Yes, President Trump, Robert E. Lee was a great “American” general, who attended West Point, led American soldiers to victory as a commander in the Mexican War and was beloved by his men
Until 1862, that is, when he turned traitor and gave up his commission in the US Army for a stint as commanding general of the “Confederate States of America” after South Carolina fired on Fort Sumter, South Carolina in April 1861, as an act of war. A devoted son of Virginia, Lee returned home and took up arms against the United States of America whose Constitution he had sworn to protect and defend.
What Trump does not get is that but for the grace of President Abraham Lincoln, Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis and their whole posse should have been hanged for treason.
It is sad to me as an American citizen to hear a president in 2019 who is so clueless or indifferent to the signals he sends about who he is and what he supports. Thursday, the president was silent when a federal judge approved the released of Coast Guard Lt. Commander Christopher Hassan, a white supremacist arrested for planning to kill Democratic presidential candidates, members of Congress and others in the media whom he saw as the “enemy.”
Friday, Trump spoke out in praise of Lee, a “great General” as he said that the racists and anti-Semites who marched with torches and confederate flags in the summer of 2017 were simply “historians” upset that the statues of the great general were being removed.
What conclusion is there other than that Trump—who returned to the subject in a clear response to Joe Biden’s presidential announcement video calling out Trump for his apparent support of the white supremacists in Charlottesville — supports nationalism and racism?
Of course, President Trump is wrong on the facts as well. The actions of these so-called “fine people”-turned-“historians” resulted in one young woman’s murder, as others were seriously wounded, beaten and assaulted. The march in Charlottesville—filled with changes of “blood and soil” and “we will not be replaced”—was a battle cry for white racists across the country, not confederate statue enthusiasts.
As to the man the statues celebrate, the ugly truth about General Robert E. Lee, despite how Trump wants to revise history in 2019, is that he was a slaveholder who never spoke out against the institution of slavery and was also known to harshly discipline his own slaves when they tried to escape to freedom.
Adam Serwer laid out the history in a powerful piece last year, The Myth of the Kindly General Lee. Lee not only harshly disciplined slaves, but discontinued his wife’s family tradition of respecting slave families and keeping them intact. By 1860, Lee had broken up every family but one on their estate.
The real issue today is not a dead traitor from a different time. It is a living American president who is by no means the “student of history” he called himself during his impromptu press gaggle on Friday, and who does not care about the history he knows. As the president praised Lee, he expressed no concern for Heather Heyer, who was intentionally rammed by a car driven by a crazed white supremacist since convicted of her murder.
In praising Lee, Trump has demonstrated, once again, that he does not understand that his job is to unify us as citizens in the spirit of our founding motto, E Pluribus Unum. Out of Many, One.