The War on Statues has spread much farther than the Confederate generals and southern slaveholders that were the original targets. Historical figures like Christopher Columbus, Abraham Lincoln, Joan of Arc, and now 1970s era Philadelphia Mayor Frank Rizzo have been targeted by the modern vandals. Now establishment liberals such as Paul Begala and Andrew Young are calling for a halt on the iconoclastic jihad for a couple of practical reasons.

The War on Statues plays into Donald Trump’s hands

Begala, an old Bill Clinton retainer, suggested that the people trying to pull down monuments left and right are “driving straight into a trap Trump has set.” The theory is that President Trump does not have to engage his liberal critics on Neo Nazis or Russian collusion or whatever the conspiracy theory of the week is.

He can now, with some justification, claim that his opponents are making a full throated assault on American, indeed, Western history itself. Of course, many of the Antifa and Black Lives Matter agitators would respond that is the point. America is evil. Western civilization is evil. The symbols of those two institutions need to be brought down. Begala is a canny enough political operative to know that idea is a loser and swells the ranks of Trump supporters.

Can’t we argue about substance over symbolism?

Andrew Young, who had failed spectacularly as Jimmy Carter’s first UN Ambassador before becoming a successful mayor of Atlanta, had a more expansive point. Young, who was an associate of Dr.

Martin Luther King, knows that the nation can expunge every last monument to the Confederacy but not one problem facing the United States would be addressed not to mentioned solved. Young, when he was a mayor, hit upon an idea that is not well respected on the left, which was to encourage private investment to create jobs, improve education, and enhance health care.

To be sure, Young remains a man of the left, but he did show a pragmatic side.

How symbolism can win elections

Trump won the 2016 election by promising to “make America great again.” People define national greatness in different ways. A robust economy and a country where laws are respected by everyone, wealthy or poor, are certainly signs of national greatness.

However, veneration of history also plays a part in the matter. A country cannot be great unless it thinks itself as being great. President Barack Obama once sneered at the concept of American exceptionalism. Trump, no matter what else one can say about him, believes in that concept to his marrow, as do his supporters. People who think America is exceptional do not clamor to pull down its symbols and will abhor anyone who seeks to do so.

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