The Morning Jolt

U.S.

The Current Moral Purge

A statue of Theodore Roosevelt outside the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan is seen after it was announced that the statue will be removed, in New York City, New York, June 22, 2020. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

Alexandra DeSanctis here. I’ll be filling in for Jim this week, notwithstanding what it says in your email inbox.

On the menu today: Outraged rioters spent the weekend indiscriminately toppling pretty much any statues they could get their hands on, President Trump returned to the campaign trail for a rally in Tulsa, and another quick reflection on the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s Bostock ruling.

The Canceling Craze Carries On

In a column last week, my boss Rich Lowry made some astute points about why conservatives don’t need to reflexively defend the continued presence of each and every Confederate monument, and I largely agreed with much of what he said.

I’m deeply uncomfortable with the notion that we can remove a few statues here and there as a means of atoning for the more unfortunate parts of our country’s history by erasing all traces of them from public view. That prospect is even more unnerving these days, considering the moral panic and cultural revolution unfolding around us.

But I’m also sympathetic to the argument Rich made, that, in the case of the Civil War at least, plenty of these remaining monuments are in place to glorify people who not only derided the founding principles of our nation but also actively attempted to sever the Union. Here’s how he put it:

Statues of Confederate leaders are an unnecessary affront to black citizens, who shouldn’t have to see defenders of chattel slavery put on a pedestal, literally.

It is impossible to evaluate these monuments without considering the context of why they were created in the first place. Many of them were erected as part of the push to enshrine a dishonest, prettied-up version of the Confederacy — they weren’t a testament to our history, but a distortion of it.

Finally, if we want to learn about, say, Robert E. Lee — and we should — we can do it without staring up at a 60-foot-tall statue of him on a major Richmond, Virginia, thoroughfare.

We should make distinctions, of course. Big statues in prominent public spaces erected to make a point about the supposed glories of the Confederacy should come down and be transferred elsewhere (ideally to museums or battlefields). But this should always be done lawfully and with due deliberation, not via mob action or under mob pressure.

That last point is the really important one. What we’re seeing across the country right now, and what we saw with particular vengeance over the weekend, is an indiscriminate craze in which sometimes rightfully angry yet ill-informed and violent people are making themselves busy ripping down statues of anyone and everyone they can find.

It’s one thing for a locality to vote on removing an outdated statue honoring a Confederate leader, to take it down or move it to a museum, a context where it’s no longer an honor or a “glorification” but just part of our history. It’s another thing entirely for mobs to spend their free time rampaging through parks and meting out “justice” as they see fit.

Though I mostly agreed with what Rich laid out in his column, I think he underestimated both the present fury of the mob and the cultural power that mob is currently wielding. He noted that conservatives “fear where the slippery slope of a campaign of woke iconoclasm will lead — first it’s Jefferson Davis, then Thomas Jefferson, finally George Washington” and suggested that this fear is mistaken. He’s right, of course, to distinguish between the Confederacy and Washington — but evidently not everyone is interested in making those sorts of distinctions.

In San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park on Friday evening, about 400 rioters toppled a statue of Ulysses S. Grant — yep, the Ulysses S. Grant who led the Union to crush the Confederacy, abhorred slavery, and, as president, oversaw the ratification of the 15th Amendment, went after the Ku Klux Klan, and placed African Americans in leadership roles in the government.

If the new progressive purity tests mean that Grant has got to go, no one can stand.

And apparently that’s actually where this is headed: The same rioters in San Francisco also ripped down a statue of Francis Scott Key, who wrote the lyrics to what is now our National Anthem, and a statue of Catholic saint Junipero Serra, who was responsible for founding missions up and down the coast of California to feed, clothe, and educate Native Americans, teaching them to plant and sustain themselves more successfully in prospering communities (“colonialism” of the worst kind, I’m sure).

This followed news of rioters in several cities ripping down statues not only of Confederate general Robert E. Lee, but also of Christopher Columbus and Winston Churchill. In Portland, Ore., they lit a statue of George Washington on fire then knocked it over.

These rioters don’t necessarily represent mainstream sentiment, even on the left, but there’s something in the air these days, and leaders are looking for reasons to concede points to the mob. News broke last night, for instance, that a statue of Theodore Roosevelt that has stood outside the entrance to New York City’s Museum of Natural History for eight decades will be removed.

For what it’s worth, the museum president said that the problem with that particular statue is its “hierarchical composition” — it depicts Roosevelt on horseback with a Native American man on one side and an African man on the other — and that the museum still honors Roosevelt as “a pioneering conservationist.”

But elsewhere in New York City, city officials are demanding that a statue of Thomas Jefferson be removed from City Hall.

These sorts of moral purges — driven by anger, fear, and often a desire to wield raw power — don’t represent an honest, careful effort to understand, contextualize, or even lament the grimmer parts of our nation’s history. They’re a frightening crusade to remove from public sight and memory any person whose life didn’t entirely reflect or conform to the progressive creed, which is, in the end, everybody.

Trump Delivers His First Speech Since the Pandemic Began

In Tulsa, Okla., on Saturday evening, President Trump spoke to a crowd and marked his first rally since the coronavirus pandemic began several months ago. Most of the coverage has, rather unsurprisingly, focused less on the actual speech than on the size of the crowd — though perhaps that’s to be expected, given that the president and his campaign tend to focus a great deal on crowd size themselves and promised that this rally would be packed to the gills.

Here’s more from the Wall Street Journal:

President Trump’s campaign planned for a raucous show of force at a rally in Oklahoma but has found itself in a back-and-forth with critics over crowd size Sunday, as the campaign looked ahead to an event in Arizona on Tuesday.

Trump aides blamed the news media for the smaller-than-expected crowd because of coverage of protests and coronavirus infections leading up to Saturday’s rally in Tulsa, Okla. The campaign also said that protesters outside the arena blocked people from entering, though Wall Street Journal reporters at the event didn’t see that happen. Tulsa police said the protests outside the arena were largely peaceful. . . .

About 6,200 people attended the rally at the 19,000-seat BOK Center, Tulsa officials said Sunday. Mr. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence were also supposed to speak to an overflow group outside the arena, but that was canceled as the crowd dwindled.

It doesn’t seem especially shocking that the crowd at an indoor rally would be smaller than the campaign had expected. Despite the protests and riots that have unfolded all across the country in recent weeks, most states are still in the cautious reopening phases of recovery, and certainly plenty of people might reasonably be concerned about the health risks of gathering indoors alongside a crowd of several thousand people.

Trump spoke for about an hour and 40 minutes, aiming some attack lines at Joe Biden, but often wandering off script into various digressions. “His lines going after Biden were very effective, particularly on Biden being a tool of the radical left. But I’d like to see that focused message take up more space in the overall speech, because it will resonate with wobbly suburbanites,” Scott Jennings, an adviser in George W. Bush’s White House, told Politico. “He shouldn’t waste his best lines in an ocean of stuff that won’t ultimately work or matter.”

Up next, the president will head to Arizona for a “Students for Trump” event and a border-security event. Later this week, he’ll deliver a speech in Wisconsin, a key battleground state that he won by less than one point in 2016. According to the RealClearPolitics polling average, Biden has a five-point lead in the state so far this election cycle, and the latest survey showed him leading Trump by four points.

How to Think about the Court

In his Sunday column, Ross Douthat had, as usual, plenty of wisdom, this time directed at conservatives distressed about recent outcomes in Supreme Court cases. Though he didn’t mention the Bostock case by name, his thoughts clearly were an effort to parse how conservatives invested in the culture war should think about Neil Gorsuch’s recent opinion.

Here’s some of what he had to say:

In 1864, while Grant and Sherman prepared their offensives, Abraham Lincoln didn’t demand that the Supreme Court declare slavery unconstitutional. Instead he pushed the Senate to amend the Constitution to abolish it. . . .

Today constitutional amendments have become unimaginable, Congress barely legislates, and the Supreme Court manages our social and cultural debates. Our affirmative action system was designed by Lewis Powell and amended by Sandra Day O’Connor. The boundaries of voting rights and free expression are policed by John Roberts. Our abortion laws reflect the preferences of Anthony Kennedy. And now anti-discrimination law and religious liberty protections will reflect what Neil Gorsuch, author of the new decision, thinks is right and good.

The whole column is well worth a read, and while it’s intensely discouraging to consider the mess social conservatives often find ourselves in when it comes the Court, it helps to think through the problem on a theoretical level and realize it isn’t always as simple as ensuring “our guy” is in the Oval Office to appoint more of “our guys.”

ADDENDUM: Glad to be filling in for Jim this week, and prepare yourselves for another long week of Supreme Court decisions. Among the cases yet to be decided are Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, a school-choice case, and June Medical Services v. Russo, a case on a Louisiana law regulating abortion-clinic safety.

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