WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump, once again invoking an argument he made at a combative press conference earlier this week, said that he was “sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments.”
He was referring to the movement to remove statues of Confederate figures, including that of Gen. Robert E. Lee. Charlottesville’s plans to remove the statute was the stated reason for a white supremacist march in that city over the weekend, which led to violent clashes and one death.
But Trump’s remarks, made in a Tweet on Thursday, also may be part of an effort to direct the debate over the president’s defense of some of the marchers, which has drawn a rebuke from some members of his own party, to one over the removal of statues.
Despite the controversy over Trump’s remarks, chief strategist Steve Bannon sees it as working in Trump’s favor.
“The race-identity politics of the left wants to say it’s all racist. Just give me more. Tear down more statues. Say the revolution is coming. I can’t get enough of it,” he said to the New York Times.
Bannon’s future has been in doubt this week, but he is said to be supportive and even pleased with the way that Trump has responded to the Charlottesville attacks. He has decried those who support “ethno-nationalism” as “losers,” but his remarks reflect a belief that the political consequences won’t ultimately hurt Trump come the 2018 midterm elections and the 2020 campaign.
At the start of his 2016 presidential campaign, Trump said he approved of South Carolina’s decision to remove a Confederate flag from statehouse grounds.
On Wednesday, Trump disbanded two advisory councils that included corporate CEOs as a number of corporate figures stepped down from the groups, and it became clear that there would be a further exodus following the president’s most recent remarks on Charlottesville.
Many of the statues were placed in public places as Jim Crow laws in the South took hold at the turn of the century, and celebrated the idea of a Confederate “lost cause” without mention of slavery.
In his tweets, Trump also wrote that “You can’t change history, but you can learn from it. Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson — who’s next? Washington, Jefferson. So foolish!”
He added, “The beauty that has been taken out of our cities, towns and parks will be greatly missed and never be able to be comparably replaced!”
Historians have pushed back on Trump’s notion that statute removal will mean a slippery slope toward removing markers of the Founding Fathers. Some have noted that big difference between Civil War secessionist figures, fighting a war to preserve slavery against the United States, and the country’s founders.