I personally don’t have a problem with the idea of tearing down statues of Ulysses Grant. He was a shitty, corrupt President. He was antisemitic. He helped carry out the genocide of the Plains Indians.
But I do have an issue with the idea that Grant was indistinguishable from the slave power. It’s actually “Lost Cause” propaganda. The truth is Grant’s wife owned one slave, whom he subsequently freed, when they got married. Grant had many flaws. Being a supporter of slavery wasn’t one of them.
It’s a strange world we live in. The same people tearing down statues of Ulysses Grant probably intend to vote for Joe Biden this November. They probably admire Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Mao used the Cultural Revolution to purge capitalists remaining in the Chinese government. We all know how that worked out. Today’s Red Guards are indeed cultural revolutionaries, but they are also political and economic conservatives.
Ulysses Grant will survive Black Lives Matter as surely as capitalism in China survived Mao. He wrote one of the most literature autobiographies of any American President. If Black Lives Matter intends to declare that there was no difference between Ulysses Grant and Robert E. Lee, that the ideologues of the “Lost Cause” were right after all and the United States Civil War was about tariffs and states rights and not about slavery, then perhaps they would do well to consult the words of another American President.
The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
Over a million Americans died in the United States Civil war, most white, but over 40,000 black. Did they all die in vain? Did they die merely to protect high tariffs or destroy “states rights?” Or did they actually die to defeat a feudalistic ruling class that mostly hurt black people but also stood in the way of democracy for all Americans? The protesters can tear down all the statues they want, but unless they also have plans to tear down corporate America and the neoliberal Democratic Party, it’s all pretty meaningless. “Government of the people by the people, for the people,” has already perished from the earth. We’re not going to bring it back by vandalizing stone monuments in June, and then voting for Joe Biden, a wooden monument to neoliberalism, in the Fall.