What Trump Got Right About "Changing Culture"
From Cognitive Dissonance to Inclusion
By Jaylin Paschal
President Trump’s latest controversial statements were prompted by the deadly demonstration by white supremacists in Charlottesville, VA. The group, composed of neo-Nazi’s, Ku Klux Klan members and nationalists, gathered in protest of the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee, the infamous Confederate general.The president shared his opinion on the matter, which believe it or not was not totally wrong:
"George Washington was a slave owner. Was George Washington a slave owner? So will George Washington now lose his status? … Are we going to take down statues to George Washington? How about Thomas Jefferson? What do you think of Thomas Jefferson? You like him? OK, good. Are we going to take down his statue, because he was a major slave owner. Now we're going to take down his statue. So you know what? It's fine. You're changing history, you're changing culture.”
And while the removal of statues would not change history, it would indeed change culture. That was the bit he got right.
In our society, statues imply more than history and heritage. A statue implies heroism and honor. Statues make a person, a moment, or an issue monumental. They suggest that these figures are to be looked up to; admired; adored. Statues of figures who fought to uphold the very evil practice of slavery and principle of racism, under the veil of “states’ rights,” have no place in modern society.
So the president posed an important question: Should we take down statues of George Washington? Or Thomas Jefferson? Both of whom are representative of the myth of American exceptionalism despite their crimes against humanity.
It is a question of American culture.
Our founding fathers somehow rationalized fighting for freedom for ALL men, by the will of some alleged God, while holding other men captive and beating them bloody and raping their wives and selling their children and lynching their brothers. That's what this country was built on: a culture of hypocrisy. A level of cognitive dissonance which perhaps the world hasn’t seen since: fighting for freedom while withholding it. That is the culture of America. Proclaiming itself “land of the free” in the same breath which it chants “blood and soil.”
Racism is so deeply embedded into American culture, that the removal of all racist figures from mainstream praise would not just alter landscape and local tourism. It would be a culture shift; one towards responsibility, accountability, acceptance and inclusion; towards a culture which acknowledges the wrongs of the past and disavows them so passionately that icons fall from glory.
However racism is and has been so fundamentally critical in the growth of this country. It is historic, systemic and institutional. It has impacted the job market, education, law enforcement, real estate and every other facet of everyday life. Racism is the culture, despite the narrative of a post-racial society. To remove it from pedestals; to assert that we should align what we believe in with what we actually do and who we actually admire, would be a culture change.
And that's what all of this is about right? That is why the white supremacists bought their tiki torches and terrorized a quiet college community. Because of a culture shift, towards equity and open mindedness and inclusion and away from white supremacy or dominance. To them "displacement" or "dispossession" really just means "We don’t want to share all this land we’ve stolen." Or "we might actually have to pay up on that 40 acres and a mule." Or “Now others are empowered enough to assert that their lives matter, and even imply that they matter as much as ours.” That’s the true fear which emboldens grown men to tattoo swastikas on their chests and wave American flags, further asserting our culture of cognitive dissonance.
But they missed their moment. Hitler lost. And so did Lee.
The thing about culture that the “alt-right,” white supremacists, neo-Nazis and perhaps even President Trump seem not to understand, is that longing for the “good old days” of unchecked prejudices and blatant racism is in vain. Culture does not reverse. Although it may slow down, or even pause, due to resistance to change, it never reserves. It is forward and progressive. No one will revoke the Emancipation Proclamation, or nullify the 24th amendment or resegregate restaurants and trains. No force has set culture back. Not Jim Crow laws, not lynchings, not redlining, not police brutality, not an uprising in Charlottesville, Virginia. And not Donald Trump.