Decades from now experts will surely debate today’s Summer of Monumental Hysteria. After all, by all objective criteria—assuming, of course, that anything can be objective if it involves race—it should not have happened. How many Americans really can correctly identify Robert E. Lee, let alone Roger B. Taney? (According to one recent survey, half the American public did not know when the Civil War happened.) Do racially sensitive African Americans even notice the names on these statues or plaques when they encountered them? Why now since most of these offense-giving inanimate objects have existed for decades?
Most critically, is there any evidence to suggest that the very existence of a park or a school horning a Confederate dignitary has adversely affected anybody, regardless of race in the slightest way? Do black children enrolled in J.E.B. Stewart Middle School under-perform academically compared to those attending the Malcolm X Academy? Does the Jefferson Memorial emit a dangerous racial version of Radon? Can visitors be “protected” by having a warning: Be advised that Jefferson once owned slaves so proceed at one’s own risk.” Tellingly, nobody is even interested in an evidence-based argument regarding this toxicity.”Everybody knows” that anything about the Confederacy is hateful and all hatefulness has to be exorcised from American life since hate, like asbestos and tobacco, is bad. At least leftish professors don’t have to invent “studies” to make this point.
Some explanations for this sudden and unexpected hysteria immediately come to mind. There are countless organizations skilled at turning almost any event into a fund-raiser while those obsessed with bashing President Trump will find any excuse to condemn him. And let’s not forget all those who enjoy cheap moral highs by marching against hate and bigotry even if the source of the “hate” is a coffee mug decorated with the stars and bars.
All correct, I’m sure, but let me add a less obvious but ultimately more important hypothesis: the sudden hysteria is a result of decades of pent up exasperation over failure at achieving racial equality. In a nutshell, for at least a half-century, perhaps longer, America has struggled with its “race problem” and while proposed solutions exceed dozens, and expenditures in the trillions, progress has been scant. In fact, on at least some indicators, for example, illegitimacy and crime, race-related matters where better off in the 1950s. Not even electing a black President has cured America’s race strife despite all the assurances that Obama would be a “post-racial” President that would, once and for all, bring everybody together. What we have gotten for all our efforts is Black Lives Matter and yet even more black condemnation of whites.
This accumulated frustration can be likened to a situation where a patient with a grim prognosis grows ever more desperate as one standard treatment after the next fails to reverse the illness. These frantic patients often gravitate to quacks despite the low odds of a cure. Nevertheless, the very act of visiting a faith healer or drinking a magical herbal concoction outshines passivity. And who knows, the world abounds with testimonials to quack cures and “doing something” calms the despair.
Think of the Monumental Madness as social engineering quackery—it probably will accomplish little if anything but it feels better than doing nothing. What encourages this desperate quest for today’s “miracle” is that so many past solutions, at least according to all the learned experts, were “guaranteed” to perform as advertised and all failed. Recall when the surefire cure was improved education—ending segregation, equalizing school expenditures, hiring more black teachers and administrators, altering textbooks to make it more relevant to black youngsters, intensive pre-school (Head Start, Sesame Street) and, more recently, eradicating unconscious teacher bias and no longer disproportionately disciplining blacks. We’ve had Bush’s No Child Left Behind and Obama’s Race to the Top and countless other expensive remedies.
A similar guaranteed cure was political empowerment, that is, the Department of Justice would ensure that blacks would live in cities run by black elected officials and self-government would cure everything from crime to joblessness. The upshot, of course, have been urban disasters like Detroit and Selma, AL. And let’s not forget tough anti-discrimination laws that would ban employers from using racist job descriptions, and affirmative action programs that would temporarily give a leg up to those who began the race a few steps behind.
All and all, genuine successes are rare, typically only cosmetic, and if there were a Museum of Failed Cures for America’s Racial Problems, it would be the size of Washington’s Smithsonian.
In other words, by the summer of 2017, the frustration over repeated failures plus the lack of any more “guaranteed” solutions on the agenda had created a perfect setting for quackery. Now, as with all serious but likely intractable problems, the marketplace supplies something to meet these needs, and to continue our parallel with those suffering from incurable cancer, taking down statutes of Confederate soldiers or re-naming buildings is the equivalent of using Laetrile among countless other bogus cures. Yes, there is no scientific evidence that past crusade against “hate” has even helped African Americans, but given the sorry record of past efforts, why not give it a try? Hard to resist anything that feels so good.
What has permitted this quackery to explode is that Confederate statutes and similar hateful objects are everywhere and the cost of exorcizing the evil spirits is trivial vis-a-vis past solutions. Just compare the difficulties of purging racism from a police department with scrutinizing at a city map to find streets named after slave-owners and demanding that they be re-named. The especially good news is that this quest can be life-time employment. In 2016 the Southern Poverty Law Center estimates that there were some 700 Confederate statutes and monuments on public property and who knows how many schools, streets and cemetery markers similarly radiate hate (Wall Street Journal, August 22, 2017, A3). Further add 10 Army bases names after Confederate generals. So much hate, so little time.
This is vigilante justice and everyone, regardless of training or brains, can anoint themselves as soldiers to overcome racial inequality and win a Participation Trophy. Be a hero; just find a statute of Stonewall Jackson hidden in storage room.
The cost of this hysteria far exceeds upsetting those who cherish the Confederate legacy. Yet again the public debate will carefully dodge that Truth That Dare Not Speak Its Name: racial equality is impossible, and its quest can only generate yet more Noble Lies and, worst of all, increasingly totalitarian measures that accomplish nothing other than needlessly expand government power. But then again, perhaps this is what today’s madness is all about—far easier to rave and rant about Robert E. Lee than confront a very unpleasant reality. By that standard, tearing down statutes and re-naming schools is a great investment for those intent on keeping the racial peace.