The recent Charlottesville riots in the US state of Virginia was, to a large extent, triggered by a controversial decision by the local legislature to remove a statue of General Robert E. Lee, the commander-in-chief of the Confederate forces in the American Civil War.
However, while the racial violence in Charlottesville has already died down, the controversy surrounding other statues of American historical figures erected across the country seems to be intensifying. And lying at the heart of the ongoing rhetoric is whether statues of historical figures who are deemed “politically incorrect” by the mainstream liberals should also be removed.
It appears an all-out, nationwide confrontation between liberals who are in favor of tearing down these statues and white conservatives who have vowed to protect them at all costs is looming on the horizon in the US.
And the latest bone of contention between mainstream liberals and white conservatives is the statue of Christopher Columbus in New York City erected in 1892, which over the years has remained one of the city’s most famous and iconic landmarks.
As far as mainstream liberals and Native Americans are concerned, they want the statue to be removed because from their point of view, Columbus was more of a mass murderer than an explorer and seafarer because his exploration of the American Continent starting from 1492 resulted in the death of tens of thousands of American Indians.
However, no matter how hard those who favor the removal of Columbus’s statue are casting themselves in righteous light, their arguments have remained flimsy to those who are against the idea, because to them, Columbus deserves credit for opening a new chapter in the history of human civilization even though he wasn’t a flawless man.
Some political commentators have referred to the ongoing controversy over the removal of these statues as “an alternative civil war”. However, unlike the real Civil War in the 1860s, we believe there would be no winner in this “alt-civil war” because all such historical revisionist approach does is create new controversy and open old wounds in American society. And in the end, everybody would be a loser.
As for President Donald Trump, while his Republican partymates are rushing to dissociate themselves from him over his equivocal stance on the white supremacists who staged the violence in Charlottesville in order not to undermine their prospects in the upcoming congressional mid-term elections, it is unlikely that he can keep himself away from the ongoing “statue controversy”.
If the controversy snowballs into a full-blown political crisis, it is quite likely that Trump could be rendered a lame duck president after the mid-term elections next year as more and more mainstream Republicans abandon him.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug. 28
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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