Is there some way to help President Trump recover from the damage caused by his comments relating to events in Charlottesville and the future of Confederate monuments? Perhaps he could issue a statement of his position following the model of the classic “If-by-Whiskey” speech given by Noah Sweat, a Mississippi legislator, in 1952 on the controversial question of legalizing the sale of liquor. In that speech, Sweat passionately and convincingly argued two opposing sides of a serious issue.
If our president followed that model, he could explain his position as follows:
“My friends, I had not intended to discuss this controversial subject any further. But as you know I do not shun controversy. On the contrary, I will take a stand on any issue at any time, regardless of how fraught with controversy it might be. You have asked me how I feel about the removal of Confederate monuments. All right, here is how I feel about them and the proposals to take them down.
“If, when you say Confederate monuments, you mean the memorials to those young men who entered the war of 1861-65 in answer to the call of their country and whose lives taught the lesson of their great commander that duty is the sublimest word in the English language; if you mean those monuments that celebrate Southern pride and stand for heritage, not hate; if you mean those long-standing statues which, if removed would erase history and give in to those who believe that the way to cultivate democracy and racial harmony is to obliterate physical markers of the past and prettify our mixed American history; if you mean those monuments whose removal would be more likely to freeze than eradicate our nation’s lingering hatreds by eliminating opportunities for critical contextualization to use our past to instruct us for a better future; if you mean those monuments that have been a reminder that while the South lost the Civil War, its people should not lose their respect for the soldiers who fought and fell in defeat; if you mean those monuments that polls show a majority of Americans want to preserve; if you mean those monuments that anchor beautiful and peaceful public places where people of all backgrounds and races gather and whose removal would thus rip apart the landscape, history and culture of our great country, then certainly I support Confederate monuments and oppose their removal.
“But, if when you say Confederate monuments, you mean those structures that glorify the Confederacy and its legacy of slavery; if you mean monuments erected long after the end of the Civil War that were part of efforts to support white supremacy and symbolize the white men’s duty and right to rule and which gave legitimacy to the Jim Crow regimes that segregated nearly every aspect of life; if you mean those monuments that have made the black people who pass by them every day walk in the shadows of edifices that honor and glorify those who enslaved, beat and slaughtered such people’s ancestors and who supported a bloody Civil War to protect the inhumane institution of slavery; if you mean those monuments that are constant reminders of institutional racism, segregation and slavery and have become symbols of modern white supremacy, the KKK, and neo-Nazism, then certainly I am against Confederate monuments and they must be removed.
“This is my stand. I will not retreat from it. I will not compromise.”
The text of Noah Sweat’s “If-by-Whiskey” speech is available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/If-by-whiskey.
D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” which airs Sundays at noon and Thursdays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV.