I think I have a solution. To one problem, at least.
I don’t have a solution to most of them. The antifa started violence today in Berkeley, which is only going to increase tensions as it gives more weight to the victimization narrative that drives much of the right-wing/white supremacist movements; “Look at those violent leftists, attacking innocent Trump supporters.” I keep wanting to tone down tensions around Mr. Trump himself: the man will surely go down in history as one of our very worst presidents, but we will survive this, nevertheless; until and unless he commits an actual crime, we should not call for his impeachment, a process that should never be used for partisan purposes. But then Trump himself keeps doing the stupidest shit imaginable, and he keeps driving everyone around the bend. Why the hell is that guy holding campaign rallies? And pardoning Joe Arpaio? Are you kidding me?
So I can’t fix that. I can’t fix the eternal war in Afghanistan – not because I don’t know the solution, I do: it is GET THE HELL OUT OF AFGHANISTAN – but for some reason, that is an untenable answer to the majority of Americans, who seem to believe this bullshit about “not pulling out before we get the job done,” because doing so will leave a power vacuum which will lead to the rise of terrorist groups. Somehow we never take it to the next step in the logic, which is: that means that WE are the power in Afghanistan, and we expect to remain the power in Afghanistan because as long as we are there, nobody else can have power. I heard a former soldier on NPR today saying that he expected we would have a military presence in Afghanistan for decades to come. Decades. Decades that we will be the power in Afghanistan. Which means we are an invading, conquering force, and if you don’t think that that makes more terrorists than any power vacuum ever could, well, you’re just not thinking.
I wish I could solve that one. However, not all hope is lost, because I do have a possible solution to at least one problem: the problem of Confederate monuments.
The inspiration is this.
Can’t take down that ridiculous bull? Build another statue that makes that bull seem pathetic. Or that at least gives people an opportunity to see the bull in a new light.
Now, I realize that both sides in this debate believe they already have the perfect solution: one side thinks we should leave all of the monuments up, and the other side thinks we should tear them all down. And both sides have very simple arguments that they find convincing. I don’t want to say that either side is right or wrong; not because I don’t have an opinion, but because trying to argue that way has gotten us – here. To marches and murder in Charlottesville and fights and arrests in Berkeley; and I don’t want to know where else it will lead. We’re not going to settle this by yelling at each other. We have to find a way to compromise.
So here’s my idea. Leave up the monuments. And build more.
For every statue of Robert E. Lee, add a statue of Frederick Douglass, or Harriet Tubman, or the soldiers of the 54th Massachusetts. For every Stonewall Jackson, a Nat Turner. For every statue honoring the Confederate soldiers, add another statue honoring the victims of chattel slavery. Match Confederate tombstones with tombstones for the victims of lynchings – and state on the tombstones that the bodies that should be at rest under those tombstones are lost, thrown into unmarked graves or burned to ash or sunk in the swamps. People on the right want to remember our history? Okay, let’s remember every part of our history: let’s commemorate the four hundred years of murder and torture that this country is founded on.
How could anyone complain? I’m not suggesting we do anything to the monuments that already stand; if they have plaques that paint the Confederacy as a legion of honorable men fighting for justice, then fine, that can represent one side of the argument. We can word a plaque that shows the other side of the argument, and put it on a nice twenty-foot-tall bronze Malcolm X. White supremacists can pretend the new statues don’t exist, but they certainly can’t argue that they should be taken down; any person who feels oppressed by the presence of racist memorials can take solace in the simultaneous presence of anti-racist memorials, side by side with the racists.
Why stop there? I keep hearing arguments – mostly straw man arguments, but still – about Washington and Jefferson, who both owned slaves. I think both of those men should be commemorated for what they did for this country, but I can’t disagree that their ownership of slaves makes their legacy troubling. So how about every statue of Thomas Jefferson has a statue of Sally Hemings? Maybe a taller Sally? Looking over Jefferson’s shoulder? Or maybe a full family portrait of all of their children, all six of them lined up right in front of the President. How about we take the portraits of George Washington and add an image of every slave he owned into the background? Imagine that on the dollar bill: George’s sour puss surrounded by tiny, tiny portraits of thousands of African and African-American slaves. Think that would make the point? It would sure make a hell of a watermark, wouldn’t it?
I understand the argument that we shouldn’t try to forget our erase our country’s history. I understand the argument that remembering our history shouldn’t include commemorating it with statues and monuments and schools named for men who defended chattel slavery. But I think we need to remember that the Civil War was fought by the Union not to free the slaves, not to end slavery – but to keep this country together. This is also, I think, a pretty troubling legacy; it’s actually pretty hard to understand how defending a political entity is worth slaughtering half a million of its citizens. But I do think this country is essentially good, and that it is better if it is united, rather than a house divided against itself.
So let’s unite: the good, the bad, and the ugly parts of our history, all together, all immortalized in bronze and marble, for everyone to see, for everyone to be proud of, and also, if not ashamed, then – humbled. This is who we are, after all. We shouldn’t forget it.
Come on, think of it this way: if we do this, then everybody gets a trophy.