Erasing the Past Leaves only the Present
This past week, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi ordered that the official portraits of four of her predecessors be removed from the Capitol walls. This grandiose display of virtue signaling occurred, she said, “because we must lead by example.”
Example of what? “There is no room in the hallowed halls of this democracy, this temple of democracy, to memorialize people who embody violent bigotry and grotesque racism of the Confederacy.” The four portraits are of whom? Robert Hunter who served as Speaker 20 years prior to the Civil War and Charles Crisp, an enlisted man in the Confederate Army, who served as Speaker 26 years after the Civil War. Howell Cobb who served 10 years prior to the war and James Orr who served as Speaker just prior to the war. Cobb became the President of the Provisional Congress of the Confederacy. The others most people probably never heard of. None are household names. Hardly the rogues gallery portrayed by the overwrought Pelosi.
Speaker Pelosi really should think through why she wants to expunge the hallowed halls of “violent bigotry and grotesque racism”.
The history of the Democratic Party is a chronicle of violent bigotry and grotesque racism.
The Republican Party was founded in the 1850s primarily in opposition to the pro-slavery policies of the Democratic Party. The Confederacy, at which Madame Speaker rails so roundly, was the Democratic Party. In 1860, Abraham Lincoln was elected as the first Republican President with a Republican Congress. The slave holding Democrats were so incensed that abolitionist Republicans were in control that, in a monumental act of sedition, on April 12, 1861, they attacked Fort Sumter. They seceded from the Union to form the Confederate States of America. Does Pelosi propose to remove the picture and statue of every Democrat in the country as secessionist racists?
In 1866, a group of Democrat Confederate soldiers in Pulaski, Tenn., upset about losing the war, formed the Ku Klux Klan to gain control of the electorate. In 1868, the Democratic National Convention honored Democrat General Nathan Forrest as the first KKK Grand Wizard. Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WVA), eulogized by former Presidents Obama and Clinton in 2010, was not only a KKK member but also an Exalted Cyclops of the Klan. There are 55 highways, bridges, dams and other facilities named after Byrd. Does Pelosi propose striking this “violent bigot and grotesque racist” from all of them?
Every year the Democratic Party holds elaborate Jefferson-Jackson dinners and celebrations honoring its founder, Andrew Jackson, the seventh of the United States and Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence. Jackson was a master thief of land from the Indians which he in turn sold to white settlers at a tidy profit to himself. He was not only a slaveowner but a slave trader. Jefferson was the largest slaveholder of all our presidents. What about their pictures and statues, Madame Speaker?
How many pictures of Woodrow Wilson hang in the Capitol and around Washington? Wilson was an extreme bigot who resegregated the bathrooms in the Federal Building next to the White House. He said, “Segregation is not a humiliation but a benefit.” Does Nancy Pelosi propose ripping his name off the Woodrow Wilson Bridge? Does Princeton University, where he served as president, propose obliterating his name and portrait?
Sen. Richard Russell, another of Pelosi’s stalwart Democrat luminaries, represented Georgia, just like Howell Cobb did 10 years before the Civil War. Cobb’s picture is one of the pictures Pelosi removed from the capital wall. Sen. Russell said, “I am willing to go as far and make as great a sacrifice to preserve and insure white supremacy in the social, economic, and political life of our state as any man who lives within her borders.” Cobb’s picture is gone, but the Senate Office Building is named for Russell and I’ll bet there are plenty of pictures of him around.
Taking down pictures and toppling statues is neither leadership nor positive example. We cannot rewrite history to conform to today’s standards and values. History is the story of the past, good and bad. History is the record from which we learn and improve. What we know about science today is because of what we learned in the past. The development of the great philosophies and economic theories are how we understand what we think and believe. If we erase the past, we erase the lessons learned and are doomed to learn them again.
A statue or a painting or a book may contain or represent something with which we may not agree but that is hardly cause to destroy it; in fact that is all the more reason to keep it and to study it and to learn from it.
To continually erase the past leaves only the present with no frame of reference, no context, only what is. It leaves an eternally shallow and unenriched existence.
The mobs that are currently running around pulling down statues and the mindless elected officials like Pelosi taking down and hiding the past are neither leaders nor thinkers. They are behaving mindlessly, responding to emotion.
We need to raise up true leaders and thinkers who see the value of the past and can get beyond presentism. The past can only inform the present, it cannot be conformed to it.
Leave the statues and paintings and books alone. Stop the PC analysis of 100-year-old books. Move on. Tearing a page out of the book of history will change neither the past, the present nor the future and will leave us all diminished.
Dave Ball is a conservative political commentator and author. He is a frequent guest on talk shows, is an elected official and party officeholder.