Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

On Confederate monuments, the public stands with President Trump

President Donald Trump came out strongly in opposition to removing Confederate statues from public places, saying it was "sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments."

That appeal to "history and culture" echoes arguments made by neo-Confederate groups, who, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, couch claims about the meaning of statues and other Confederate symbols in terms of "heritage and other supposedly fundamental values that modern Americans are seen to have abandoned."

RELATED COVERAGE: President Trump says the nation's culture being 'ripped apart' by removal of Civil War statues

Most mainstream historians note, on the other hand, that the whole point of Confederate monuments is to celebrate white supremacy. Most of them were erected between 1895 and World War I, "part of a campaign to paint the Southern cause in the Civil War as just and slavery as a benevolent institution," according to University of North Carolina historian Karen Cox.

"Most monuments were created during the Jim Crow era to stand in opposition to racial equality," according to the Atlanta History Center, formerly the Atlanta Historical Society. "Veneration of Confederates symbolized white racial dominance."

RELATED COVERAGE: Tampa investor gives $50,000 to move Confederate monument, Buckhorn donates $1,000

But the president is not a historian, and neither are most members of the American public. A survey by the Economist and YouGov earlier this week found that, by more than 2 to 1, Americans believe that Confederate monuments are symbols of Southern pride rather than of white supremacy (54 percent to 26 percent).

Whites (66 percent), Republicans (84 percent) and Americans over age 65 (71 percent) are especially likely to say that Confederate monuments represent pride rather than supremacy. Liberals (54 percent), Hillary Clinton voters (52 percent) and black Americans (47 percent) are the groups most likely to say that the monuments stand for white supremacy.

Similar, a plurality of Americans (48 percent) say they disapprove of the decision to remove the statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee from Charlottesville — the decision that sparked the violent rally by neo-Nazis and white supremacists last weekend. Only 30 percent say they approve of the decision.

In his remarks about the monuments, the president may be making a calculated attempt to motivate the approval of voters, like the ones identified in the Economist/YouGov survey, who aren't sold on the idea that monuments to the Confederacy are monuments to racism.

The president's chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, made that calculus explicit in an interview with the New York Times this week. "Just give me more," Bannon said. "Tear down more statues. Say the revolution is coming. I can't get enough of it."

But that calculation could backfire. Trump remains a historically unpopular president, with approval ratings in the mid-30s. Given that unpopularity, taking a strong stand in favor of Confederate monuments could simply motivate public opinion in opposition to them.

We've seen Trump's "inverse Midas touch" in action many times before, on a variety of issues — Obamacare, transgender troops, the border wall, the Mueller investigation.

"It's almost as if the best way to make something popular is for President Trump to take the opposite position," The Washington Post's Aaron Blake wrote this month.

By taking a strong stand in support of Confederate monuments, Trump may ironically end up ushering in their removal.

On Confederate monuments, the public stands with President Trump 08/17/17 [Last modified: Thursday, August 17, 2017 12:08pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Peter Budaj, Lightning lose to Devils in shootout; Nikita Kucherov scores

    Lightning Strikes

    NEWARK, N.J. — For Peter Budaj, Tuesday's season debut had a shaky start.

    The Lightning’s Vladislav Namestnikov, right, battles Damon Severson for the puck.
  2. Mother's testimony about toddler's death brings judge to tears


    TAMPA — Nayashia Williams woke up early on May 7, 2014, to the sound of her daughter calling for her. It was the last time the young mother's mornings would begin with a summons from Myla Presley, who couldn't yet climb over the mesh fencing around the playpen she used as a bed.

    Deandre Gilmore looks towards the gallery Tuesday in a Tampa courtroom. Gilmore is accused of killing the 19 month-old daughter of his girlfriend in 2014. He said the child fell while he was giving her a bath. [CHRIS URSO   |   Times]
  3. Speakers: Getting tough can't be only response to teen car thefts


    ST. PETERSBURG — Bob Dillinger remembers coming to Pinellas County as a legal intern in 1975. There were five major poverty zones in St. Petersburg.

    Wengay Newton, Florida House of Representatives (in front, in center), talks as a panelist to a packed room during a community forum on "Reclaiming our Youth: Is Juvenile Justice a Reality?" at the Dr. Carter G. Woodson Museum in St. Petersburg Wednesday evening (10/17/17). The event was presented by the Fred G. Minnis, Sr. Bar Association. Community leaders discussed the ongoing auto theft epidemic among Pinellas youth.
  4. Internal White House documents allege manufacturing decline increases abortions, infertility and spousal abuse


    White House officials working on trade policy were alarmed last month when a top adviser to President Donald Trump circulated a two-page document that alleged a weakened manufacturing sector leads to an increase in abortion, spousal abuse, divorce and infertility, two people familiar with the matter told the …

  5. Black entrepreneur says city stiffing him on project after he endorsed Rick Baker


    ST. PETERSBURG — A prominent African-American resident says his endorsement of mayoral candidate Rick Baker has led city officials to freeze him out of a major construction project along the historic "Deuces" stretch of 22nd Street S.