Like the murders of George Floyd and Rashard Brooks, seeing videos of George Washington’s, Thomas Jefferson’s and Ulysses S. Grant’s busts desecrated breaks my heart. And I’m not some chest-thumping, flag waving Neocon. Like Will Rogers I don’t belong to an organized political party. I’m a Democrat.
I wonder about the character, wisdom and courage of citizens rioting in America’s streets. At Valley Forge the winter of 1777-1778, would today’s “patriots” have had the grit to hunker down alongside General Washington? Would they have exhibited equal zeal crossing the Delaware Christmas eve, knowing that by daybreak their shivering body might well be a frosted corpse?
Do the current protestors have the vaguest notion of the brilliance articulated by Thomas Jefferson in The Declaration of Independence? Do they understand, much less appreciate, the slave-owning Founding Fathers’ courage, work and sacrifices in drafting the very document which guarantees a mob of thugs’ rights peacefully to protest, liberty and happiness, The Constitution of the United States of America?
Spray-painting and toppling a bust of General and President Ulysses S. Grant is a monument to these vandals’ ignorance. Born into a staunchly abolitionist family, Ulysses father-in-law gave him a slave whom he freed. Grant then went on to lead President Lincoln’s Union army to victory over the Confederacy, ending slavery in America. From Shilo to Vicksburg to The Wilderness to dozens more scenes of carnage, would today’s rioters have soldiered on beside General Grant? Amid the smoke and chaos, stumbling over decapitated, eviscerated corpses of men beside whom they consumed biscuits and gravy hours before, would they have pressed on—or deserted? As President, Grant was tireless in Reconstructing the South, prosecuting the KKK and appointing African and Jewish Americans to federal positions.
But, what about the acceptance of slavery in early America? Despite billions of dollars wasted and millions of lives lost, we accept the free and open use of alcohol, cigarettes and firearms. Despite what may or may or may not have been seen as barbaric, for millennia before Washington and Jefferson’s time, worldwide trafficking in and owning human beings was commonplace.
Hindsight judges the past by contemporary norms. Suddenly teleported back to two-and-a-half centuries, who of us would possess the prescience, character and courage to speak out against slavery? Conversely, catapulted a hundred years forward, would we not decry the consequences of today’s additions to alcohol, marijuana and tobacco. Would we not riot over the global impact of America’s inexcusable, irresponsible burning of fossil fuels, our mindless polluting of Earth’s atmosphere, our fouling the oceans, our addiction to ever-lasting plastics, our exploiting species to extinction? Transported to the future, would we not stand aghast at America’s surrender to the Arms Industry? In hindsight, would we not view our current endemic violence, our abandonment of the World Health Organization, our failure to ratify the Kyoto Protocols, our continuing to pump thousands of tons of toxins into the atmosphere exacerbating global warming, as inexcusable? Looking back, who’s statues might we spray-paint and pull down?
In The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness Erich Fromm argues man needs to “make a dent.” If nowhere else, often “in someone’s head. “ Today’s vandals dent the heads of men whose dents make their mindless actions protected. “Protestors” smash the windows and loot the businesses of the very folks’ rights they purport to defend, the people whose persecution they decry. In quieter times, these are the faceless vandals who scrawl obscenities on public restroom walls, break mirrors and stuff paper rolls in toilets.
The great irony of today’s tragedy is that given the vagaries of chance and whims of British Monarchs, without the work, bravery and sacrifice of slave-owning George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and the Founding Fathers, neither their busts, the desecrators, nor the rest of us would exist!
The current protests and riots in America are not what they seem. George Floyd’s and Rashard Brooks’s murders, Black Live Matter, Washington, Jefferson and the Founding Fathers being slave owners merely opens a door for the powerless to act out against the system. Topple a stature, smash a window, torch a car, grab a flat-screen TV, when we’re swept up in pain motives and consequence don’t matter.