By Charles Coulombe
When the attacks—legal and otherwise—on Confederate monuments and heritage began to ramp up, I warned in various venues that it would not stop there. And, of course, such disparate characters as Kate Smith and Columbus followed in that train. But ever since the eruption of riots across the nation and the rest of the Western world over the past few weeks following the murder of the gentleman in Minneapolis (I will not use his name in this context, as it’s bad enough being brutally murdered without having your memory forever associated with stupidity and mayhem), it has literally spilled over into everything. Statues of figures from Abraham Lincoln to Saint Junipero Serra to Winston Churchill to Lord Baden-Powell, the founder of Boy Scouting, have been attacked. Accompanying this orgy of iconoclasm has been millions upon millions of dollars worth of damage to businesses across the United States, caused by the mob’s gleeful looting. The demonstrations sparking the mayhem have been well organized by such groups as Black Lives Matter and Antifa—with folk on the left accusing such groups as the Boogaloo Boys of masquerading as Antifa, and vice versa.
The response of the leadership classes in Church and State, as befits their primarily being members of the Generation of ‘68, has ranged from befuddled to outright stupid. In attempting to avoid being called “racist”—one of the very few remaining mortal sins in our society—they speak of defunding or abolishing the police in various afflicted cities. What they conveniently forget is how much of the resentment that has exploded was built up by their own lockdown measures.
Regardless of whether or not these were justified (and I am not qualified to speak about that), had there not been weeks of lockdown it is rather unlikely that these civic explosions would have taken place—although we might have piles of bodies instead. We may still, given the rioters’ lack of care regarding infection. The only thing more ridiculous than some doctors saying that somehow demonstrators are immune to the coronavirus was many of the same saying that Trump rallies would be a dangerous breeding ground of the Pandemic. Only Washington’s Archbishop Wilton Gregory managed to look sillier in his condemnation of Trump’s appearing with a Bible in public.
Indeed, there is a lot of silly to go around. The claim that all of this uproar is justifiable due to systemic racism is perhaps the topmost. Is there systemic racism in this country? Oh, yes. There are indeed people who hate or despise other people based upon the color of their skin. Some of it is the classic n-word shouting and battle flag waving variety of song and story.
But there is a lot more that goes unnoticed and so unpunished. There is the kind that ignores the black-on-black violence poisoning our inner cities, which I witnessed growing up, and refuses to hold blacks and other minorities to the same standards of behavior which it demands of whites. There is the racism of the Ivy League and other prestigious universities, which gives minority students lower entrance standards on the basis of race—and then flunks these hapless and unprepared youths out, leaving them permanently and understandably embittered. There is the media variety that ballyhoos any police brutality against minorities, leaving out that against whites, and by the same token ignores black-on-white violence, such as the horrendous murders of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom.
For that matter, within the black community discrimination against darker-skinned people is an ongoing problem. As a student in primarily minority schools in my childhood, I learned two basic lessons: First, racism, like every sin, is to some extent endemic to the human condition. Second, human beings are individuals. The more civilized a human being is, the less he worries about the color of his neighbor’s skin, and the more he tries to discern the content of his character, to steal a phrase from Martin Luther King.
❧Obviously, however, these United States are and always have been haunted by the racial question, building upon the slaughter of the Indians and exacerbated by the conquest of North-Western Mexico. In the immediate, the structures of Jim Crow that were dismantled during my childhood were themselves the legitimate children of Reconstruction. Nevertheless, such Confederate generals as Beauregard and Forrest fought for racial reconciliation, and against the onset of segregation. That their statues (and tomb, in the latter case) should be attacked by the ignorant ought not to come as a surprise. At the moment of writing, the statue of noted Philadelphia abolitionist Matthias Baldwin has been defaced.
In particular, however, the historical position of American blacks needs to be understood. Rarely has their destiny been in their own hands. Most Americans’ ancestors came to the New World of their own volition; blacks was sold into slavery by the minor kinglets of the West Coast of Africa, and brought to the Americas for the sake of profit. Once here, they were enslaved for the most part. Even their emancipation was proclaimed by white men. In the rest of the Americas, various foreign monarchs decided that they should be liberated; in the United States two factions of whites fighting an incredibly bloody war decided the issue.
Manipulated shamelessly after that war, it was nevertheless under Jim Crow that the black American came into his own. Despite discrimination (legal and otherwise), despite lynchings and race riots, and despite the certain knowledge that he could only go so far, America’s blacks struggled and triumphed in building a network of educational and business institutions that would make anyone proud. The Buffalo Soldiers and the Tuskegee Airmen were paragons of valor, and black contributions to American arts were simply enormous. Black middle and upper classes developed.
A web of black Catholic parishes, black Catholic schools, and other institutions—including the Knights of Peter Claver, to which I have the honor of belonging—arose. Most important of all, this web has thus far produced six candidates for sainthood.
Alas, most of it has disappeared since the Sixties, to be replaced by the infantilized culture of resentment (so skillfully used by white politicians!) with which we are faced today. The great irony in all of this is that, in a very real sense, most American blacks live far better today than do the descendants of the West Africans who sold their ancestors—even the royals among them. By the same token, American society would be immeasurably poorer without the black contribution.
In Britain, of course, things are different. There, the protests against an American murder have become a Cultural Revolution–style attack on all things past, feeding on the needless post-colonial guilt complex which afflicts so many Britons. The irony, of course, is that it was only in 2015 that those same Britons finished paying off the compensation to slaveowners in the British Empire for the peaceful emancipation of slaves in 1833. Beyond that underlying guilt, the (primarily white) mobs are also motivated by resentment over Brexit and Corbyn’s overwhelming defeat. But, really, they should not be too upset. Thus far, Boris Johnson has lived up to Disraeli’s worst dismissal of a “Conservative” government— i.e., Tory men and Whig measures. And one hardly knows what to say in regard to brain-dead Canadians ranting about statues of Sir John A. MacDonald, the country’s founding prime minister.
❧So where is all of this going to take us? Well, for those victimized by rioters, it shall doubtless radicalize them. Beyond that, if these amusements were intended either to discredit President Trump’s leadership or goad him into violent response, and so cost him the election, I fear they shall fail of their goal. What the putative organizers do not realize (even our elites have been dumbed-down historically these past few decades, in common with the rest of us) is that, when frightened, people tend to vote Republican. Well do I remember the long, hot summer of 1967—the “Summer of Love” that year being a California phenomenon—when cities across the Eastern half of the country went up in flames. Detroit and Newark never recovered, and D.C.’s white working class fled the city. It was one of the major reasons that Nixon landed in the White House.
I have every reason to suspect that history shall repeat itself. Moreover, Mr. Trump’s cannily allowing state and local authorities to decide what to do about both virus and mayhem—while funding whatever they decided to do—allows him to claim credit and elude blame. I suspect there shall be a great deal of unemployment in state and local government after the next round of elections.
But there is a deeper damage done, the results of which I fear ever more as the unrest continues. That is the radicalization of Mr. Trump’s base—especially if we have a Democrat elected in 2024, presuming that party continues on its current course. Many of these people are sick and tired of seeing everything they hold sacred wantonly profaned at an ever-accelerating rate over the past several decades. Unlike the children of Antifa, a great many know how to use weapons. God forbid they are pushed too far.
Where does that leave us Catholics? In essence, there is no purely political solution to America’s problems, which are cultural—that is to say, ultimately, religious—in nature. At the moment, many of us are, for example, forbidden to receive Holy Communion on the tongue, which shows the pettiness of cruel old women—clerical and lay—of all genders who still dominate so many dioceses. In a larger context, however, our recent sufferings without the Sacraments should remind us that that that very dry place so many of us experienced is precisely where our non-Catholic brethren reside unknowingly all the time. If we would be truly patriotic, and seek to heal our nation’s ills, we must evangelize.