A few days after demonstrators for and against removing a Confederate statue in Charlottesville, Virginia, rioted, President Trump asked where it might end. “I wonder,” Mr. Trump said, “is it George Washington next week and is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you really do have to ask yourself: Where does it stop?”
The remark, seen by his critics as insensitive and perhaps even a tad absurd, turns out to have been the exact question everyone should have been asking themselves and to which we now have the sad answer: It will stop only when, like the old Soviet Union, we rewrite history to banish all traces of men once considered heroes, but unacceptable to today’s elites.
It didn’t take a week for the American Taliban to target Washington and Jefferson, but what is surprising is how sheepish American elites have been so willing to go along with demands that we rewrite history to please those who have little understanding of how these men created the freest nation in world history. Within days, protesters torched and destroyed a monument honoring Abraham Lincoln in his native Illinois in the midst of an ongoing campaign to tear down monuments to Christopher Columbus and others.
The assaults on Columbus seem to be succeeding, evidence that today’s leftists are capable of intimidating more people than all the forces of the anti-Catholic, anti-Italian Ku Klux Klan (KKK) during the Klan’s campaign to prevent them from being erected in an earlier day. In a typical oversimplification of history, the Klan was not just anti-black, but vehemently and violently anti-Catholic and anti-Italian. In its heyday in the 1920s, there were some 700,000 Klan members in Indiana alone and the Klan was stronger in the Midwest and North than in the old South. A symbol of Italian pride, Columbus was targeted then in much the same way and for the same reasons that racists later targeted Martin Luther King Jr. KKK members rallied to prevent the erection of Columbus monuments and destroyed as many as they could when this failed.
The absurdity of our ignorance today is perhaps best illustrated by the decision last week to remove a small plaque recognizing that George Washington donated a pew to Christ Church in Old Town Alexandria in Virginia, and that he and his wife worshipped there for some 20 years. It wasn’t a statue, but a plaque similar to one often found on park benches donated by a family in remembrance of a relative. Apparently, the very existence of the plaque scared the bejesus out of some overly sensitive and perhaps marginally unbalanced parishioners.
The church removed a similar plaque commemorating the fact that Robert E. Lee worshipped at the church. Regardless of how one feels about Lee, the attack on George and Martha Washington is simply absurd.
The Washingtons didn’t just attend Christ Church, which the church has bragged about ever since — they saved it. The church was originally supported by the British government’s Church of England, but after Cornwallis surrendered to Washington’s armies, London cut off the subsidy. Washington personally donated the money needed to save the church in a new nation that abhorred the idea of a government-supported church and included in its Constitution a provision guaranteeing freedom of religion.
According to the current church rector, Noelle York-Simmons, the issue of the plaques was debated and discussed among parishioners for more than a month. She would not say if there was any disagreement with the action taken, noting only that the decision was “a unanimous vote of the vestry” because of the feeling that acknowledging that either Lee or Washington had attended Christ Church made some “of our parishioners feel unsafe or unwelcome.” “Some visitors and guests who worship with us chose not to return because they receive an unintended message from the prominent presence of the plaques,” she added.
She and other leaders of her church seem intent upon ignoring the many, many Americans who have over decades visited, donated to and, yes, even worshipped at Christ Church precisely because it was George Washington’s church and was advertised as such by her and those who preceded her. Those intimidated or made fearful by the recognition of a man proudly and appropriately remembered by most Americans as “the father” of his country because he lived in different times are, as we are learning, unlikely to be satisfied — until all traces of pride in our history are eradicated and places like Christ Church are replaced by public parking lots.
• David A. Keene is editor at large at The Washington Times.