How about if today, we celebrate liberal values?

Mount_Rushmore_National_Memorial

We need to again be a country that can celebrate these guy’s contributions to the American idea, and at the same time be fully outraged at what happened to George Floyd, which grossly violated that idea. In that space where those reactions coexist lies our hope as a nation.

We could celebrate what I have always thought, without question, was the whole idea about America.

It’s not about the majesty of purple mountains or the amber color of grain. And most of all, it’s not about a people — people this color or that color or speaking this or that language.

It’s about the ideas, and their growth toward perfection over time. It’s a majestic story. And it starts not with freedom, not exactly. It starts with liberality. With tolerance, with plurality, with openness to each other, and a fierce sense of fairness toward everyone, particularly those who don’t look or talk or even think the way we do.

And that is in profound trouble in this country.

The most dramatic example of that is embodied by Donald Trump, although he is not the cause of the problem. The problem is that there were enough people who would vote for such a person — a person who deliberately appealed to the very worst, illiberal impulses — for him to win an Electoral College victory.

The problem is, if the left in this country were clearly articulating the liberal alternative, as it has done within living memory, it would have pulled along enough people from the center to utterly repudiate Trumpism in 2016. But that’s not the case. Unfortunately, there is a good deal of illiberality on the left, and that prevents us from having a clear, American liberal alternative.

The news on this front isn’t all bad, of course. The best thing that has happened in our politics in recent years was the Democratic Party’s decision to nominate Joe Biden for president. Joe is the perfect representative — and about the only one who sought the office this year — of the kind of liberal values that have been the glory of this country from the start. If he wins the election — better yet, if he utterly crushes Trumpism in November — it make be the first step in saving this country from recent trends. And that would be wonderful — for America, for the rest of the world, and for the ideas that are the only positive way forward, and the only things worth celebrating on this holiday.

If you read this blog regularly, y’all know that I gravitate toward the opinions of “Never Trump” conservatives. They come closer to expressing what is really wrong with Trumpism, from my point of view. So I was motivated to write this piece when I saw a column today from Bret Stephens at the NYT, headlined “Reading Orwell for the Fourth of July.” After dismissing Trump as an “instinctual fascist” who is fortunately really bad at it, he writes:

The more serious problem today comes from the left: from liberal elites who, when tested, lack the courage of their liberal convictions; from so-called progressives whose core convictions were never liberal to begin with; from administrative types at nonprofits and corporations who, with only vague convictions of their own, don’t want to be on the wrong side of a P.R. headache.

This has been the great cultural story of the last few years. It is typified by incidents such as The New Yorker’s David Remnick thinking it would be a good idea to interview Steve Bannon for the magazine’s annual festival — until a Twitter mob and some members of his own staff decided otherwise. Or by The Washington Post devoting 3,000 words to destroying the life of a private person of no particular note because in 2018 she wore blackface, with ironic intent, at a Halloween party. Or by big corporations pulling ads from Facebook while demanding the company do more to censor forms of speech they deem impermissible.

These stories matter because an idea is at risk. That’s the idea that people who cannot speak freely will not be able to think clearly, and that no society can long flourish when contrarians are treated as heretics.

Frankly, I disagree with Stephens that the illiberal impulse on the left is worse than the one on the right. (Having a wannabe fascist as president of the United States is a national emergency, no matter how incompetent he is.) But I agree that it’s bad, because it distracts the left from the ideas that would save our country.

We are doomed if the largely maskless crowd who applauded Trump’s speech at Mount Rushmore last night have their way. We are also doomed if the people who have tried to pull down, damage or deface statues of all four men depicted on the mountain have their way.

Trump, of course, wants people to think that you have to choose one or the other — his way, or that of the statue-destroyers (the less-discriminating sort, that can’t tell the difference between a statue of Washington and one of Nathan Bedford Forrest).

But we don’t have to choose between those extremes. In fact, if America and the hope it offers to the world are to survive, we must not.

We have to be able to applaud people who find what happened to George Floyd an outrage, a violation of all we believe in, while at the same time condemning people who would attack a statue of Abraham Lincoln dedicated with the help of Frederick Douglass.

If we can’t do that, we’re sunk, and the Fourth of July is nothing more but an opportunity to sell hot dogs.

The problem, of course, is greater than overexcited demonstrators who go off-course. When the NYT itself recasts American history itself as being about nothing but slavery and oppression — as being about 1619 rather than 1776 — we’ve got a problem. When a crowd of indignant people from the newsroom — you know, people who are not supposed to have opinions — can topple the paper’s editorial page editor for running a piece with which they (and the editor) disagree, we are losing one of the great institutions that has stood for liberal values.

Another of those anti-Trump conservatives at the NYT (and when the paper stops running such people, the institution really will be dead) had a piece that offered an examination of similar concerns. With reference to the coronavirus, David Brooks wrote:

I had hopes that the crisis would bring us together, but it’s made everything harder and worse. And now I worry less about populism or radical wokeness than about a pervasive loss of national faith.

What’s lurking, I hope, somewhere deep down inside is our shared ferocious love for our common country and a vision for the role America could play as the great pluralist beacon of the 21st century…

I hope so. And that hope is what I’m embracing on this holiday. We’ve got to stop thinking people have to choose between Trumpian populism or popular “wokeness,” and get behind a way of thinking that respects an honest and open interchange of ideas.

75 thoughts on “How about if today, we celebrate liberal values?

  1. Barry

    Just wasn’t in a celebrating mood this weekend.

    Oh, I hit the lake, and hung out in my pool all weekend. I put out my flag as I always do. But it was different.

    I use to purposefully watch tv shows about America on July 4th, even back when I was a teen. That desire was gone this year. I tried to instill that same desire in my kids, I failed because they aren’t interested.,

    Reply
  2. bud

    Watched Hamilton last night on Disney+. Rap music is not my thing so it took me awhile to get into it. But after the intermission it lived up to its reputation.

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  3. bud

    We have to be able to applaud people who find what happened to George Floyd an outrage, a violation of all we believe in, while at the same time condemning people who would attack a statue of Abraham Lincoln dedicated with the help of Frederick Douglass.
    -Brad

    Brad you and Brett Stephens are so tone deaf on this whole thing with the statues. It is only now that the Washington Redskins owner is considering changing the team name. Yet I never heard a peep from Stephens objecting to this odious symbol of racism. There is a pent up anger among people of color right now and all you can offer is this bland false equivalent narrative that both sides are to blame for the current civil unrest in this country. Heck Brad, you were more concerned with the image of Columbia than for the widespread wanton slaughter of innocent black folks at the hands of white cops. Only now that statues of Grant and Lincoln are threatened do scolds like Stephens feel threatened. Of course Stephens has a long history of supporting the destruction of Palestinians so this is no surprise. Please spare me these isolated examples of liberals not wanting to give a forum for thugs to speak. I say hurray to corporations wanting Facebook to police it’s content. Freedom of speech does not require tacit endorsement of offensive speech, so they actually have a responsibility to pull ads from sites that endorse hate speech. Besides, maybe we should return full ownership of Mount Rushmore to the tribes from whom it was stolen. They consider those faces a scaring of a sacred mountain. If they want to destroy the sculptures, so be it. Maybe we could recreate the sculptures on Stone Mountain.

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  4. Ken

    “Condemn” people who attack the Emancipation monument in DC?
    No, I don’t condemn them. That’s Trumpist language. I understand their objection. But I disagree with their desire to eliminate the monument, since their objection seems to be based solely on what they consider the monument’s outdated (and in their view racist) aesthetic (which drew on abolitionist imagery). Unfortunately, they ignore the deeper aesthetic, which is the history that lies behind its outward appearance.
    But “condemn” them. No, they are not criminals to be condemned.

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    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      I’m sorry if I wasn’t clear enough. When I say “people who would attack” a statue, I mean physically — not, say, make a suggestion that it come down.

      Of course, for the reasons you cite, their wish to see the statue go is rather sadly misinformed. So I would expect the idea to fail. But suggest away.

      If you want to see a statue go, then the way to do it is the way they removed the Calhoun statue in Charleston: The city council was persuaded to act.

      I hope to see the Ben Tillman statue go the same way.

      No one has the right to take the law into their own hands. No one has the right to spontaneously attempt to physically remove a statue, or for that matter damage or vandalize it. They simply don’t have the right. And I most certainly do condemn anyone who tries to do such a thing.

      My view on this is based in a LOT of thinking about the flag over the years. That flag had to come down the right way — by the Legislature, which had made flying it a matter of law, deciding to remove it. Nothing else would have accomplished anything meaningful — the problems that led to its flying there would in no way be solved, even slightly. So I condemned Bree Newsome for her lawless act in personally taking the flag down in 2015. It was a useless gesture, accomplishing nothing.

      And I condemn similar acts today. I don’t care whom the statue depicts. It could be someone I despise like Tillman, or it could be the Easter Bunny. If it was placed there lawfully, NO ONE has the right to take it upon themselves to damage or remove it. It must be done in keeping with the law, by duly constituted authorities…

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      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        And yes, I should have used one of the examples where people actually physically attacked a statue as my example. Because that’s what I meant. And of course, there’s no shortage of such examples. So I slipped up there, leading to the misunderstanding about what I meant…

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          1. Ken

            I think you really missed the boat back then and now in how you view her action at the State House. Many people found it inspiring. I know of one person – an older, white man – who was so moved when he saw the video of it that he was on the verge of tears. A mere stunt could not generate that kind of reaction, or inspiration. It was a harbinger. Because that kind of inspiration helped stir up the impetus to bring the flag down.

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            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              “Many people found it inspiring.”

              Yes, I know that. But based on conclusions I had reached over the years about WHY we needed the flag down caused me to have a very different reaction.

              And I assure you that she did not “stir up the impetus to bring the flag down.” In fact, at the time, I was afraid the neoConfederates would manage to use the incident as a way of stirring up opposition to what needed to be done.

              Fortunately, the movement to decide, as a state, to get that flag off the grounds was so strong that no distraction such as that could get in the way. South Carolina had finally made up its mind, and I continue to celebrate the fact that that moment had finally arrived, while grieving over the horror that had to happen to get us there….

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  5. Ken

    “If you want to see a statue go, then the way to do it is the way they removed the Calhoun statue in Charleston: The city council was persuaded to act.”

    Disagree. Toppling statues is an age-old form of political protest, and therefore speech, extending back into antiquity. I may dissent from some of the targets chosen, but I don’t dispute the legitimacy of the act itself.

    And I applauded Bree Newsome’s act.

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    1. Bill

      Right On! Too many people were ready to ignore George Floyd’s live murder/torture,including Brad.They’re paying attention,now.

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    2. Bryan Caskey

      So you would argue that the toppling of any public statue or monument by an individual should be protected under the First Amendment as free speech?

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      1. Ken

        I’m not interested in getting into a debate over legal first principles, counselor. But I would say that, the world being what it is, protestors should be prepared to deal with the legal consequences of their acts. Which does not mean, however, that I believe that the law necessarily defines what is just. Anybody who believes that is a fool.

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        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          The law defines what the law is. Period.

          I’m reminded of a great line from a Martin Cruz Smith novel, Red Square:

          crime

          Yeah, OK, so the line — “It’s against the law” — was really a joke about Germans. And I don’t think we need to aspire to be Germans.

          But as long as we aspire to be a country of laws and not of men — and I would think anyone outraged over the killing of George Floyd would want that — then we need to show respect for the law. And if we don’t agree with the law, we work to change it…

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          1. Ken

            Then I take it you would have “enforced the law” around the Lee monument in Richmond by, what?, clearing the area around it at the first sign the monument was being defaced? Maybe using whatever force was necessary to “restore order” (that is: “the rule of law”), including clubs and tear gas? Or maybe you would favor hunting down every person who defaced the monument (and from the looks of it, they were legion), again applying any and every means available, until they were “brought to justice” and punished appropriately in order to “uphold the law”?

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            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              Nope.

              I think writing tickets would do.

              Let’s be serious, folks. The question here is whether tearing down statues without authorization is a good idea or a bad one. I’m saying it’s a bad one. Don’t change the subject by making me out to be some fascist who wants to DO THINGS TO PEOPLE.

              This conversation is about appropriate modes of public expression, not enforcement.

              This reminds me of conversations about mask-wearing with libertarians. Our friend Doug Ross insists (on Twitter, since he swore off the blog for this year) that having a rule requiring masks makes NO sense unless there is going to be absolute, 100 percent enforcement by the cops. Which is silly. We make a rule because it makes sense. We need people to wear masks because it’s a good idea. So we make a rule that masks will be worn — and most people will comply, and that will have a positive effect on public health.

              This, too, is about good ideas vs bad ideas. What’s a better way of expressing your political views — carrying a sign or destroying public property? Obviously, on quite a few levels (such as being heard, and having people see you as reasonable and worth listening to) carrying the sign is better.

              Folks, Trump is out there desperately swinging in every direction, and he’s trying right now to make the issue about tearing down statues. So folks, don’t do that. Keep the focus on social justice, so that more and more people will listen to you, and not to him.

              This isn’t complicated…

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              1. Brad Warthen Post author

                I’m really getting fed up with people conspiring with Trump to split us into irreconcilable camps.

                I don’t know why this would be a news flash to anyone, but you do NOT have to believe in the destruction of statues to believe in social justice. But some people — including especially Donald Trump — want to make it a rule: If you’re for this, you’re for that. And if Trump is successful, it becomes “If you’re tearing down statues, I don’t have to listen to anything else you have to say.”

                I utterly reject that. And I also utterly reject having other people tell me that if I want there to be no more George Floyd killings, I have to be for tearing down all the statues.

                I hope we DO get some of these statues down — ones that matter, like Ben Tillman. And I want to get it done in a way that makes us a better society — by bringing together people who want justice. Which is a way bigger group than the group of people who think the way to change what society values is by personally tearing things down.

                Insisting otherwise is a great way of accomplishing what Trump wants — tearing us apart…

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              2. Ken

                “Let’s be serious, folks.”

                Oh, I am. But you’re playing a dodge. Or engaging in pointless abstract exercises. If you really want to, as you say, uphold the law, say how you would go about defending it when it is violated. Otherwise, your support for the rule of the law is merely theoretical. Or you believe in toothless law, which, in certain situations, can result in lawlessness. You have accused those who topple statues of lawlessness. So explain how you would restore the law.

                For myself, I believe that some acts can be legitimate without necessarily being legal. And that being the case, I also believe that prosecutorial discretion can be applied and, in the case of SOME statue topplings, SHOULD be applied. (Which statues is a separate question.) Respect for law does not require the mindless application of law. I refuse to defend Confederate monuments, for example, either intellectually or in fact.

                What’s more, in SC, where the barrier to removing those statues has been set unreasonably high, toppling statues only becomes all the more legitimate. So if, as you claim, you believe in the rule of law, then you should be actively working to have the Heritage Act overturned. Anything less is just another dodge.

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                1. Brad Warthen Post author

                  Well, we agree on one thing: “the barrier to removing those statues has been set unreasonably high.”

                  But what does “actively working” mean? What is the standard you are setting for me here?

                  I mean, if you can find someone who has done more than I have to get South Carolina to outgrow its Confederate past, I’d like to shake that person’s hand — once we’re done with coronavirus, of course.

                  By the way, because of my history on this, John Monk called me yesterday to get some quotes for a story he’s doing on the anniversary of getting the flag down.

                  I shared some of the thoughts I’ve shared here on the blog lately, but immediately regretted doing so, since I seem to be so misunderstood on the blog. But I let it go. I’ll be interested to see what John writes. Here’s hoping what I said was helpful, rather than confusing…

                2. Ken

                  Have you written or spoken to your state senator and representative to ask them to spearhead or at least support a legislative effort to overturn the Heritage Act. I have. That would be a nice piece of action. Resting on your laurels is not.

              1. Ken

                Really, now, is this where you’re going? Comparing toppling statues to burning down private homes? That’s just silly and not worth another moment’s attention.

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              1. Bob Amundson

                Namaste, my friend. Balance. Too much law and order is authoritarian, and I certainly don’t want anarchy and chaos. I’ve never had a problem with stretching the rules, even laws, once in a while. Balance with some pushing the envelope as needed.

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                1. Bob Amundson

                  Great scene – to maintain balance, one must remain mindful. I’m getting old – I am bothered how these terms are mainstream “buzzwords” that are talked, but not (often enough) walked.

          1. Ken

            Yes, that’s a lovely quote. I’ve sometimes used it myself.

            But it’s important to draw distinctions. Thomas More’s core objection was to actions by the state, in the person of the king, not by any single individual or group of individual citizens acting collectively in protest against the state. Individual rights simply hadn’t yet progressed that far in his day. This is what makes Brad’s drawing parallels between toppling statues and Trump’s attempt at underming the rule of law somewhat absurd. It lumps everything together as equally bad, when it is not. Actions by a president are always far more weighty than any act of protest on the part of citizens.

            Ultimately, More’s story is that of the individual conscience standing in opposition to the powers of the state. I doubt More would have ever claimed that the law is always right without regard to justice. For him, as with many men of conscience, God was the final arbiter of justice. He was not a strictly “law and order” man as that term is now defined.

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      2. Ken

        But I would be derelict not to turn the question around and ask:
        Do you wholly reject the idea that toppling statues can be a form of political speech?
        Is it, in your view, always and in every instance nothing other than vandalism?

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        1. Barry

          Considering some of those statues are of people that committed treason, I don’t give it one second of thought.

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          1. Bryan Caskey

            So it depends on the viewpoint being destroyed. Interesting argument. Who decides what viewpoints are acceptable?

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            1. Barry

              I’m shedding no tears that statuses of people that supported the enslavement of other human beings And treating them and their families worse than trash are torn down.

              I’m not staking a claim on that hill. You can. Sorry.

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            2. Barry

              Those who fought for the Confederacy committed “an act of rebellion and an act of treason at the time against the Union, against the Stars & Stripes, against the U.S. Constitution,” Milley said. “Now some have a different view of that — some think it’s heritage” that led the South into rebellion, “and some think it’s hate.” – Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen, Mark Milley

              Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley made a forceful case Thursday for changing the names of bases honoring Confederate generals, citing the particular burden African American troops bear when they serve at these installations.

              https://www.military.com/daily-news/2020/07/09/black-troops-bear-cost-bases-named-confederates-milley-says.html

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          2. Bart

            I really get damned tired of the “treason” label applied to the Confederate States and the soldiers who fought for them and their descendants by freaking “mic drop” comments. There is nothing the Constitution that addresses secession from the Union being illegal and legal scholars have studied and debated it since the Civil War. The Supreme Court in Texas declared secession illegal in 1869 ‘after’ the end of the Civil War. Therefore when the states seceded from the Union and soldiers took up arms against the Union, it was not a traitorous act, they were fighting for a newly formed union called the Confederate States of America.

            California has recently advocated secession from the Union with a 33% approval of the citizens of the state. Are they traitors for wanting to secede from the Union? Where is the outrage from the left and liberal side of the debate over one third of Californians desiring secession from the Union?

            Here is a link to an article with a reasonable discussion of the issue of the legality of secession.
            https://vermontrepublic.org/the-constitutionality-of-secession/

            The issue for secession centered around slavery and once the Civil War was over and the South lost, the states rejoined the Union. The issue was wrong and the right side won.

            I am not in favor of secession but I do apply some common sense to the time in our history when the states that comprised the Confederacy did secede and did so legally according to their rights in the Constitution.

            The recent proclamation of Southerners who served in the Confederate army as traitors is the epitome of ignorance of history and states rights. And for what it is worth, states still have the right to secede if their state constitution allows it.

            And please, don’t try the racist or Trump supporter crap on me for replying in kind to you. Since the rejoining of the Union by the Confederate States, in every aggression toward the United States by its enemies has been answered by Southerners who do cherish this nation and will it until death if necessary with the same love and passion as every other section of the country.

            In closing, it is freaking history and using the 21st century as the standard and applying it to the 19th century is a prime example of revisionist history for scoring political and ideological points. No damn wonder there is no closure or reasonable debates allowed anymore.

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            1. Barry

              I don’t personally label regular line soldiers as treasonous. Their leaders? That’s another story.

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              1. Bart

                How can you separate the leaders from the regular line soldiers?

                The military leaders and soldiers were not the ones who seceded from the Union, it was the elected leaders of the 11 states. If there is to be the label of “traitor” assigned to anyone legally, it should be the leaders who wrote the letters of secession to the Congress.

                Clarification of semantics has always been an issue and the recent trend of branding anyone who was involved with or fought in the Civil War on the side of the Confederate States of America as traitors is a standard meme’ used by celebrities, politicians, and others that attempts to paint white Southerners with the same brush with the accusation.

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                1. Ken

                  All I can say is, as the descendant of a Confederate soldier, I do not thank him for his service, I do not honor his service. He served a traitorous and immoral cause.

                2. Barry

                  “How can you separate the leaders from the regular line soldiers?”

                  EASY.

                  Because I do. Regular joe farmer wasn’t making decisions for hundreds or thousands of people. Generals were. Southern politicians committing treason were.

                  How can I separate them? What a strange, pointless question.

            2. Ken

              Sorry, neither of these arguments holds water.

              Under Article III, Section 3, of the Constitution, any person who levies war against the United States has committed treason within the meaning of the US Constitution. Lincoln gave the Confederates a pass based on the technicality of declaring that they were never formally outside the Union and were only in a state of “insurrection.” But in a very fundamental sense, waging war to break up the Union passes the test for treason — even if some prefer not to call it that.

              As for secession, in the final analysis the Civil War decided that matter. What’s more, the illegality of secession (except perhaps where approved by the other states) was provided with legal backing by the US Supreme Court in its 1868 decision in Texas v. White.

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              1. Bart

                The legal backing was a decision rendered by the Supreme Court at the time led by the chief justice, Salmon Portland Chase, who was a member of Lincoln’s cabinet and his appointee to the court in 1864. Until the decision was rendered, the legality of secession had never been challenged or a decision rendered on it.

                Interesting article on the subject by a UVA law professor. Link below.
                https://www.law.virginia.edu/news/201710/was-secession-legal

                From another article in History Stack Exchange discussing the legality of secession prior to the 1869 SCOTUS decision in Texas v. White.
                “….in 1861 no law existed in terms of prohibiting secession just multiple interpretations of the constitution none of which were interpretations from the Supreme Court in the sense that a ruling was made. This ruling would not be until legislature was reviewed (Texas v. White) in 1869.

                The 1869 ruling would be law after 1869 (until a new ruling is made) but not representative of law prior to 1869. Without one of the following three things secession, prior to the Civil War, would not have been unanimously agreed upon as illegal and in regards to law could not have been illegal (in 1861).

                1. A law previously implemented to prohibit secession
                2. A previous Supreme Court ruling prohibiting secession
                3. “Clear text” within the Constitution (no grey area)”

                One area that was not gray was the article and section you referenced. The article related to the individual, not a state. Otherwise, the state or states would have been clarified with no gray area.

                I am not arguing in favor of secession, I am making my point on the issue at the time in history when the nation did split and a war fought that did settle the secession law and freed slaves from their bondage to owners in the South, North, and other parts of the nation but specifically in the South.

                Therefore my defense against labeling those who fought for the CSA as traitors and by inference and direct accusations by individuals, politicians, an army general, entertainers, and a host of others.

                As for me, the issue is over and no further discussion necessary. I have made my point and it is up to you or anyone else to agree or disagree.

                It is important that we do attempt to view events relevant to their time period in history, not assign our current political and social judgments retroactively. Quoting what Brad noted in his reply, “There was a lot more going on than that.”

                As a nation, we have moved forward and given consideration to the fact that we fought a war centered around the heinous practice of slavery should be celebrated in of itself and in particular, the outcome.

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                1. Ken

                  Well, I continue to dispute your interpretations of both law and history.

                  But leaving that aside, I have to ask:
                  Why is it so important to you that the “treason label” not be applied to, as you put it, both the “Confederate States and those who fought for them”? Does it in some way besmirch your honor or sense of self. It doesn’t mine. Doesn’t bother me in the least. I’m not afraid to face the judgments of history may make on my ancestors.

                2. Barry

                  Thankfully, history is increasingly looking at the confederate cause as treasonous and will Only continue to do so.

                  Their actions cost the lives of hundreds of thousands to preserve hatred.

                  Lee should have been shot for all to see.

                3. Barry

                  Ken

                  It’s just another version (sanitized in this case) of the Lost Cause. It’s disgusting.

                  Celebrating and honoring traitors is shameful.

                4. Ken

                  I should just add that calling it treason does not involve assigning “our current political and social judgments retroactively.” Many at the time called the South’s actions treason. For proof, just look to the lyrics to a popular tune of the day:

                  “The Union forever, hurrah, boys, hurrah!
                  Down with the traitors, up with the stars!”

            3. Brad Warthen Post author

              We have a problem with terminology. For instance, we use modern terms like “white supremacy” to describe events in the 19th century. It doesn’t quite work — makes it sound like the only problem with slavery was white people wanting to lord it over black people. There was a lot more going on than that.

              “Treason” is an older word, but it has its own problems.

              From what I can tell, I think the Confederates truly believed that a state that had voluntarily joined the United States could at its own will leave it.

              Historically, that’s a defensible argument. It doesn’t make the Confederate cause defensible, because the REASON they wanted to leave was to preserve slavery. But it messes with the “treason” term.

              There’s no doubt that firing on the Star of the West and then Fort Sumter were vicious criminal acts. I’m not sure, in that context, that the word for it is “treason,” though. Maybe it is.

              Anyway, as Ken said, the war settled the issue of whether secession is permitted. It isn’t…

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            4. Barry

              Those who fought for the Confederacy committed “an act of rebellion and an act of treason at the time against the Union, against the Stars & Stripes, against the U.S. Constitution,” Milley said. “Now some have a different view of that — some think it’s heritage” that led the South into rebellion, “and some think it’s hate.” – Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen, Mark Milley

              https://www.military.com/daily-news/2020/07/09/black-troops-bear-cost-bases-named-confederates-milley-says.html

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        2. Bryan Caskey

          Vandalism is an action involving deliberate destruction of or damage to public or private property. It’s not political speech.

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          1. Ken

            So when the Sons of Liberty toppled the statue of George III in NYC’s Bowling Green, that wasn’t political speech, just vandalism? Ok, good, at least we know where you stand on American history.

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            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              I’ve never been a fan of the Sons of Liberty. As I’ve said many times before, I’m a fan of John Adams, not of his cousin Sam.

              And yes, tearing down the king’s statue was an act of vandalism. Seems like even people who favored that action would call it vandalism, however justified they see it as being.

              A LOT of what happened before the Declaration — such as the Boston Tea Party — is problematic for me. Yes, technically tearing down the statue was AFTER the Declaration, but it was in the nature of those things that went before. It was very Sons of Liberty rather than Continental Congress.

              The Declaration was a John Adams kind of thing. Tearing down a statue of the king was a Sam Adams kind of thing. I go with the due process guy…

              Reply
    3. Brad Warthen Post author

      Well, in that case, we’re just going to continue to disagree on the whole taking-the-law-into-your-own-hands thing. I don’t hold with it, whatever the cause.

      After four years of Trump, we desperately need to be putting our country back together, and that includes embracing the rule of law and working to make our representative democracy healthy again. But we won’t be able to do it with people on both the left and right believing, and acting like, whatever they do is OK as long as it’s in the service of their cause.

      Having Trump believe that is bad enough…

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  6. bud

    Brad, what you’re doing here is what you often do. You’re taking equating the rather minor, and entirely understandable, crime of vandalizing statues of vile people like Ben Tillman with the reprehensible crime of murdering George Floyd. That is a disgusting example of false equivalency. You just can’t hide behind the principle of the rule of law on this and expect those of us who long for a better world to merely nod in agreement. False equivalency is a pervasive cancer on our society. We need to get this right.

    Reply
    1. Bryan Caskey

      I don’t see anyone equating the death of George Floyd with vandalism. They are both crimes, but they certainly aren’t equivalent. Punishments fit the crime.

      By the by, could someone tell me how taking down any monument reduces police overstepping their authority? I’m just not sure how the two are connected. Are the police going to say “Whoa. They took down the “X” statue. We better ease up on shooting folks.” As a practical matter, that is. How is one connected to the other?

      To me, it seems that people feel powerless (perhaps rightly) to actually affect change they want, so they lash out at something else within their reach. The thing they lash out at may or may not be related to the underlying problem.

      Reply
      1. Ken

        I’ll file your post under the category “wilful blindness.”

        Police reform is inextricably tied up with the broader matter of racism in America. Obviously taking down statues won’t solve either problem. But those in favor of doing so (just like those who see no problem in adding an advisory to showings of “Gone with the Wind”) have never claimed it would “fix” the problem. Because there IS no ONE magic bullet that will settle the matter once and for all. Instead, it is part of the process of addressing the issue. Just like taking down the Confederate flag, first from atop the Statehouse and then from in front of the Statehouse, was one aspect, a single step in dealing with the problem. Did that solve the problem? No, but it was a move in the right direction.

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        1. Bryan Caskey

          “Police reform is inextricably tied up with the broader matter of racism in America. Obviously taking down statues won’t solve either problem.”

          I agree.

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      2. bud

        Let’s go back to this statement from Brad. I find this choice of wording stunning:

        “We have to be able to applaud people who find what happened to George Floyd an outrage, a violation of all we believe in, while at the same time condemning people who would attack a statue of Abraham Lincoln dedicated with the help of Frederick Douglas.“

        I hope Brad doesn’t believe these two acts are equivalent. But damn it that IS what he strongly implies here. Since George Floyd was murdered I have yet to hear Brad come out and unambiguously condemn the Minneapolis cops. No. Instead he “applauds” those that do. That’s the kind of wording that makes people angry. Sorry Brad and Bryan, I’m just not in the mood to get worked up about the god damn statues right now. And if you can’t understand why then we’re in a whole lot of trouble as a nation.

        Reply
  7. bud

    We have to able to applaud people who find what the Nazis did to the Jews outrageous while at the same time condemn people who shoplift a 2 liter Coke.

    Reply

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