Adolf Hitler was a bad guy, but I but he did at least a few good things.
He may have had a nice singing voice or perhaps he found cute kittens adorable. You have to admit, he was dedicated to his beliefs.
I still can’t imagine a circumstance where I would call him honorable.
Robert E. Lee isn’t as bad as Hitler. He was a seditionist and led a rebellion that divided our country and cost us hundreds of thousands of lives simply to support slavery.
I know. I know.
White House Chief of Staff Gen. John Kelly said Lee believed in state’s rights and he fought to defend them. He did fight for state’s rights — the right for states to keep slavery legal.
Until revisionist historians began trying to lessen the impact of slavery in order to be able to cling to certain tenets of institutional racism, everyone knew that the Civil War was about ending the practice of slavery.
I am slow to judge people from another era by today’s cultural standards. Things were different then. George Washington owned slaves. Thomas Jefferson did too. At the time, owning people to work on a farm was culturally acceptable. Looking back, we are shocked and saddened. But at the time, preachers preached it, teachers taught it and culture accepted it.
It is 2017. We view things differently now. In 1917, women couldn’t vote and interracial marriage wasn’t even legal in all 50 states until 1967. In 1967, the civil rights movement was rolling and overt institutional racism was still very prevalent.
As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. famously stated, “Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
In Lee’s time, owning slaves and even fighting a war to preserve that culture and economic system was not as morally abhorrent as it is today. The arc has bent far from those days and I am willing to give him a 150 years worth of a break.
That being said, Lee was anything but honorable. Not even a little bit. He didn’t just fight for his side in battle. He captured free black men and enslaved them. After a slave beating, he famously asked for the slaves to be bathed in brine to literally pour salt in the newly opened wounds.
That isn’t cultural. That is cruel.
I understand the people who idolize Lincoln for preserving the unity of the country and freeing the slaves. I’ll never understand those who want to excuse the awful practices that created an American caste system and threatened to destroy the country. White House Spokesperson Sarah Huckabee-Sanders recently said she didn’t think it was appropriate to debate a Four Star General. Like General Kelly’s assertions about Gen. Lee being honorable, Sanders was wrong.
Gen. Kelly fell into a trap that has ensnared most of the people who still support President Donald Trump.
Canadian historian Margaret MacMillan once said, “We can learn from history, but we can also deceive ourselves when we selectively take evidence from the past to justify what we have already made up our minds to believe.”
Sanders defended Kelly’s comments on the Civil War by saying that “just because you don’t like history doesn’t mean you can erase it and pretend it didn’t happen.”
I don’t think anyone wants to change history that they don’t like. I think the thing that concerns a majority of Americans is just which part of history the people at the top of this administration actually like.
Sanders was also called on to lie for the President this week after he called the federal court system “a joke and a laughing stock.” He didn’t imply or insinuate it. President Trump actually said, “what we have now is a joke and it’s a laughing stock.” It was on video with the president sitting and answering questions with many cameras pointed at him.
Sanders was quick to tell reporters just hours later that the president didn’t say that.
To use Sanders own words, just because you don’t like what the president says, doesn’t mean you can erase it or pretend it didn’t happen.
The president went on to comment on a case where charges haven’t even been filed against a man who is the primary suspect in the New York City terrorist attack this week. Trump said in a tweet that the man “should be put to death” in all capital letters. About eight hours later, after a chance to sleep on it, the president softened his tone.
He doubled down with only the words “death penalty” in all caps even though he added a call for the trial to move quickly.
Any federal prosecutor — who had to try what seemed like a slam dunk case minutes before the president fired up his Twitter thumbs like a high school girl at a country music concert — had to cringe knowing that the President of the United States has just made his job a lot harder by giving even a rookie defense attorney plenty of ammunition for motions to move the trial, argue for a contaminated jury when the facts in the case made it seem easy until Trump inserted his opinion.
Just a couple of years before he was impeached, another president did something very similar.
President Richard Nixon also decided to declare a suspect guilty before a trial.
What a strange coincidence.
Nixon said during the trial of Charles Manson that the suspected murderer was guilty of killing eight people directly or indirectly.
Before the days of Twitter, Nixon had to have his press secretary retract the statement because “a suspect should be presumed innocent at this point in the trial.”
The New York City terror suspect was still in his hospital bed when the president said he should be sentenced to death not once but twice.
I’m glad Nixon isn’t alive to see this administration. He would probably be all over nightly news shows pointing out how he got such a bad rap for so much less.
— Kent Bush is publisher of Shawnee (Oklahoma) News-Star and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.