Donald Trump slipped into the Oval Office through a wormhole of confusion about the American identity.
.. We were moving from a white-majority, male-dominated country and manufacturing base to a multicultural, multilateral, globalized, P.C., new energy, new technology world, without taking account of the confusion and anger of older Americans who felt like strangers in a strange land.
.. And we certainly don’t want men like Rob Porter who have punched, kicked, choked and terrorized their wives to be in the president’s inner circle, helping decide which policies, including those that affect women, get emphasized.
.. We don’t want the White House chief of staff to be the sort of person who shields and defends abusers — and then dissembles about it — simply because the abuser is a rare competent staffer. Or a man who labels Dreamers “too lazy to get off their asses” simply because they didn’t apply for legal protections in time.
.. John Kelly served as a character witness not only for Porter, after he didn’t receive security clearance because F.B.I. agents had heard the harrowing tales from his battered ex-wives. Kelly also testified as a character witness for Gen. Robert E. Lee and a former Marine who pleaded guilty to sending inappropriate sexual messages to female subordinates; who drove drunk to an arraignment; and who got charged in Virginia with sex crimes against children.
.. As a more lucid Trump tweeted in 2012 about Rihanna getting back together with Chris Brown, “A beater is always a beater.”
.. We don’t want a president who bends over backward to give the benefit of the doubt to neo-Nazis, wife beaters, pedophiles and sexual predators — or who is a sexual predator himself.
.. We don’t want a president who flips the ordinary equation, out of some puerile sense of grievance, to honor Russia and dishonor the F.B.I.
.. We don’t want a president who is too shallow to read his daily intelligence report and too obsessed with the deep state to deal fairly with our intelligence agencies.
.. We don’t want a president who suggests that Democrats who don’t clap for him are treasonous and who seems more enthralled by authoritarian ways than democratic ones.
.. who loves generals but trashes Gold Star parents
.. who wants the sort of chesty military parade that we mock Kim Jong-un for, a phallic demonstration of overcompensation that would only put more potholes in the D.C. boulevards.
.. one who could be so easily trapped in lies that he can’t even be allowed to talk to an investigator.
.. And, finally, we surely don’t want a president who seeks advice on foreign affairs from Henry Kissinger. Ever. Again.
Trump’s first definition, in the person of Reince Priebus, was as an executive who preferred to surround himself with toadies constitutionally incapable of standing up to him and prepared to pay the price of slathering him with praise. The most vivid illustration came during Trump’s first full Cabinet meeting, in June, when Priebus gushed, “We thank you for the opportunity and the blessing that you’ve given us to serve your agenda and the American people.”
Just as Priebus revealed Trump’s insatiable desire for stroking, Kelly illustrated his unsettling attraction to strongmen.
.. The problem, as it turned out, was that Kelly not only reinforced some of Trump’s worst instincts — he displayed them himself. Where Trump resisted condemning white separatists protesting the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville last summer, Kelly followed a few months later with a paean to Lee as “an honorable man” and asserting that “the lack of an ability to compromise led to the Civil War.”
.. Kelly seems to share Trump’s inclination to escalate and allergy to apology. After Kelly attacked Florida Democrat Rep. Frederica S. Wilson as an “empty barrel” and a video showed that he had misrepresented her comments, Kelly vowed he would “never” apologize... He cared more about keeping one of the few capable people inside the West Wing at his side than about having an accused abuser on the staff... When the Porter story broke, Kelly’s response was classic, Trumpian bravado: to urge Porter to fight on and issue a statement praising him as “a man of true integrity and honor.”
Foner gives the South’s greatest Civil War general his due in terms of character and personal rectitude. He reports that the young Lee, at West Point, never got any disciplinary demerits, “an almost impossible feat.” The general, writes Foner, “always prided himself on following the strict moral code of a gentleman.”
.. He merely predicts that future historians won’t likely return Lee to his pedestal, “metaphorically speaking.”
.. That’s because it’s all about power. As Foner wrote in another Times piece in August, “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.”
.. Between the Civil War’s end and the 1890s, Lee’s image as an American went from his being “the embodiment of the Southern cause” to his becoming a “national hero.”
.. Historians such as W. A. Dunning and Claude Bowers argued that the harsh Reconstruction policies of congressional “Radical Republicans” delayed the sectional healing needed to bring the country back together. According to that argument, it kept the prostrate South at the mercy of freed blacks and Northern carpetbaggers, whose political machinations were designed to keep the old white planter class out of the power equation.
.. In short, they have not turned history on its head, but rather, they recognized that much of what Dunning’s disciples have said about reconstruction is true.”
In other words, it was complicated.
One difference between democracies and dictatorships is that the constructing and revising of public spaces is not a propaganda opportunity for the ruler but a realm of democratic discourse, influenced by popular opinion and competitive electoral politics. After the shock of Charlottesville, as many American cities, towns, and campuses have taken down statues of Confederate leaders and generals, or debated whether to do so, New Delhi’s example is perhaps a useful one.
.. Lonnie G. Bunch III, who leads the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, told the Times, “I am loath to erase history.” He suggested that the statues that were removed should be grouped together in new spaces and contextualized. As it happens, that is what New Delhi did
.. And, by again raising the question of why a statue of Robert E. Lee is more offensive than one of a slaveholding Founding Father like Thomas Jefferson, the statue debates have again forced Americans to reckon with the foundational role of slavery in the construction of the Republic.
.. They stand still, while the struggle for rights and democratic pluralism is dynamic. And that struggle can lurch backward suddenly. In India today, the Bharatiya Janata Party, with its Hindu-nationalist ideology known as Hindutva, is busy rewriting school textbooks, to falsely revise the history of Muslim conquest of the subcontinent, and to reduce the prominence in the story of Indian independence of Jawaharlal Nehru, who was India’s first Prime Minister and who, during his seventeen years in office, built the modern state and its resilient democracy. Nehru was an avowed atheist, who promoted science, industry, and secularism; he worked to keep Hindu chauvinism on the sidelines, and the Hindutva movement’s ideologues have not forgotten.