If Donald Trump and the aberrant politics he espouses has brought out the worse angels of our nature, it’s not just in the United States of America. Here at home in Ireland, the mavericks of the ideological right have found their anti-hero in the Manhattan populist, echoing his disdain for “political correctness” and those seeking justice or amelioration for current or past wrongs. Eilis O’Hanlon takes to the pages of the unionist-supporting Belfast Telegraph to defend the indefensible:
As memorials to generals who fought for the pro-slavery Confederates during the American Civil War continue to topple like dominoes across the southern United States, it’s only a matter of time before some politically correct smart alec in Northern Ireland calls for the statue of Sir Edward Carson up at Stormont to be pulled down, too.
It’s easy to denounce people in the past who had less progressive and enlightened attitudes. Without wanting to sound like President Trump, there is blame on “many sides”.
That’s the problem with history. It refuses to be – no pun intended – black and white.
Take Winston Churchill. He was in favour of using poison gas against “uncivilised tribes” in Africa and believed in the triumph of the “Aryan race”.
But, in its darkest hour, Churchill also help save Europe from the Nazis.
It’s complicated, to say the least.
Except, it’s not in the least bit complicated.
In the United States the presence of grandiose monuments in public places commemorating slave-holders who fought a war primarily to keep control of their slaves is the main focus of the protesters and other concerned citizens. No sane or moderate person is calling for Confederate cemeteries to be flattened or crosses and gravestones to be pulverised. The debate is about shared civic spaces and the appropriateness of certain symbols in them. Symbols long regarded as problematic. Which is why, on the opposite side of the argument, a ragbag collection of racists, from Neo-Confederates to Neo-Nazis, have elevated the statues of Robert E. Lee and others into ideological totem poles. Rallying points for their hateful beliefs.
The real problem is O’Hanlon’s failure – or refusal – to recognise that context is everything. Does it really require a great deal of thought to understand that such edifices in the US might be offensive to the descendants of those who fought against the slave-masters and to the descendants of the slaves? A statue of Winston Churchill might be acceptable in London but a monument to the former Secretary of State for the Colonies, a man who resisted and rejected Irish independence throughout his life, would clearly be unacceptable in Dublin. Likewise, yes, even the stone and metal tribute to Sir Edward Carson, a politician who’s actions contributed to decades of violence and suffering on this island nation, should be a matter of public discussion and agreement. And if that discussion is successful, then his monument should find a more suitable, and contextualised home. One not shared by northern nationalist and unionist representatives alike.