Charlottesville and a new kind of historical reenactor
WASHINGTON, August 16, 2017 — The election of Donald Trump as president of the United States signaled a new chapter in American history. He survived a tumultuous primary contest, battling seasoned political hands, governors and senators among his 17 challengers. That wasn’t supposed to happen.
He went on to defeat a former first lady, senator, 67th U.S. Secretary of State and first female Democratic nominee for president. That wasn’t supposed to happen either.
Now Trump is embroiled in a phony controversy, facing claims that he is responsible for the bloody outcome of a demonstration in Chancellorsville, Virginia, following the fatal protest in neighboring Charlottesville.
That controversy centers around the tired, discredited politics of race. And around hundred-year-old bronze statues commemorating the losing generals of the Civil War, military men who fought on behalf of the notion that skin color gives license to rob people of their freedom and labor.
Its “cornerstone” rested on the lie that African Americans are “not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition … [a] great physical, philosophical, and moral truth,” in the words of Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens.
These statues commemorating discredited ideas and losing generals were the impetus for the tragedy in Charlottesville. White supremacist groups gathered to protest efforts to remove them, efforts spurred by the successful crusade to remove the Confederate flag then flying over Southern state capitals.
Single-issue racial groups, like Black Lives Matter, gathered to push for Confederate statue removal.
These groups are forever trapped in a time warp, forever fighting their own, small-minded version of the Civil War. But unlike weekend reenactors who don their Union blues and Confederate butternut uniforms to fire harmless blanks at one another, 60s Civil Rights reenactors are dying.
Unlike these reenactors, the rest of the country has moved beyond the controversies of the mid-19th and 20th centuries.
And that is frustrating to the 60s Civil Rights reenactors now warring with one another throughout the South. They are anachronisms who grow more agitated with every puzzled look sent their way by normal, even-tempered Americans.
The media, for whom the Civil Rights reenactors make good copy, would have us believe President Trump has so little on his plate he has time to lead what they have dubbed the “Alt-Right,” issuing coded messages in what he says and, more fiendishly, doesn’t say.
The charge is meant to impress upon the minds of their shrinking viewers and readers that President Trump and the wide swath of “flyover country” who elected him are mere avatars for the Ku Klux Klan, the malevolent dead-enders that sprang from the detritus of the Civil War; the torch-wielding night riders who intimidated and murdered newly freed blacks and Reconstruction Republicans in the name of the Democratic Party of the South.
But that is a history with no reenactors to mimic.