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RFK, Jr. Tried to Whitesplain the Confederacy. It Didn't Go Well.


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RFK Jr. tried to whitesplain the Confederacy. It didn't go well.

Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. offered praise for members of the Confederacy that sought to secede from the United States.

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May 31, 2024, 10:00 AM MDT

By Ja'han Jones

Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. tried to whitesplain the Confederacy during a recent appearance on a right-wing podcast. And it didn’t go well. 

Kennedy has been quite cagey about publicly committing to various political issues. One issue he’s been remarkably consistent on, however, is his sympathy for insurrectionists. You may remember that earlier this year, he claimed that the Jan. 6 insurrection wasn’t actually an insurrection in his view and claimed he’d investigate their “harsh treatment” if elected.

But Kennedy’s comments on the removal of monuments celebrating Confederate generals suggest that his backing of anti-government assailants spans multiple centuries. 

As NBC News reported

Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. criticized the removal of Confederate statues in a recent interview, arguing that the people they honor may have had “other qualities.” Speaking Friday on the “Timcast IRL” podcast, Kennedy described a “visceral reaction to this destroying history.” “I don’t like it,” he told conservative podcaster Tim Pool. “I think we should celebrate who we are. And that, you know, we should celebrate the good qualities of everybody.” Kennedy also pointed to “heroes in the Confederacy who didn’t have slaves,” but he later praised Robert E. Lee, a slave owner, suggesting Lee, the top Confederate general, demonstrated “extraordinary qualities of leadership” that warranted recognition.

Kennedy continued, claiming, “We need to be able to be sophisticated enough to live with, you know, our ancestors who didn’t agree with us on everything and who did things that are now regarded as immoral or wrong, because they, you know, maybe they had other qualities."

You’d be hard-pressed to find a phrase as ahistorical and condescending as this one. Americans, for example, can and do “live with” the impact of Confederates, whether or not those Confederates are memorialized in statue form. Contrary to Kennedy’s claim, the issue isn’t that these Confederates “didn’t agree with us on everything,” the problem is that their most fervent belief — that Black people were subhuman and deserving of chattel slavery — is incompatible with civil society.

The idea that their behavior is only “now” regarded as immoral ignores the fact that it was immoral and wrong even then and many enslaved people denounced their bondage as they were experiencing it. And it’s highly offensive for anyone, let alone a wealthy, white Kennedy heir, to suggest that carrying this warped view of history amounts to “sophistication.” 

Kennedy’s veneration for Confederates is detached from reality. That comes as no surprise, considering he's widely known as a conspiracy theorist. But the fact that this veneration fits a trend of him publicly defending violent anti-government forces should concern any voters invested in democracy. 

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Posted (edited)

I'm posting this for Paul Brancato, Michael Griffith, and interested NYT non-subscribers.

It's probably the single best op-ed that I have read on the subject of Confederate statues. Columbia University historian Eric Foner published this brief commentary in the New York Times in 2017.

Foner is one of the world authorities on the history of Southern Reconstruction after the American Civil War.



Confederate Statues and ‘Our’ History
www.nytimes.com/2017/08/20/opinion/confederate-statues-american-history.html

by Professor Eric Foner

August 20, 2017

President Trump’s Thursday morning tweet lamenting that the removal of Confederate statues tears apart “the history and culture of our great country” raises numerous questions, among them: Who is encompassed in that “our”?


Mr. Trump may not know it, but he has entered a debate that goes back to the founding of the republic. Should American nationality be based on shared values, regardless of race, ethnicity and national origin, or should it rest on “blood and soil,” to quote the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Va., whom Trump has at least partly embraced?

Neither Mr. Trump nor the Charlottesville marchers invented the idea that the United States is essentially a country for white persons. The very first naturalization law, enacted in 1790 to establish guidelines for how immigrants could become American citizens, limited the process to “white” persons.

What about nonwhites born in this country? Before the Civil War, citizenship was largely defined by individual states. Some recognized blacks born within their boundaries as citizens, but many did not. As far as national law was concerned, the question was resolved by the Supreme Court in the infamous Dred Scott decision of 1857. Blacks, wrote Chief Justice Roger B. Taney (a statue of whom was removed from public display in Baltimore this week), were and would always be aliens in America.

Many Americans, of course, rejected this racial definition of American nationality. Foremost among them were abolitionists, male and female, black and white, who put forward an alternative definition, known today as birthright citizenship. Anybody born in the United States, they insisted, was a citizen, and all citizens should enjoy equality before the law. Abolitionists advocated not only the end of slavery, but also the incorporation of the freed people as equal members of American society.

In the period of Reconstruction that followed the war, this egalitarian vision was, for the first time, written into our laws and Constitution. But the advent of multiracial democracy in the Southern states inspired a wave of terrorist opposition by the Ku Klux Klan and kindred groups, antecedents of the Klansmen and neo-Nazis who marched in Charlottesville. One by one the Reconstruction governments were overthrown, and in the next generation white supremacy again took hold in the South.

When Mr. Trump identifies statues commemorating Confederate leaders as essential parts of “our” history and culture, he is honoring that dark period. Like all monuments, these statues say a lot more about the time they were erected than the historical era they evoke. The great waves of Confederate monument building took place in the 1890s, as the Confederacy was coming to be idealized as the so-called Lost Cause and the Jim Crow system was being fastened upon the South, and in the 1920s, the height of black disenfranchisement, segregation and lynching. The statues were part of the legitimation of this racist regime and of an exclusionary definition of America.

The historian Carl Becker wrote that history is what the present chooses to remember about the past. Historical monuments are, among other things, an expression of power — an indication of who has the power to choose how history is remembered in public places.

If the issue were simply heritage, why are there no statues of Lt. Gen. James Longstreet, one of Gen. Robert E. Lee’s key lieutenants? Not because of poor generalship; indeed, Longstreet warned Lee against undertaking Pickett’s Charge, which ended the battle of Gettysburg. Longstreet’s crime came after the Civil War: He endorsed black male suffrage and commanded the Metropolitan Police of New Orleans, which in 1874 engaged in armed combat with white supremacists seeking to seize control of the state government. Longstreet is not a symbol of white supremacy; therefore he was largely ineligible for commemoration by those who long controlled public memory in the South.

As all historians know, forgetting is as essential to public understandings of history as remembering. Confederate statues do not simply commemorate “our” history, as the president declared. They honor one part of our past. Where are the statues in the former slave states honoring the very large part of the Southern population (beginning with the four million slaves) that sided with the Union rather than the Confederacy? Where are the monuments to the victims of slavery or to the hundreds of black lawmakers who during Reconstruction served in positions ranging from United States senator to justice of the peace to school board official? Excluding blacks from historical recognition has been the other side of the coin of glorifying the Confederacy.

We have come a long way from the days of the Dred Scott decision. But our public monuments have not kept up. The debate unleashed by Charlottesville is a healthy re-examination of the question “Who is an American?” And “our” history and culture is far more complex, diverse and inclusive than the president appears to realize.

Eric Foner is a professor of history at Columbia and the author, most recently, of “Battles for Freedom: The Use and Abuse of American History.”

 

Edited by W. Niederhut
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On 6/1/2024 at 12:03 PM, W. Niederhut said:

RFK Jr. tried to whitesplain the Confederacy. It didn't go well.

Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. offered praise for members of the Confederacy that sought to secede from the United States.

jahan-jones-msnbc_1.png

May 31, 2024, 10:00 AM MDT

By Ja'han Jones

Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. tried to whitesplain the Confederacy during a recent appearance on a right-wing podcast. And it didn’t go well. 

Kennedy has been quite cagey about publicly committing to various political issues. One issue he’s been remarkably consistent on, however, is his sympathy for insurrectionists. You may remember that earlier this year, he claimed that the Jan. 6 insurrection wasn’t actually an insurrection in his view and claimed he’d investigate their “harsh treatment” if elected.

But Kennedy’s comments on the removal of monuments celebrating Confederate generals suggest that his backing of anti-government assailants spans multiple centuries. 

As NBC News reported

Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. criticized the removal of Confederate statues in a recent interview, arguing that the people they honor may have had “other qualities.” Speaking Friday on the “Timcast IRL” podcast, Kennedy described a “visceral reaction to this destroying history.” “I don’t like it,” he told conservative podcaster Tim Pool. “I think we should celebrate who we are. And that, you know, we should celebrate the good qualities of everybody.” Kennedy also pointed to “heroes in the Confederacy who didn’t have slaves,” but he later praised Robert E. Lee, a slave owner, suggesting Lee, the top Confederate general, demonstrated “extraordinary qualities of leadership” that warranted recognition.

Kennedy continued, claiming, “We need to be able to be sophisticated enough to live with, you know, our ancestors who didn’t agree with us on everything and who did things that are now regarded as immoral or wrong, because they, you know, maybe they had other qualities."

You’d be hard-pressed to find a phrase as ahistorical and condescending as this one. Americans, for example, can and do “live with” the impact of Confederates, whether or not those Confederates are memorialized in statue form. Contrary to Kennedy’s claim, the issue isn’t that these Confederates “didn’t agree with us on everything,” the problem is that their most fervent belief — that Black people were subhuman and deserving of chattel slavery — is incompatible with civil society.

The idea that their behavior is only “now” regarded as immoral ignores the fact that it was immoral and wrong even then and many enslaved people denounced their bondage as they were experiencing it. And it’s highly offensive for anyone, let alone a wealthy, white Kennedy heir, to suggest that carrying this warped view of history amounts to “sophistication.” 

Kennedy’s veneration for Confederates is detached from reality. That comes as no surprise, considering he's widely known as a conspiracy theorist. But the fact that this veneration fits a trend of him publicly defending violent anti-government forces should concern any voters invested in democracy. 

Wow. Just holy cow wow. It is instructive and sad to see the fringe end of the far left making these kinds of absurd accusations against a man like Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a man who has devoted his entire lie to battling the corporate capture of our government, battling the military-industrial complex, preserving and protecting the environment, supporting labor and the middle class, fighting for the rule of law and justice, and talking about the truth regarding the JFK and RFK assassinations, etc.

Nearly every argument you can make against Robert E. Lee you can also make against George Washington, Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, and even Abraham Lincoln, etc., etc. Shall we start tearing down statues of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln? Shall we demolish the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial? 

You represent the partisan poison and extremism that are ruining our politics and polarizing our people. Your fire-eating "all or nothing" and "my way or the highway" brand of politics is a huge part of the problem, not the solution. 

Edited by Michael Griffith
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4 hours ago, Michael Griffith said:

Wow. Just holy cow wow. It is instructive and sad to see the fringe end of the far left making these kinds of absurd accusations against a man like Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a man who has devoted his entire lie to battling the corporate capture of our government, battling the military-industrial complex, preserving and protecting the environment, supporting labor and the middle class, fighting for the rule of law and justice, and talking about the truth regarding the JFK and RFK assassinations, etc.

Nearly every argument you can make against Robert E. Lee you can also make against George Washington, Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, and even Abraham Lincoln, etc., etc. Shall we start tearing down statues of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln? Shall we demolish the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial? 

You represent the partisan poison and extremism that are ruining our politics and polarizing our people. Your fire-eating "all or nothing" and "my way or the highway" brand of politics is a huge part of the problem, not the solution. 

Michael,

    Wow.   Just wow.  Sometimes I have serious doubts about your reading comprehension skills and historical acumen. 

   Go back and study Columbia University Professor Eric Foner's erudite, accurate commentary (above) about the significance of the Jim Crow era Confederate statues.  They are monuments to racism, slavery, and the oppression of African Americans.

    It can't be said more clearly than Foner said it.

    And, yes, RFK, Jr. whiffed badly on the subject.   His knowledge of Reconstruction and Jim Crow era history is, apparently, as limited as his knowledge of immunology and virology.

    As for your absurd lumping of Benjamin Franklin and Abraham Lincoln in the same category with slaveowners like GW, TJ, and Madison, hit the books, kid.

    You need to read Foner's books on Reconstruction and Lincoln's beliefs about slavery-- The Fiery Trial.

The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery: Foner, Eric: 9780393340662: Amazon.com: Books

 

P.S.  You must have missed the major news stories about RFK, Jr.'s misguided 2024 stalking horse candidacy being condemned by the Kennedy family, and by his former environmentalist colleagues in New York.

Edited by W. Niederhut
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