Charlottesville’s novel solution to the conflict over its monuments to Confederate heroes is to drape them in statue burqas meant to shield viewers from the temptation to either worship or become enraged by the images of men who lost a war 150 years ago. Up until a year ago, of course, no such measures were necessary because nobody reacted that way. But sure, it’s the statues that are the problem, so they need to be covered.
It looks like this.
That’s the statue of Robert E. Lee somewhere under there. Here is Stonewall Jackson.
Charlottesville has a tendency to put up bad Modern art, and these look like new entries—abstract pieces entitled “Moral Cowardice.”
This completes the kind of magical thinking behind the Confederate statues campaign: if we cover the idols of the old gods, we can finally banish their evil spirits.
You can also see this moral panic in the story of a vaguely Confederate-Flag-looking tile design in a New York subway stop—which is to say that there is an X of blue tiles over a white and red background—which has to be “altered to avoid confusion.” Clearly the tiles are not the source of the confusion, but people will insist on rearranging the outside world so they won’t have to do the more difficult work of bringing order to their own minds.
My sense of this is that the Charlottesville city council thought their campaign to remove Confederate monuments was going to be an easy layup. They thought it would be a cheap way to score some moral authority points and get fawning media coverage for themselves and the city, and that nobody would complain very much except a few stodgy country club types who look like generic southern gentry sent over from Central Casting.
They never had any idea that they were going to put themselves at the center of a giant firestorm of racial politics, or that somebody would turn the town into a war zone and a national watchword for racial conflict. They certainly had no idea they would be unleashing a political radicalism that would target them, too. But target them it has.
Here was the scene from a recent city council meeting:
A protest erupted inside Charlottesville city council chambers August 21 as councilors held their first meeting since deadly violence played out in city streets on August 12. The crowd screamed at councilors and eventually took over the meeting, which caused the police that were present to intervene.
The emotional crowd vows to see the statue taken down, even if it is by their own hands. At one point, councilors and city staff fled the room as protestors jumped up where the council sits. Two protestors held a banner saying “Blood on your Hands.”
The city council is now meeting behind closed doors because they dare not face the public.
Hence the really amazingly stupid stuff like these Confederacy burqas, which was voted on unanimously at that last public meeting—after the city council got screamed at by protesters for three hours. It’s a sign that they have no idea how they got themselves into this and no idea how to get out.
What has been happening in Charlottesville and elsewhere shows the failure of leadership based on superficial virtue-signaling. They didn’t have a plan for dealing with serious consequences because they never gave the issue serious thought in the first place. But the moral panic that they started is now getting out of control, threatening to become a full-scale Cultural Revolution-style purge of the past. It’s no longer enough to target Confederate generals. The Red Guards have moved on to vandalizing statues of Thomas Jefferson and beheading the statue of a Revolutionary War hero, agitating to tear down a statue of Christopher Columbus in New York City, and actually defacing a monument to Columbus in Baltimore.
The issue now is less about the fate of Confederate monuments than it is about empowering lawless action by mobs of radicals. The Red Guards comparison is not far off. Remember the mob in Durham, North Carolina, that tore down a statue of a confederate soldier? The leader of the mob was a far left agitator with a Marxist-Leninist group that defends North Korea. When you give these people free rein, how is that going to end well for any of us?
Seeking to score easy political points, moderate center-left “liberals”—what’s left of them—have unleashed the far left, which is enjoying a new sense of power and a twisted kind of moral authority. Maybe the “liberals” hope these crocodiles will eat them last, but judging from events in Charlottesville, the mobs are going to eat them first.