Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Where are we now and is there an emerging counter revolution on Confederate statues

When a movement is at flood tide it is easy for the people in that movement to believe that their forces are irresistible and that they will sweep away all opposition. History shows that this is very often not true. The opposition is thinking and strategizing. They are testing methods and refining them or changing them if they don't work.

Suddenly an effective opposition emerges or effective tactics and the movement which seemed irresistible now is stalled.

So where are we now?

Seven things are working in favor of the monuments being removed.

1. They are located in center cities which aren't very Republican, have high minority populations, and are more populated by liberals and leftists. The poll for the nation or a state or even the local metropolitan area may be in favor of keeping the statue, but in the center city the polls are very likely to be against the Confederate monument.

An counter strategy might be to put a monument on private land, and the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) have put flags on private plots of land. However, this strategy has limitations. It does show that there is an opposition and an opposition large enough to afford the land and flag pole. However, it isn't on public land and so it doesn't have the cultural authority of a monument on public land.

Further, being a private plot of land and flagpole, the maintenance cost falls on the individuals or group behind the plot of land. Something they have to keep up over decades. Monuments on public land usually are kept up by the local municipal government or they get donors since they are on public land.

2. As monuments go down elsewhere the cities with remaining monuments will look aberrant. The monument will be references as an indicator of what type of town the city is. Corporations will note the monuments when considering locations of a factory or business unit. They will be concerned about recruiting employees to live there and realize that Confederate monuments will be a negative. Competing towns and cities which have removed their monuments will make reference to the Confederate monument in the city.

I have been amazed that Confederate things that only a few specialists like me and the neo-Confederates know about have been removed. What remains will really stick out.

3. Trump has come out for Confederate monuments which has provoked a reaction of many people to suddenly care much more about the issue and be willing to take actions against the monuments. For some people if Trump is for something they are against it. Others were against Confederate monuments but now it is on the top or near top of their agenda. Some people started to think about the issue and now care about removing Confederate monuments.

More importantly a lot of people who might otherwise chatter about rationalizations to keep the monuments are keeping quiet. Trump has discredited for many the arguments they might make.

4. There is an ongoing shift in peoples attitudes to be increasingly against the Confederacy. The high school American history textbooks are still terrible, but they aren't believed. There have been movies giving a more accurate history of the American past.

The percentage of people who grew up with segregated schools is declining. Fewer and fewer people support the Confederacy. The Civil War Round Table population is aging out.

So when there are incidents, like the Charleston Massacre or the murder of Heather Heyer, there is a sudden burst of activity. A lot of people who have rejected the Confederacy already and for them when there is some event they have just had it and they want the Confederate stuff to go.

It was just a few years ago, people who were against neo-Confederacy would tell me solemnly that they couldn't make comparisons to the Nazis. Now it is mainstream. People discuss how the Germans process the historical memory of the Third Reich. They compare honoring the Confederates to honoring other horrific people in history.  The climate has really changed and is changing.

5. Finally for the residents in a lot of cities the failure to remove Confederate monuments will be a big revelation about what city they live in and who the city leaders really are. Residents will ask why does their city still has Confederate monuments when so many others have removed them. This would be a question that some city leaders don't want to make and a revelation about their city and themselves that they don't want residents to make. A mayor who is against the removal of a Confederate monument is just not going to be take seriously when he or she has some pronouncement about Martin Luther King day or has a statement to make in the case of a police shooting of an African American.

6. Politicians who have greater ambitions then elected city office will have to consider how having the retention of a Confederate monument on their resume will impact their political futures.

7. Various scholars and others have folded on this issue, like Kevin Levin. Preservation societies, local historical associations have to consider if they want to have defending Confederate statues as part of their history when they so often go to city hall to appeal for one thing or another.

However, there is an opposition.

Right Wing:

The right wing press is defending the monuments. Breitbart in particular is reporting every incident of excess. There have been calls to remove other monuments that aren't Confederate and this is being reported as an inevitable consequence of Confederate monument removal. It is an appeal to white racial fear.

Donald Trump is in favor of the Confederate monuments thus mobilizing his base in favor of Confederate monuments. He is also the president of the United States which has its advantages.

There is an organized neo-Confederate movement. Many African American conservatives are speaking out to retain monuments. Though this strategy doesn't seem to be that important. This strategy was brilliantly satirized in this hilarious YouTube Video, "Buy Confederate Flags From a Black Guy."


I think the right wing opposition will actually fuel more action against Confederate monuments. States with Republican Party majorities will have to wonder whether they want to be the party of the Confederacy. I am sure that in Alabama the Republican legislature has some regrets.


They aren't that relevant anymore. There aren't many that are going to be persuaded by  arguments for the Confederate monuments because the Confederacy was a good thing.

I think that there will be people dropping out of the groups since they don't want to be explaining to their relatives, fellow club members, fellow church members or co-workers why they are members. They will quit if they aren't purged first.

Centrist Democrats:

The centrist Democrats, aka neo-Liberals are I think a serious factor to consider. I have an earlier blog posting with links to articles where they argue against a campaign against Confederate statues because it is falling into a trap that Trump is setting.

What the real reason they are against it is that they want to get more white voters in the next election. This is part of a campaign among many in the Democratic Party who are saying that "identity  politics" needs to be de-emphasized which can be translated as, "let's drop civil rights from the Democratic Party agenda."

I haven't heard anything from Bill Clinton or Hillary Clinton on the issue.

However, what the centrist Democrats can do is limited. They have lost both houses of Congress and lost the presidency to Donald Trump. They have no power in government and they have lost a lot of credibility with Democrats and the general public.  Their politics have led to Donald Trump being in the White House. They have limited ability to control the agenda.

The centrists run the risk that by waffling on Confederate statues or effectively opposing any real action against Confederate statues they will be further revealed as a group that stands for nothing but re-election and fudging on the issues.

Richmond mayor Levar Stoney and Charlottesville mayor Michael Signer are probably now regretting their respective courses of action. They will have eventually to have the monuments taken down, but they will get no credit for it since initially they opposed removal, but they will anger all the supporters of the Confederate monuments.

However, I think that there will be cases where individuals, organizational leaders, and some elected officials will use centrist Democratic arguments to not take action. It will act as a drag in the effort to remove Confederate monuments.


There are exceptions, like Mother Jones which is covering the movement to remove statues, but a lot of the left publications aren't giving this issue much attention. However, they will continue to drift into irrelevancy and it isn't much of a concern.


I think at some point the movement to remove Confederate monuments will slow down. One reason is that the monuments that can be easily removed will be removed. The monuments that remain will be in rural areas and small cities where the opposition to Confederate monuments is limited and the support for them is strong. Though in those cases the chamber of commerce will be concerned about their city's image and wish they could just go away.

The centrist Democrats are mobilizing on this issue and more generally on a campaign against "identity politics" which means dump civil rights. Their reasoning is that minorities have no place to go so lets not do much on civil rights. However, I think that there are probably a lot of Democrats who aren't ready to sign up for this. Long term demographics argue against it.

However, I don't think any fraction of the establishment can put a break on this issue. Independent groups, both for and against Confederate monuments, are going to be taking actions on their own which will continue to put the issue before the public. Trump and the conservative media will then comment on this issue. Centrist Democrats will find themselves looking like centrist Democrats. Other Democrats will decide that they don't want to look like centrist Democrats.

This issue of Confederate monument removal after the initial easy removals will then become an issue of protracted struggles over the monuments that remain in cities where the support for monument removal isn't so strong. These struggles will keep it in the news. Right wing media and Donald Trump will keep it in the news.

The struggle will then result in the removal of monuments, one city at a time. After awhile it cities will decide that they don't want the constant agitation and decided that they need to go.

I think that after 2018 we will find it an ongoing struggle. It will require a developed strategy and a focused effort.

However, by the end of the next 12 months there will have been removed a great many Confederate monuments and those remaining will appear to be aberrant, an indicator of backwardness. Many residents in those cities will find them a painful reminder of what type of city they live in.

Also, at that time there should be a campaign about churches hosting neo-Confederate groups, the U.S. military working with neo-Confederate groups, and American history textbooks which pander to neo-Confederate groups. These campaigns will be synergistic with the campaigns to remove Confederate monuments and likely necessary for the success of campaigns to remove Confederate monuments.

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