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Saturday, February 24, 2024
Feb. 24, 2024

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Jayne: Confederacy of a dunce

By , Columbian Opinion Page Editor

To paraphrase then-candidate Donald Trump, I like people who weren’t treasonous losers.

Trump was talking about Sen. John McCain four years ago when he claimed McCain wasn’t a war hero and said, “I like people who weren’t captured.” And because Trump only has the best words — just ask him — it seems appropriate to co-opt the phrase for the renewed debate over monuments honoring Confederate soldiers. And schools named for Confederate leaders. And military bases named for Confederate generals.

We could wallow in the absurdity that is President Trump’s vague familiarity with the English language and proper capitalization. You know, like: “These Monumental and very Powerful Bases have become part of a Great American Heritage, and a history of Winning, Victory, and Freedom.” And, “My Administration will not even consider the renaming of these Magnificent and Fabled Military Installations. Our history as the Greatest Nation in the World will not be tampered with. Respect our Military!”

Or we could respect our military by not honoring those who pulled off a triple play of failure — defending slavery by seceding from the United States, endeavoring to kill Americans, and losing the Civil War. It takes a special kind of buffoon to pull that off.

You know, like Braxton Bragg, a general in the Confederate Army and namesake of Fort Bragg in North Carolina. Bragg, according to historians, was a somewhat awful general and a completely awful person. A 2016 book about him is titled, “Braxton Bragg: The Most Hated Man of the Confederacy.”

Or like Brig. Gen. Henry Benning, who led Confederate troops at Antietam and Gettysburg and is the namesake of Fort Benning in Georgia. In 1861, Benning warned that the abolition of slavery would lead to “black governors, black legislatures, black juries, black everything. Is it to be supposed that the white race will stand for that?”

Um, yes. At least if the United States is to a have a government of, by and for the people; and if all people are created equal; and if we believe we have been endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights.

And still this country — that’s the United States, not the Confederate States of America — allows major military bases to be named after treasonous losers. And clings to the absurd trope, at least in some places, that the Civil War was about states’ rights, even when the vice president of the Confederacy said, “the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition.” And allows the flying of a flag associated with the Confederacy, tacitly accepting the ridiculous assertion that it is about heritage rather than intimidation and oppression.

The thought that Confederate symbols and names and sympathies have been embraced for more than 150 years is one of the boldest lies America has ever told itself — that there is nobility in a society that was built upon the most vile of human traits.

That Trump would embrace that ideology, essentially acknowledging that his incompetence and failures have whittled his base of support to the thinnest and most transparently callous level, is no surprise. He is the Braxton Bragg of his time.

But this is not about Trump. It is about acknowledging America’s ugly past, remembering it, and burying it.

In 2017, Mitch Landrieu, then the mayor of New Orleans, delivered a remarkable speech about race as his city removed several Confederate monuments. “There is a difference between remembrance of history and reverence of it,” he said.

And while Landrieu never used the phrase “treasonous losers,” he did say: “The Confederacy was on the wrong side of history and humanity. It sought to tear apart our nation and subjugate our fellow Americans to slavery. This is the history we should never forget and one that we should never again put on a pedestal to be revered.”

In considering monuments and military bases honoring the Confederacy, those are the best words.