Virginia Governor Changes Stance: Confederate Monuments "A Barrier To Progress"

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe (D) has added his name to a growing list of public officials in state governments encouraging the removal of Confederate statues and memorials throughout the South. Late in the day on Wednesday McAuliffe released an official statement saying monuments of Confederate leaders have now become "flashpoints for hatred, division and violence" in a reference to the weekend of violence which shook Charlottesville as white nationalists rallied against the city's planned removal of a Robert E. Lee statue. McAuliffe further described the monuments as "a barrier to progress" and appealed to state and local governments to take action. The governor said:

As we attempt to heal and learn from the tragic events in Charlottesville, I encourage Virginia’s localities and the General Assembly – which are vested with the legal authority –  to take down these monuments and relocate them to museums or more appropriate settings. I hope we can all now agree that these symbols are a barrier to progress, inclusion and equality in Virginia and, while the decision may not be mine to make, I believe the path forward is clear.

The statement represents something of a flip flop on the issue for McAuliffe, who has long been on record as generally reluctant to remove Confederate monuments while the issue was being debated in various cities over the past months - he has previously carefully avoided sanctioning any blanket state-wide policy, instead considering it an issue to be decided at the local community level.

A vandalized Confederate grave memorial in Maplewood Cemetery, Durham, NC in 2015. Image Source: ABC 11 WTVD News.

In 2016 McAuliffe sponsored the creation of a "working group" to explore the delicate cultural and legal issues surrounding monument removal. His previous hesitancy to weigh in firmly on one side or the other was likely due to the issue being a definitive hot button topic in recent Virginia gubernatorial elections. Virginia has over the past years been galvanized into two large warring political camps over monument removal - a fight often involving highly charged town hall debates and threats of lawsuits, where the slightest statement of a candidate aspiring for office can cost significant votes. A March 2016 veto by the governor, reflecting his hesitancy to enact a state-wide law read as follows:

There is a legitimate discussion going on in localities across the Commonwealth regarding whether to retain, remove, or alter certain symbols of the Confederacy. These discussions are often difficult and complicated. 

But it appears that the racially motivated carnage in Charlottesville has, in the governor's mind, now ended that discussion. McAuliffe's change of heart follows news of Tuesday's night's statement by North Carolina governor Roy Cooper, who made a strong and impassioned plea for Confederate monument removal throughout his state with words like, "Unlike an African-American father, I’ll never have to explain to my daughters why there exists an exalted monument for those who wished to keep her and her ancestors in chains."

Virginia's Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) also issued a statement calling for the moving of all Confederate monuments into museums and out of public eye, reaffirming his position. Overnight on Tuesday, the city of Baltimore quietly removed all four of its Confederate statues upon the mayor's orders who announced early Wednesday morning, "It's done, they needed to come down. My concern is for the safety and security of our people. We moved as quickly as we could."

It seems the push for monument removal is now picking up steam, with cities like Baltimore simply deciding to act briskly while claiming anti-racism and concern for public safety. Of course, the irony in all this is that the White nationalist and supremacist groups which showed up in force at Charlottesville and which are even now planning a major protest in Lexington, Kentucky, are actually themselves likely hastening the removal of these monuments through their repugnant racial ideology, symbols, and flags. 

As highlighted previously, we are facing a false dialectic which will end in the eradication and purging of American history - a dialectical narrative which the media is all too happy to exploit, though it remains true that:

It is unlikely that the majority of Americans will readily identify with the representative camps on either side. White nationalists and neo-Nazis on the one hand, and counter-protesters declaring "socialist revolution in the United States" and "war" on all historical monuments deemed tainted by a racist past on the other, are unlikely to attract most ordinary Americans increasingly sickened by the entire escalating spectacle.

Missing here is any reasoned national debate or discussion which once defined even Virginia governor McAuliffe's prior position - he and others will now attempt to seize the political moment.