Critics of President Trump rightly note that he and many in the GOP are defending titles and iconography that honor the losing side of a war that ended a century and a half ago. By this point in time, they argue, no one should feel the need to honor John Bell Hood and Robert E. Lee, and certainly not Jefferson Davis and Braxton Bragg. That is very much true.
Still, the critics would be more effective if their forceful and correct criticisms were delivered in a more measured way. It does not help their cause to make inflammatory accusations that the president and his supporters, because they don’t want statues torn down by mobs, are somehow refusing to disavow the traitors and racists who tore apart the country. The critics would be much more effective if they instead said something like: For America to be the nation it desires to be, we should remove these vestiges of the Confederacy from places of public honor.
There is another reason to exercise caution. Public rhetoric puts words and ideas into spaces that are potentially occupied by other, less restrained voices. It wouldn’t be fair to say that all conservative ideas and politics of the last sixty years were moving towards Trumpism. But there is no denying that the easygoing jingoism of talk radio (“You’re a great American, my friend”—Sean Hannity to every caller) and the culture-war antagonism towards latte-swilling, Volvo-driving effete liberals hit a fever pitch during the Obama years and found its voice in the crass language of Trump, Steve Bannon, and Stephen Miller.