One of the last battles of the American Civil War was Bentonville in North Carolina. It was a Confederate victory, but the effect was small because it engaged only a portion of Sherman’s juggernaut. Twenty-one days later, Robert E. Lee on another battlefield at Appomattox surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia while in route to combine Confederate forces. The engagement of the Junior Reserve so late in the war demonstrates the desperation of the Confederate effort. It was exemplary of a world view that gambled everything to preserve their Southern institutions most exemplified by chattel slavery. This commitment and clash of views endures until today but has been shaped by future events with their own leaders, circumstances and necessities.
In the 1960s the game was on. The President was carrying us further into the Vietnam War and many young men did as they were told, marching off to war and dying. Others saw another struggle and instead went South to participate in freedom marches and demonstrations in the name of JUSTICE against the Jim Crow regimes. Some of them died and many were beaten.
I believe both groups were heroic, though one was obedient to lawful authority and the other resisted it. One was motivated by the law and the others by an allegiance to justice.
TRUISM: There Are Normally Winners And Losers And Things Are Complex
The winners seen from the platform of our time were an astute group that in significant measure resisted American military service and associated themselves with the civil rights struggle. The result of their effort was legislation and a powerful emotional allegiance to the cause of civil rights.
Others were not so acute. I have talked of my return from the Vietnam War service and applying for re-acceptance to UC Davis Law School. My application to the law school was not re-accepted because of greatly increased affirmative action placements including folks with credentials less than mine.
For many, civil rights including affirmative action provided opportunity for personal development but for others it was opportunity-lost in the name of justice for others. One could fight it or activate a work-around. My choice was the later and life has generally been good. The perceived personal loss has been less as time passes. I can easily understand how a canker of resentment could grow if opportunity-lost was never recovered .
Resistance to Jim Crow
In the 1960s and early 70s, the cause celebre for young Americans was not the traditional obedience to the law, duty and honorable military service, but instead resistance to Jim Crow and all the evil the system embodied. The bright stars were those who advanced the civil rights mantras.
In the mind of progressive America, justice trumped law and duty. It was easy to conclude the law facilitated Jim Crow. The conclusion then was they could resist honorably in the name of justice.
The acceptance of this conclusion where justice trumped law began a slippery slope to our current condition. One person’s justice is not necessarily another’s. This lack of a standard has lead to advocacy through righteous shaming and increasingly through violence as discussed later in this essay.
Recovering Political Fortunes
Currently progressives are looking for an opportunity to recover their political fortunes after Donald Trump’s victory combined with the loss of so many legislative seats to Republicans.
I believe the progressives preferred strategy is consciously or unconsciously, a re-enactment of the civil rights struggle which many see as their finest hour.
They are looking for opportunities to overcome and advance in the name of justice and to synchronize all the power and energy of their various associated identity entities.
The removal of Confederate statues provides the opportunity. They may portray their efforts as fighting the evil of racism by removing the Roman bronze figure of a defeated general. They have the legal authority to do so.
The open issue is why they implement it knowing it will (in many cases) cause a huge reaction and upset and divide a community. Instead of seeking community reconciliation the local governments implementing the removals often seem to seek a more emotional battlefield of justice.
President Has Not Addressed Challenges Presented
We watch the proceedings over cable news networks. The President who seems to react to everything personally is amazingly inarticulate at times. He has done a terrible job addressing the challenges presented. How it will reflect in the general body politic, I am not certain. Early indications are that opinions are mixed. A large portion, 86%, condemn the racist harangues by the KKK and neo-Nazis.
Surprisingly in spite of much news coverage supporting monument removal, six-in-ten of Americans (62%) believe the statues should remain as a historical symbol with a plurality of African-Americans opposing monument removal when the poll was conducted (44% against – 40% for). Every polling category supported monuments remaining except “Democrat,” “Strong Democrat,” “Very liberal – liberal,” and Disapprove of Trump.
The polls over the next months will change and the movement, one-way-or-another will be enlightening. Everyone, has their story to tell which shapes their perspective more powerfully than interviews and dialogue on cable news.
This may swing based on personal stories or sometimes when the tipping point is reached based on a national narrative, an issue develops a compelling, irresistible force of its own. If this happens, the President will reap a bitter harvest and his supporters will be left adrift.
The President Has Denounced KKK and Neo-Nazis And Has Not Absolved Antifa
The President has denounced racism, the KKK, neo-Nazis and other haters. He has not absolved the Antifa combatants from criticism. For his words he has received strident criticism of the news media and members of Congress. The criticism against the President projects his alleged support for an equivalency between the KKK, neo-Nazis and Antifa members.
What Is Antifa?
Any modern American should agree the KKK and Neo-Nazis are a scourge, but there does not seem to be a general opinion regarding Antifa. I have found two articles about the subject, both from liberal sources.
I believe the first article in the Atlantic was written just before Charlottesville (though many of the responses came later) while the second from the Washington Post was published today (August 16, 2017).
In the Atlantic article outlines the excesses of Antifa and their various clashes with the alt right and Trump supporters. It is balanced and gets to the truth – which I believe to be:
Antifa’s perceived legitimacy is inversely correlated with the government’s. Which is why, in the Trump era, the movement is growing like never before. As the president derides and subverts liberal-democratic norms, progressives face a choice. They can recommit to the rules of fair play, and try to limit the president’s corrosive effect, though they will often fail. Or they can, in revulsion or fear or righteous rage, try to deny racists and Trump supporters their political rights. From Middlebury to Berkeley to Portland, the latter approach is on the rise, especially among young people.
Revulsion, fear, and rage are understandable. But one thing is clear. The people preventing Republicans from safely assembling on the streets of Portland may consider themselves fierce opponents of the authoritarianism growing on the American right. In truth, however, they are its unlikeliest allies.
Are Antifa Commendable Freedom Fighters?
Interestingly, the Washington Post article written after Charlottesville doesn’t focus on Antifa violence. In my opinion, it can be easily be concluded the Post portrays Antifa as freedom fighters – who carry a stick only for self-protection and justice. I believe if Antifa is legitimized, we will have very tough time for our Country. We must ask if we are losing a sense of the law and whether we care.
Antifa may easily be viewed as just another militia advancing its formulation of justice. As a militia they can in some jurisdictions be more effective because word is, officers are encouraged to disengage when confronted by aggressive actors such as Antifa. The result becomes a vacuum into which vigilantes and militias will step.
What Could Charlottesville’s Local Government Have Done Differently?
We need to consider what the Charlottesville local government could have done differently. This inquiry could tell us much that is useful. The City Council initiated the removal of the statue on a 3 to 2 vote without (in my understanding) fully involving all the local stakeholders. It appears on its face to be a political act.
My review of the public media does not disclose a “good government” process to define whether to remove the statues and, of so, how to relocate the statues and to interpret their history.
Informed Dialogue is Prophylactic to Violent Conflict
If my reading of local government initiatives is wrong, it would be good to define the process being taken to involve many Charlottesville “stakeholders” as possible in the dialogue and defining options to the best solution possible. If the process is thorough, it may take some time, even beyond what the Court has required. This is not a bad thing.
My expectation is that General Lee would want an orderly, fully considered process, instead of pitched battle in the public square. When his statue was placed on the pedestal in Charlottesville, he was a figure of some consensus North and South variously for the lost cause and honorable defeat. The memory has been lost and the history is complex. It would behoove us to understand it better.
Government Must Act
If we are to find a durable truth, government must define its resilient actions carefully because, as Max Weber advises us, it has the monopoly on violence to preserve order. Preliminary to that, government must provide a fair process viewed by a broad public as legal, respectful and fair.
A durable truth from what has transpired is not apparent though some education and clarification from the City of Charlottesville could help a lot. The narrative is now consumed with racists versus anarchists and not effective and transparent local governmental “good government” processes.
The choice should not be between racist and anarchist, but between any violent, self-appointed agent of justice and legal authority. For this to happen the law must assert its authority both proactively through informed dialogue and through its enforcement agents acting openly in their legal capacity. This is “good government”.