Nicholas Waddy's Sept. 10 column is actually headlined, "You are no better, or worse, than Robert E. Lee" -- which, of course is a lie.We didn't lead a civil war that killed hundreds of thousands of people in an attempt to preserve the institution of slavery, so we are immediately better than Lee.
After praising "President Trump" (despite the fact that he's no longer president) for issuing a moving defense of Lee upon the removal of his statue from Monument Avenue in Richmond -- while omitting the fact that Trump called Lee "the greatest strategist of them all," a ridiculous and counterfactual claim to make about someone who lost a war -- Waddy made his case for Lee because anti-racists are against him:
More importantly, though, we should reject the latest campaign against Robert E. Lee and Southern pride for the simple reason that it is inspired by the same neo-Marxist ideology that underlies Critical Race Theory, which is currently warping the minds of America's schoolchildren.
Leftists believe that history is nothing more than a pantheon of heroes and villains, chosen by them, to drive home the more fundamental lesson that all of us are defined by our racial, ethnic, religious and gender-based identities, which in turn cast us as either victims or oppressors, as good or evil, for all time, regardless of any actions we take as individuals in our own lifetimes. In other words, we study history for one reason only: to remind ourselves how right "progressives" are when they castigate us for our "whiteness," our Christianity, or our Y-chromosomes, or when they praise us for our BIPOC heritage, our secular humanism, or our status as "transgender."
Elements of history that portray any kind of ambiguity, on the other hand – like Robert E. Lee, who was both a traitor and a patriot, a slaveowner and a champion of liberty – are to be erased, or demonized, because they confuse the issue. And "the issue," in case any one is in further doubt, is the ongoing moral imperative, as the left sees it, to take up arms against the forces of "white supremacy," Christian fundamentalism, patriarchy and homophobia/transphobia, which, we're constantly assured, still dominate every aspect of American and Western culture. Yeah, right!
Actually, there's no ambiguous dichotomy at all: Because Lee was a traitor, he cannot be a patriot, and because he was a slaveowner, he cannot be a "champion of liberty" -- after all, Lee, unlike other Founding Fathers who were slaveholders, took up arms against his own country. Waddy continued:
Robert E. Lee is a historical luminary beloved especially of Southern whites, and we all know which side of history's moral ledger these reprobates belong on, as far as the left is concerned. Southern whites have no right to feel pride or self-respect, as the progressives see it, because their history and current social standing are permanently stained by the sins of slavery and racism.
Of course, one could say exactly the same thing about the Democratic Party, which stood for generations for both slavery and segregation, but if there is one thing the left believes in almost as fervently as its binary/Manichean interpretation of history's moral lessons, it is double standards. Thus – presto! – the Democrats get a pass. The South emphatically does not.
Waddy didn't mention that the Democratic Party stopped supporting segregation more than 50 years ago, and that Republicans have since become the political party that's hostile to minorities. Waddy then tried to sell his "we're all Robert E. Lee" argument:
There is, however, a deeper truth in American and Western history, and it is one that the left is laboring mightily to obscure. It is the simple fact that all of us, in terms of our national, racial, religious, gender-based, or familial history, have ample reason to feel both pride and shame. There is no Southerner alive, of any race, who is ignorant of the horrors and injustices that some of his ancestors committed. Likewise, we – all of us – can point with pride to forebears who exemplified some species of excellence, or virtue, or wisdom, or courage, and we are entitled to do so. We take the good with the bad, in other words.
The left's latest victory – against a mute, impassive, utterly defenseless statue – should not deflate us. They won this battle, yes, but they will not, they cannot, win the wider war they are waging against the human condition itself.
They might wish to imprison half of America eternally in the chains of shame, based on identity politics alone, but the basic truth of our individual and collective moral complexity will always set us free.
Simply put, we are all oppressors, and we are all victims. We are all good, and we are all bad. We are mere mortals, so how could it be otherwise?
Robert E. Lee was a great man partly because he never believed that he was or could be anything but a poor sinner. It's that humility that Lee's modern detractors entirely lack. And for that reason we are right to oppose their arrogant dictates and demands with every fiber of our beings.
We are equally right to pity them, however, for, in denying the agency and humanity of their enemies, they also inevitably deny it to themselves. How sad.
Again: We are not Robert E. Lee because we did not fight a civil war for an odious cause, and for that reason alone he was not a great man. And conservatives like Waddy regularly deny the humanity of the liberals they despise, which gets him and his ilk a lot closer to Lee than us.