by Matthew Boose
It’s one of the ironic facts of history that Lincoln was fond of the tune “Dixie.” Following the capture of Richmond in 1865, he instructed the Union band to play it in celebration of the South’s surrender. “I have always thought ‘Dixie’ one of the best tunes I have ever heard. Our adversaries over the way attempted to appropriate it, but I insisted yesterday that we fairly captured it,” he said. “I now request the band to favor me with its performance.”’
Lincoln’s feelings aren’t hard to understand. “Dixie” is as good as any song that belongs to America. But what was to Lincoln a beautiful melody that had been “fairly captured” has today been marked down by polite society as an anthem of white supremacy and a relic of “Lost Cause” mythology. Indeed, amidst what they’re calling the “reckoning,” a passionate urgency to expunge the Confederacy from history has perhaps never been stronger.
One and a half centuries since Appomattox, and some weeks since Halloween, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is still having night terrors of Johnny Reb. In his mission to combat “hate speech,” the governor banned the sale of Confederate flags (keeping seniors alive was too tall an order, apparently). In support of this call to action, Cuomo decried a “pervasive, growing attitude of intolerance and hate” that festers like an “American cancer.”
The nature and extent of this “American cancer” has seldom been explained (exactly who is hating whom?), but it does not appear to stop with Confederate flags, or generals for that matter.
In San Francisco, a committee has recommended renaming Abraham Lincoln High School because of the 16th president’s alleged failure to honor “black lives.” Other school names to be reconsidered as no longer worthy of honor are George Washington, James Monroe, Francis Scott Key, and Paul Revere. This development came not long before a statue of Robert E. Lee was removed from the Capitol, to be replaced, of course, by a Civil Rights activist.
If you look at this a certain way, you might be confused. Why assign Lincoln to the same oblivion as his adversaries in life? Wasn’t he one of the good guys?
For those who still remember the summer’s riots, none of this is terribly surprising. It feels like a fever dream now, but it was just a short time ago that mobs were setting cities on fire and tearing down statues of the nation’s greatest heroes. Washington and Jefferson were targeted. So was Lincoln. (A statue of Lincoln was just taken down in Boston.) Meanwhile, the woke Left has pushed bizarre new idols for the country to worship. George Washington came down, George Floyd went up. This went on for weeks and months without restraint, and with the silent sanction of America’s leadership class. Democrats didn’t say a word, and Republicans largely followed suit.
Donald Trump was virtually the only public figure who pushed back and said what was sensible to millions: America’s heritage was under attack. The summer’s uprisings set the stage for what everyone understood as the most momentous election in living memory. America was faced with an existential choice.
The summer’s events also revealed that despite a feigned attachment to the nation of Washington and Lincoln, the Left is not terribly concerned with who was on the “right side of history” 150 years ago. They have a vision of what America should be that is stubbornly radical and at odds with anything that has existed before. Their hostility is not directed at the Confederacy but the American Founding itself.
While the Left might take issue with the moral choices Lincoln or Washington made during their lives, it is not at this level that they are condemned. To the Left, it is more important that they are said to belong to a corrupt and evil civilization of European settlers that oppressed natives and blacks and which is very much alive today. That is the civilization that must be erased from history, along with any part of it that still remains.
Against such a charge, there can be no acquittal for the Great Emancipator. Well-meaning people may try to defend him with some qualified defense that he lived in a different time and cannot be expected to satisfy our standards, but this is doomed to fail, not to mention that it is, in itself, an unjust indictment of the man.
It’s one of the shameful tendencies of our time that we look down on the titans of our past with a condescending sneer. This spirit of presumptuous arrogance now drives committees of petty bureaucrats to pass judgment on great men with made-up criteria and racism scores. The whole pathetic enterprise deserves mockery. As soon as one concedes that there is merit in the small-minded vantage point of these destroyers, the game has already been lost.
Donald Trump has vetoed the National Defense Authorization Act over its proposal to rename military bases with Confederate names, like Fort Benning and Fort Bragg. He should be applauded for this. It would be a mistake to let this bill go through in its current form.
The demands for “healing” will not stop with Benning and Lee. If the Left gets their way, Lincoln will someday be remembered no differently than George Wallace. It won’t happen all at once, but they will make sure of it.
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Matthew Boose is a Mt. Vernon fellow of the Center for American Greatness and a staff writer and weekly columnist at the Conservative Institute. His writing has also appeared in the Daily Caller. Follow him on Twitter @matt_boose.