Can our divided history bring us together?
As a late-blooming Civil War buff, I have mixed feelings about the recently renewed national push to remove Confederate monuments across the nation.
On one hand, the removal of hundreds of Confederate and related statues bears a troubling resemblance to efforts by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin or the Islamic State to selectively erase inconvenient history.
But when President Donald Trump decided to weigh in on the side of preserving public Confederate icons as "beautiful," my dilemma vanished. Trump managed to be for them in a way that turned me against them.
"Sorry to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful status and monuments," he wrote in a series of tweets. "You can't change history but you can learn from it. Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson--who's next? Washington? Jefferson? So foolish! Also the beauty that is being taken out of our cities, towns and parks will be greatly missed and never able to be comparably replaced."
"Beauty" is in the eye of the beholder. For a man who claims to care about "history and culture," Trump conveniently mangles both.
In fact, no one is talking about ripping the nation apart, although Trump was doing an impressively good job of that.
Unlike the Confederacy's generals and politicians, for example, Washington and Jefferson didn't take up arms against the United States government and its people.
Statues that glorify Confederate leaders are themselves an attempt to distort history. Most Confederate monuments were built decades after the war by supporters of "the Lost Cause," a post-war movement to recast secession as a heroic struggle by slave states against impossible odds -- while minimizing the central role of slavery as the war's main cause.
President Trump knows something about distorting history. He launched his political career, let us not forget, by peddling bogus theories about President Barack Obama's birth certificate.
He also was not known to have cared much about preserving Confederate statues until a few days after a rally by white supremacists and neo-Nazis in support of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee turned violent in Charlottesville, Va.