bookmark_borderBelated 4th of July reflections

I used to love the Fourth of July. I loved putting together a red, white, and blue outfit, decorating my house with flags and my front porch with patriotic buntings, listening to patriotic music, and watching the fireworks in Boston. One year, I even wore an Uncle Sam costume to the fireworks show.

Unfortunately, the Fourth of July is yet another thing that has, to some extent, been ruined by the statue genocide of 2020.

In general, it is conservatives who tend to be the most passionate about the Fourth of July and other patriotic things. It is conservatives who are more likely to fly the American flag, to chant “USA,” to wear red, white, and blue, and to post memes involving George Washington and other founding fathers gloating about our victory over the British (my social media news feeds were flooded with a plethora of these last week).

These sentiments are certainly preferable to the views, commonly associated with progressivism, that focus on the negatives of America. Those who subscribe to this ideology characterize America as a fundamentally racist nation, paint our history as one of oppression and shame, and criticize the founding fathers, sometimes even calling for their cancellation.

I definitely come closer to agreeing with the pro-USA views of conservatives than I do to agreeing with the anti-USA views of the left. But I can’t fully get behind the patriotic, “Murica” loving sentiments either. At least not the way I used to. 

That’s because the events that have so traumatized me over the past three years were perpetrated by, well, America. The horrific and sadistic destruction of one Christopher Columbus statue after another. The decisions of local governments to reward, rather than punish, the perpetrators by removing yet additional statues and by establishing a holiday in the perpetrators’ honor. The breathtakingly cruel and mean-spirited decision to eradicate all public art honoring the losing side of a war. And, although this is a slightly different topic, the election of a president who thought that he had the right to force all Americans to undergo a medical procedure against their will. 

All of these events took place in America. All were perpetrated by people who live in America. It was Americans who viciously tore down everything that makes my life worth living, whether by acting as part of vicious, frenzied, and intolerant mobs, or by acting through their more civilized but equally intolerant public officials. The current situation, in which everything that makes life worth living has been destroyed, was created, collectively, by America. Of course, not every American supports these destructive policies. Some Americans vigorously oppose them (including, obviously, myself). But the fact that these policies were, in fact, enacted across the country demonstrates that our country, as a whole, supports them. These policies were enacted by the American people, either directly or through the democratic systems that are in place for policy-making at the local, state, and federal levels. America elected public officials who believe in the mass murder of historical figures for no other reason than being different from people today. America elected public officials, including a president, who believe that they should be able to invade the bodies of, and control the medical decisions of, their citizens.

In short, the atrocities that destroyed my life were perpetrated, or at least allowed to happen, by America. 

When conservatives celebrate the Fourth of July, wear red, white, and blue, chant “USA! USA!,” and post patriotic memes, they believe themselves to be standing up to the anti-America rhetoric of the left. But I don’t think that is what they are truly doing.

All of the toxic actions, words, beliefs, and policies associated with the left – from the brutal destruction of statues to the implementation of totalitarianism in the name of fighting a virus – are, unfortunately, part of America. 

Needless to say, this reflects very poorly on America. 

It’s a comfort to know that, if the stereotypes are true, most of the people engaging in patriotic celebrations and displays oppose such totalitarian policies as statue destruction and mandatory medical procedures. But I don’t think that expressing love and pride for the country that did these things is the best way to express these sentiments. For me at least, “America” comes closer to being a synonym for the traumatizing things of the past three years than an antonym. 

Don’t get me wrong, the Fourth of July is not nearly as painful to me as “Indigenous Peoples’ Day” or Juneteenth. I would much rather see the stars and stripes flapping in the breeze than the hideous, racist Pride flag. And I’d be much more likely to smile if I walked past someone on the street wearing a red, white, and blue t-shirt than, say, a shirt that said “Black Lives Matter” on it.

But for now, the Fourth of July is still tainted.

For now, it still rings hollow.

Perhaps it always will.

bookmark_borderOn generals, diversity, and real patriotism

On September 11, a new monument called the Generals Bridge and Park was officially unveiled in Quincy, MA. The park contains approximately life-sized statues of three generals from Quincy: General Joseph F. Dunford, General James C. McConville, and General Gordon R. Sullivan. There are bronze busts of four additional generals and stone carvings honoring eleven other generals, all from Quincy, dating back to the Revolutionary War. The sculptures were made by Sergey Eylanbekov, who also sculpted the statues of John Hancock and John Adams at the nearby Hancock-Adams Common.

As someone who used to love history and public art, this is something that the old me would have thought was really cool. I might even have decided to take the T to Quincy to watch the unveiling ceremony and take photos of the statues. But I don’t love history or public art anymore. Over the past year and a half, our society made the decision to destroy the public art that I love most. This destruction has been so hurtful to me that I can no longer enjoy the statues and monuments that still exist. Instead of being awe-inspiring and beautiful, they serve only as reminders of the brutal and unjust losses that have been inflicted. My pain has been made even worse by the decision of Boston Globe columnist Kevin Cullen to frame the unveiling of the general statues as a fitting complement to the destruction of the Robert E. Lee statue in Richmond, Virginia, which took place the same week. After reading Cullen’s column, I will forever associate the Generals Bridge and Park with what happened to the Lee statue and with the harm that this action caused.

“In the same week that the biggest monument to an American traitor came down, a new monument to genuine American patriots will be unveiled,” Cullen wrote. “In the same week that a monument in the capital of the Confederacy dedicated to an American traitor, General Robert E. Lee, came tumbling down, Boston is hosting Medal of Honor recipients at their annual convention, and Quincy will unveil a monument honoring military leaders who never dishonored the Constitution. In a year that has tested American constitutional democracy, and as other reckonings take place, real patriots are being recognized and traitors shunned. It’s a monumental, welcome change.”

I could not disagree more strongly with these sentiments. Lee was not a “traitor,” and anyone who calls him one is an authoritarian and a bully with no concept of moral right and wrong. Lee was a genuine American patriot, and he did not “dishonor the Constitution” as Cullen implies, but actually honored it far more than any of the people Cullen cites. The mean-spirited destruction of the Lee statue, as well as the destruction of the statues of countless other historical figures who fought for the Confederacy, has inflicted enormous damage on me and on others who love Confederate history. Cullen chose to respond to this situation by compounding my suffering and rubbing salt in my wounds.

Nothing against Medal of Honor recipients, generals from Quincy, or those lost on 9/11/2001, but Robert E. Lee is more remarkable and more worthy of being honored than any of them. Lee demonstrated true courage by rebelling against a powerful government and fighting for an unpopular cause against overwhelming odds, something that cannot be said of any of those cited by Cullen as allegedly more worthy of celebration. The statue of Lee that the mayor of Richmond and governor of Virginia chose to destroy was more beautiful and more glorious than any 9/11 memorial or any statue of a general from Quincy could ever be.

But in today’s America, everything that is beautiful and glorious has been obliterated. Americans used to recognize the fact that rebellion and resistance to authority are virtues that deserve to be celebrated. But now, any historical figure associated with these attributes is condemned as a “traitor” or a “seditionist” and is symbolically murdered by having his name stripped from buildings, streets, and holidays and his statues and monuments torn down, smashed to pieces, urinated upon, kicked, hanged, and/or set on fire. The only personal qualities that are valued are compliance, conformity, and obedience to authority. Everything that is unique or different in any way has been violently destroyed, leaving only the blandest historical figures to be honored with statues and monuments. The art in our public spaces no longer lends distinct identities to cities, towns, and states, nor does it reflect a wide range of cultures or viewpoints. Instead of a country in which a variety of perspectives are embraced, America has become a nation of conformity, in which the majority has imposed its values on everyone else and stifled all dissent. Those with unpopular views, such as myself, are no longer allowed to have anything that we find beautiful, anything that resonates with us, anything that brings us joy, in the public spaces around us. What Cullen characterizes as a “reckoning” is in reality an eradication of diversity. To say that this is a demoralizing, hope-destroying turn of events is an understatement, and it’s despicable that anyone would treat it as something positive to crow about. Contrary to Cullen’s claim, no change could be less welcome.

The Generals Bridge and Park is something that would have brought a smile to the face of my old self, but thanks to Cullen, it is nothing but a painful reminder of all the statues that should be here, but aren’t. Every Confederate statue and Christopher Columbus statue that used to exist should still exist today. Without them, there is no point in creating new public art. Given the horrific events that have taken place, the unveiling of new statues is not an occasion for celebration but an insult to the statues that have been cruelly taken away, the amazing historical figurers that they represent, and the people who love them.

bookmark_borderTrump orders creation of National Garden of American Heroes

President Trump continues to fight back in the war on statues. Yesterday he signed an executive order creating a task force for building and rebuilding monuments and ordering the creation of a statuary park called the National Garden of American Heroes.

The executive order reads as follows:

America owes its present greatness to its past sacrifices. Because the past is always at risk of being forgotten, monuments will always be needed to honor those who came before. Since the time of our founding, Americans have raised monuments to our greatest citizens… In our public parks and plazas, we have erected statues of great Americans who, through acts of wisdom and daring, built and preserved for us a republic of ordered liberty.

These statues are silent teachers in solid form of stone and metal. They preserve the memory of our American story and stir in us a spirit of responsibility for the chapters yet unwritten. These works of art call forth gratitude for the accomplishments and sacrifices of our exceptional fellow citizens who, despite their flaws, placed their virtues, their talents, and their lives in the service of our Nation. These monuments express our noblest ideals: respect for our ancestors, love of freedom, and striving for a more perfect union. They are works of beauty, created as enduring tributes. In preserving them, we show reverence for our past, we dignify our present, and we inspire those who are to come. To build a monument is to ratify our shared national project.

To destroy a monument is to desecrate our common inheritance. In recent weeks, in the midst of protests across America, many monuments have been vandalized or destroyed. Some local governments have responded by taking their monuments down. Among others, monuments to Christopher Columbus, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Francis Scott Key, Ulysses S. Grant, leaders of the abolitionist movement, the first all-volunteer African-American regiment of the Union Army in the Civil War, and American soldiers killed in the First and Second World Wars have been vandalized, destroyed, or removed.

These statues are not ours alone, to be discarded at the whim of those inflamed by fashionable political passions; they belong to generations that have come before us and to generations yet unborn. My Administration will not abide an assault on our collective national memory. In the face of such acts of destruction, it is our responsibility as Americans to stand strong against this violence, and to peacefully transmit our great national story to future generations through newly commissioned monuments to American heroes.

It is not yet clear where the National Garden of American Heroes will be located or when it will open, although Trump’s goal is to have it opened before July 4, 2026. Funding and administrative support for the garden will be provided by the Department of the Interior. The garden will enable the public to enjoy nature, walk among the statues, and learn about history. Trump specifies in his order that the statues should be realistic, as opposed to abstract.

Trump provides the following list of specific people to be included in the garden: “John Adams, Susan B. Anthony, Clara Barton, Daniel Boone, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, Henry Clay, Davy Crockett, Frederick Douglass, Amelia Earhart, Benjamin Franklin, Billy Graham, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, Martin Luther King, Jr., Abraham Lincoln, Douglas MacArthur, Dolley Madison, James Madison, Christa McAuliffe, Audie Murphy, George S. Patton, Jr., Ronald Reagan, Jackie Robinson, Betsy Ross, Antonin Scalia, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Harriet Tubman, Booker T. Washington, George Washington, and Orville and Wilbur Wright.”

He also provides the following list of more general categories of people who should be considered for inclusion: “the Founding Fathers, those who fought for the abolition of slavery or participated in the underground railroad, heroes of the United States Armed Forces, recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor or Presidential Medal of Freedom, scientists and inventors, entrepreneurs, civil rights leaders, missionaries and religious leaders, pioneers and explorers, police officers and firefighters killed or injured in the line of duty, labor leaders, advocates for the poor and disadvantaged, opponents of national socialism or international socialism, former Presidents of the United States and other elected officials, judges and justices, astronauts, authors, intellectuals, artists, and teachers.”

And importantly, he points out: “None will have lived perfect lives, but all will be worth honoring, remembering, and studying.” Amen to that.

In addition to the garden, this executive order also directs funding towards the commissioning of new statues to be installed in cities and towns where statues of historically significant Americans have recently been removed or destroyed.

My only criticism is that no Confederate historical figures are included in the list. Hopefully a few of them will make it into the garden as well. Interestingly, the executive order mentions the possibility that the task force might “encourage and accept the donation or loan of statues by States, localities, civic organizations, businesses, religious organizations, and individuals.” Does this mean that statues that cities and towns have decided to remove might find a new home in the garden? I hope so, because it is a shame for beautiful, magnificent statues to languish in storage instead of being on display where the public can appreciate them.