At long last, the statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee was finally taken down and dismantled in Richmond, Virginia, more than a century later than it should have been. All true patriots should have cheered the destruction of a white supremacist symbol that honored an American archtraitor — but of course, disgraced ex-president Donald J. Trump saw an opportunity to once again dog-whistle to his base of racist supporters and issued a truly staggering statement on Wednesday evening.
Sounding like a sixth-grader quickly googling things for a book report due the next day, Trump mourned the loss of the “beautiful bronze statue” and then showcased his historical and military ignorance by claiming that Robert E. Lee was considered to be “the greatest strategist of them all.” To hammer home the dog-whistle, Trump claimed that Lee betrayed the Union because of his love for “Virginia,” completely whitewashing everything the Confederacy fought for: the right to own other people as property.
But he wasn’t done there. Trump dialed the idiocy up to 11 by declaring that if Robert E. Lee — who, of course, famously won the Civil War — would have won the war in Afghanistan if he had been allowed to command the army, and said that the United States suffered an “embarrassment” because we don’t have any geniuses like Robert E. Lee.
INBOX: Quite a stunning statement from former president Trump on the dismantling of Robert E. Lee Statue in Richmond. He says in part the country is suffering an “embarrassment” because “we don’t have the genius of a Robert E. Lee!” pic.twitter.com/qzQVWLtlNw
— Ed O'Keefe (@edokeefe) September 8, 2021
His statement is as offensive as it is ridiculous. The fantastical depiction of Robert E. Lee as a nice guy who just loved Virginia is straight-up revisionist history written by Confederacy apologists, as is his reputation as some kind of genius general. Adam Serwer writes in the Atlantic that Robert E. Lee’s “decision to fight a conventional war against the more densely populated and industrialized North is considered by many historians to have been a fatal strategic error.”
While Trump loves to cast himself as a patriot, he takes every opportunity to elevate divisive figures and ideas for his own selfish political games, while simultaneously making the entire nation dumber with every statement. While he has been quiet as of late, this statement from Trump should be a sharp reminder of just how dangerous he can be, and how important it is to keep him as far as possible from any kind of political power.
Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.