter the most probable outcome.

Knowing what cannot make a difference, even if it actually happens, can free one's eyeballs from horserace journalism for something better, that history or novel that have been waiting on the bedside stack. And after the election is over, the same insight can help one slash through the spin about what happened to see what actually did. If one needs to think about power in a clearheaded way, it pays to listen to friends with many perspectives-- stay out of bubbles-- and to base most of one's thinking on data after elections rather than on the well-funded and partisan noise before them.

In 2016, those who followed Nate Silver's 538 knew that Trump had a one in three chance of being elected. But if they were quants, they also knew that there were enough undecided voters to change the outcome, and that Trump's voters were better placed for an Electoral College win. They could not have known that James Comey was going to send a letter to Congress about Clinton's emails just before the election, but they could have known from the facts just mentioned that events like that could shift the probabilities in the Electoral College quickly.

Anonymous said...

This time, modelers give Trump about half as much chance of winning, but if you actually need to know who will win-- some people do-- that is only a starting point. Looking at the forecast, you look for the places where something happening after today in the real world could turn a blue dot red. There is no statistical precedent for a year like this, as talking heads will say 24/7 from now 'til the election is finally certified. But there is plenty of historical precedent to test guesses about what might change the minds of voters.

What if voters deciding Florida's 29 Electoral College votes think that Trump has handled their hurricane season well? If leftists do something that voters find horribly illiberal, might some choose Trump over Biden? Will anything at all that the campaigns do now make any difference? ** Could more voting by mail affect one candidacy more than the other? *** What if litigation over messy votes gives some close states to Trump? Opinions about things like this often reflect the upstream perceptions that nudge people to one side or the other. But even as people disagree about these things, if they do, their implications for Electoral College vote totals cannot be much disputed. And any scenario that does not turn a red dot blue is noise that can be ignored.

What probably most excites real estate moguls in Washington about the electoral prospects of their colleague from New York is that, unlike 2016, there are few undecided voters and no attractive third party candidacies. This time, much more than last time, voters have made a clear choice in advance, and decided voters rarely change their minds. A bet that a change of administration in Washington will create demand for new housing there is likely to be profitable.

** When the two candidates are already known to voters, no. Then what is the use of reading or watching reports on the campaigns? There is no use. Sometimes the election of a president is a fascinating story, but not always. There are many stories out there with more potential to enrich your life. Some are in the Bible.

*** Voting by mail effectively changes election day into a deadline after a season. What would happen if each state certified its popular vote when its electoral outcome was mathematically certain? Nothing would then stop its electors from casting their votes in the Electoral College. And once one candidate had 270, the new president would be elected. What are we waiting for?


Anonymous said...

This from Wesley Yang--

begat this from Ross Douthat--