At times, leftists’ partisan hatred of President Donald Trump leads them to utter madness. Monday furnished a remarkable example. When Trump tweeted that he is considering giving his Republican National Convention (RNC) speech from the battlefield at Gettysburg, Pa., Trump Derangement Syndrome-addled commentators rushed to claim that Trump’s choice of Gettysburg somehow revealed or highlighted his alleged support for the Confederacy.
No, seriously, they made this claim — with a straight face, too.
CNN’s Jeremy Diamond claimed that Trump speaking at Gettysburg “could be controversial” because “this is a president who has consistently positions himself as a defender of Confederate symbols and monuments to Confederate generals.”
Diamond made a similar comment earlier.
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The Washington Post‘s Jennifer Rubin tweeted, “Trump says he’ll accept nomination from either White House or Gettysburg – Trump can finally lead the Confederacy. Does he know they lost at Gettysburg?”
Walter Shaub, former director of the Office of Government Ethics, said Trump speaking at Gettysburg “will be the second time the confederacy tries to take Gettysburg. May it go as badly for you as it did the first time.”
Actor Rob Reiner insisted that if Trump speaks at Gettysburg, that would “celebrate” his “devotion to White Supremacy.”
“Trump brilliantly narrows down the location of his acceptance speech. Either break yet another law and do it at the WH, or do it at Gettysburg and celebrate your devotion to White Supremacy,” Reiner tweeted.
These attacks aren’t just false — they’re flat-out asinine.
Reason‘s Robby Soave expressed deep confusion at the idea. “I do not follow the logic here. If Trump’s aim was to position himself as a defender of the Confederacy, isn’t the site of the Confederacy’s most noteworthy military defeat literally the last place he would choose?” Soave asked.
Will Chamberlain, editor-in-chief at Human Events, asked, “Why would a confederate sympathizer want to speak at Gettysburg? It was the most important Union victory of the entire war.”
Sean Davis, co-founder of The Federalist, argued that “Vicksburg was far more important strategically, but the point still stands: only a moron could view anything that happens at Gettysburg as some kind of homage to the Confederacy, which was slaughtered by the Union during that battle.”
What happened at Gettysburg?
The Battle of Gettysburg (July 1-3, 1863) has become the most memorable battle of the American Civil War. It represented a stunning and important defeat for Confederate General Robert E. Lee, who had won almost every battle before it. This battle claimed the largest number of casualties of any battle during the Civil War. President Abraham Lincoln gave his most memorable speech on that field — and many Americans commit the Gettysburg Address to memory.
Yet Davis also has a point. The Seige of Vicksburg, which ended on July 4, gave the Union control over the crucial Mississippi River in the Western theater of the war. Without the Mississippi, the South lost a vital economic supply chain. The North always had an economic advantage over the South, but Vicksburg cemented that advantage beyond recovery. William Tecumseh Sherman’s “March to the Sea” starved the South into surrender as Lee fought a desperate gambit to take Washington, D.C.
Lee was a consummate general, but his defeat at Gettysburg showed that he could be beaten. This gave a powerful morale boost to the Union at a time when such a boost was sorely needed.
Lincoln captured the importance of the moment in his short speech — a speech little remarked upon at the time.
After beginning with those powerfully resonant words, “Four score and seven years ago,” Lincoln told the men and women who gathered to commemorate the bloody battle at Gettysburg, “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what [the Union soldiers] 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 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,” Lincoln declared. That new birth of freedom would come at the end of the war with the abolition of slavery and the extension of many important rights to black Americans.
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Does Trump love the Confederacy?
Choosing Gettysburg as a backdrop for a speech does not suggest Trump supports the Confederacy. Indeed, it suggests precisely the opposite. Yet the president’s detractors do base their attacks on one tiny shred of truth. Trump has defended Confederate monuments and Confederate names for military bases.
This does not make him a defender of the Confederacy, however. Trump has defended Confederate monuments as he warned against a larger threat: the slippery slope of iconoclasm.
In August 2017, the president warned, “This week it’s Robert E. Lee, I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down. I wonder, is it George Washington next week, and is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You have to ask yourself, where does it stop?”
While commentators condemned Trump’s warning as crazy at the time, it now seems extremely prescient.
In the wake of the George Floyd protests that devolved into riots, vandals and their allies have targeted monuments to each of the presidents on Mount Rushmore, including Lincoln. They scrawled “Y’all not tired yet” on the plinth at the Lincoln Memorial, removed a statue of Theodore Roosevelt from a New York City museum, and toppled statues of Washington and Jefferson in Portland, Oregon. Vandals splashed red paint over two statues of George Washington in Manhattan.
During his speech at Mount Rushmore on the Fourth of July, President Trump did not name or praise a single Confederate figure, but he did praise many black Americans in history. In fact, he hailed Lincoln as “the savior of our Union” who “led the country through the darkest hours of American history.”
Trump also celebrated the Union victory at Gettysburg, saying, “the Union bravely withstood an assault of nearly 15,000 men and threw back Pickett’s Charge. Lincoln won the Civil War, he issued the Emancipation Proclamation, he led the passage of the 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery for all time.”
Those don’t sound like the words of a Confederate sympathizer to me.
Of course, some people desperately hate Donald Trump and wish to impute to him the worst of all possible motives. Many more have adopted the divisive and dangerous view of The New York Times‘ “1619 Project,” that America is irredeemably racist and founded on race-based slavery. In June, the Democratic National Committee briefly claimed that if Trump gave a Fourth of July speech at Mount Rushmore, that would constitute a “rally glorifying white supremacy.”
If Trump gives the speech at Gettysburg, expect more rhetoric praising Lincoln, the Union, and the 13th Amendment. If Americans are lucky, the president will also praise the great black orator Frederick Douglass, who was himself a former slave. But also be on the lookout for TDS-addled Democrats claiming that Trump’s praise for Lincoln, his celebration of Douglass, and his commemoration of Gettysburg are really a celebration of racism, white supremacy, and — of course — the Confederacy.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.