There’s a reason Steve Bannon loves this issue.
“President Trump, by asking, ‘Where does this all end’ — Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln — connects with the American people about their history, culture and traditions,” he said.
“The race-identity politics of the left wants to say it’s all racist,” Mr. Bannon added. “Just give me more. Tear down more statues. Say the revolution is coming. I can’t get enough of it.”
He’s got a strong useful wedge here if he and Trump can keep opinions about removing monuments and opinions about the alt-right distinct. That was a missed opportunity on Saturday. Trump could have used his statement to attack the Nazis for tainting an otherwise defensible position — leaving Confederate memorials in place — by their association with it, making it that much easier for critics to dismiss the anti-removal view as a white-supremacist hobbyhorse. (Trump did a better job focusing on the statue debate without dragging the alt-right into it this morning. but the context of the last few days spoils the effort.) Fortunately for him, Democrats may bail him out by stupidly making statues their cause celebre instead of the president’s softballing of the “very fine people” marching alongside the swastika on Saturday.
New from YouGov:
Thirty percent at least somewhat approve of the decision to take the Lee statue down but 48 percent at least somewhat disapprove. Democrats can only manage 42 percent in favor, and even a large minority of blacks don’t much care what happens to the statue. Marist, meanwhile, conducted its own poll in which it asked not about the Lee statute in Charlottesville specifically but about Confederate monuments generally. Support for leaving the monuments alone was even stronger in this case:
The split among blacks this time was 44/40 — in favor of keeping the statues. On the one hand, the results of both polls are amazing coming so soon after the fracas in Charlottesville. If ever you’d expect to see a backlash to Confederate memorials, it’d be immediately after white nationalists had a torchlight parade around one and then held a rally at which one of their own ran over a bunch of protesters. But there’s no backlash. Even Trump’s hamhanded conflation of preserving the statues and the “very fine people” on his side of the issue last weekend in Virginia didn’t damage public opposition to removing the monuments.
On the other hand, note that neither poll tests for how intense people’s views are. Most who want to take a wrecking ball to memorials (or at least have them uprooted and moved) are, almost by definition, pretty passionate about their view. The same might not be true of people who want to leave them alone. There may be a great many “soft” statue supporters who’ll tolerate General Lee as part of the scenery because they don’t care a whole lot either way and would prefer to let old disputes lie. If that’s true then the anti-statue faction may meet less resistance than you might expect from these numbers. (It’s almost certainly true within the Democratic Party, I’d bet.) Needless to say, geography matters too. If the pro-statue faction is spread out across the north and west of the U.S. while the anti-statue faction is stronger in the south where most of the memorials actually are, local tastes may dictate removal more often than you’d imagine after seeing these results.
These are moving targets, though. The more neo-Nazis assert themselves publicly to become the face of preserving the statues, the more they’ll polarize opinion. One incident in Charlottesville didn’t do it but the pressure will rise if and when these incidents accumulate. The same goes for indiscriminate idol-smashing on the left, like wanting to strip George Washington’s name off of public parks. “You cannot be against General Lee and be for General Washington, there literally is no difference between the two men,” read an email forwarded yesterday by Trump’s lawyer, John Dowd. That’s stupid and untrue, and an insult to Washington, but as I said last night, the more the left tries to make Lee a package deal with Washington, the more fencesitters will decide that they’ll accept that package as the price of protecting the Founder’s legacy.
In lieu of an exit question, read Kevin Williamson on the case for leaving the monuments alone. “[T]he conquering North indulged Southern jealousy of Southern honor for a pretty good reason: the desire for peace,” he notes. Most still oppose removing the monuments today for the same reason, I suspect. Given a choice between “refighting” the Civil War and leaving the local landscape as-is, inertia wins.