Goodbye, Columbus?

Robert Kuttner, Huffington Post, August 27, 2017

My conversation with Stephen Bannon persuaded me that, if nothing else, he is a deadly serious political strategist. The core of his strategy: rev up racist sentiment and bait Democrats and liberals into standing up for racial decency, but flaking off into identity politics that will keep the backlash going. And here is where it is urgent not to take Bannon’s bait.

Which brings me to Christopher Columbus.

The movement to take down statues commemorating Confederate leaders was already well along before the disgrace of Charlottesville, and good riddance to them. But as President Trump himself said in his infamous rant against the press, what about George Washington? What about Thomas Jefferson. They held slaves.

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Last week in Baltimore, some far-lefties took a sledgehammer to a statue of Christopher Columbus. A video uploaded to YouTube declared:

Christopher Columbus symbolizes the initial invasion of European capitalism into the Western Hemisphere. Columbus initiated a centuries-old wave of terrorism, murder, genocide, rape, slavery, ecological degradation and capitalist exploitation of labor in the Americas. That Columbian wave of destruction continues on the backs of Indigenous, African-American and brown people.

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The speaker is not entirely wrong, but he manages to sound like central casting’s parody of a lefty. Unless we all want to “return” to Europe or wherever our ancestors came from, America is our home.

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What’s required is a long-overdue process of truth, reconciliation and healing.

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But do we really want to tear down statues of Washington, Jefferson and Columbus? In some ideal, utopian world, that may feel overdue. But in the real world of politics, will it contribute to healing―or serve as raw meat to the Bannons?

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The bitter truth is that half the founding fathers held slaves.

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We can’t undo that history. But we need to come to terms with it. And we need to rectify the shameful parts of the legacy that live on in the present. I can’t believe that taking sledgehammers to statues of Washington, Jefferson, and Columbus will help.

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