Updated: Jun 29, 2020
If as nineteenth-century anarchist Mikhail Bakunin had it the passion for destruction is a creative passion, we live in a time awash with creative passion, presently manifest in a craze for pulling down statues. Tuesday night in Madison, Wisconsin, a contingent of the woke brought down a statue of Col. Hans Christian Heg, decapitated it, and deposited it in a lake. It seems to have escaped their notice* that Heg, a Norwegian immigrant, was an abolitionist who fought for the Union and died after being shot while leading the charge of his outnumbered troops in pursuit of a retreating Confederate army at Chickamauga, Georgia, in 1863.
Protesters were roused to a frenzy of creative passion by the arrest of a black man with a megaphone and a baseball bat who took his took his stand against racism and white supremacy at Cooper's Tavern on Capitol Square where he harangued staff and customers with a rant that might be charitably characterized as semicoherent, declaring by the bye, "I am fucking disturbing the shit out of this restaurant. And I got a fucking bat." Apparently no social workers were available to deescalate. The police were summoned. Naturally he resisted arrest.
Wisconsin state senator Tim Carpenter, a self-described gay progressive, suffered collateral damage when he was stomped by the neo-Bolshevik vanguard of the dictatorship of the community who objected when he took a photo with his phone. Carpenter provided an account of the incident via tweet:
I took this pic- it got me assaulted & beat up. Punched/kicked in the head, neck, ribs. Maybe concussion, socked in left eye is little blurry, sore neck & ribs. 8-10 people attacked me. Innocent people are going to get killed. Capitol locked- stuck in office.Stop violence nowPlz!
This stuff is maddening and cannot be denounced too strongly. It has more to do with the giddy thrill of plunder and pillage than with righting wrongs. It invites backlash, calls for law and order, demands for the police to crack down, and it makes the effort to defeat Trump in November more difficult. Then there is the moral aspect, the right and wrong of it. What are the values we choose to stand for?
In the meantime Lori Lightfoot in Chicago, Keisha Lance Bottoms in Atlanta, and other Democratic mayors are pushing back against the mantra to defund the police, an unfortunate choice of words that means different things to different people and, worse, lends itself to misrepresentation. Trump and his henchpeople will misrepresent and lie about any genuine effort to address police violence and the way policing is done in communities of color. I see no reason to make it easy for them.
"Defund the police" is a "nice hashtag," Lightfoot said, but it ignores how reform works, will hurt efforts to diversify the force, and goes against what Chicago residents are telling her they want. (Politico)
Even I, an eternal pessimist, think there is a possibility we can make something good come of this moment. It will not be the dawn of the socialist utopia. Maybe though we can mend our tattered union, make it a little better than it was before, and keep at it, an ongoing project. Some of it will come down to who and what become the face of the moment. I stand with Lightfoot, Bottoms, and others engaged in the hard and honorable work of trying to make the government of this imperfect union promote the general welfare and common good.
Keep the faith.
Memo from the Editorial Desk
I was born in South Carolina in 1952 and came of age there during the 1960s. I know what the Confederate flag and the statues of Confederate generals and Jefferson Davis represent. The flag should have been mothballed and the statues taken down long ago. Long overdue as this is, it is beginning to happen, as in Richmond, Virginia, through the actions of our elected representatives. This is the way to do it.
The paragraph beginning "This stuff is maddening" was revised after the piece was initially published.
*Correction June 29, 2020: I mistakenly thought that the mob acted out of ignorance when they pulled down the statue of Col. Heg, an abolitionist who died fighting for the Union army. A protest leader explained that the fall of this and another statue, Lady Forward, was a "strategic political move" undertaken because "the two statues falsely portrayed Wisconsin as a progressive state despite its mixed record on the incarceration of Black people." A candidate for state senate from the Madison area supported the destruction of the Heg statue because it was "a monument to a white savior and not a monument to black liberation." (Charles Sykes, Why Trump Thinks Statue-Toppling Activists Will Save Him in Wisconsin, Politico, June 29, 2020). This is cloud-cuckoo-land.
Lawrence Andrea, Hans Christian Heg was an abolitionist who died trying to end slavery. What to know about the man whose statue was toppled in Madison, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, June 24, 2020
CBS News, Crowds tear down statues, apparently attack Wisconsin state senator, June 24, 2020
Morgan Gstalter, Wisconsin state senator 'kicked in the head' during protests, The Hill, June 24, 2020
Shia Kapos, 'It’s a nice hashtag': Chicago’s Lightfoot pushes police reform, not defunding, Politico, June 24, 2020
JR Radcliffe, An arrest, an assaulted senator and a statue in a lake: How the Madison protests unfolded, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, June 24, 2020