We have a monumental problem, one that is statuesque, too — monuments and statues falling victim to vigilantes of the cancel culture.
It’s happening across America, but I will focus on Philadelphia, the Birthplace of America, a land designed by and for the rule of law, or so we thought.
Mayor Jim Kenney, a.k.a. Mayor Weathervane, made and reversed plans on how to handle the Frank Rizzo statue before stealing it in the middle of the night, and now his hand-picked Philadelphia Art Commission is expected to announce today the preordained decision that the Christopher Columbus statue will be evicted from Marconi Park.
The Rizzo statue honored a “racist,” said critics, presenting no proof other than that he led an admittedly heavy-handed police force during a “law and order” era, and that he once shouted, “Get their black asses,” to police defending Philadelphia school headquarters, which was surrounded by students, mostly black.
I have seen zero reporting that Rizzo ever beat up a Black person, or specifically discriminated against them.
I also have seen zero reporting that Kenney objected to the statue when it was installed in 1999. Just the opposite — Kenney actually proposed renaming the Municipal Services Building for Frank Rizzo, the twice-elected mayor, who received the biggest funeral in city history when he died in 1991.
So, too, Columbus has been rebranded from a great navigator to a culprit guilty of genocide. Well, maybe not him personally, the story goes, but he opened the door.
Most of his critics would not be here had he not opened the door, and he certainly was not among the most brutal of the conquistadors plundering the New World. Each man existed totally in the framework of his times.
Anyway, statues and monuments have been falling like autumn leaves, most often torn down by mobs of self-appointed vigilantes. In Philadelphia, curiously, the two doomed statues honor men of Italian ancestry. No WASPs were harmed in making this commentary.
A democracy does not turn decisions over to rioters — that is a mobocracy.
I previously suggested putting Columbus on public trial — with a prosecutor and a defense attorney to determine his crimes, and then let voters in the next election decide to keep him or kick him out.
That idea gained no traction, but here comes the Philadelphia Inquirer with a similar idea.
Apart from the editorial’s smarminess, it presents an idea lifted from New York — a commission to review all public art, statues, memorials and monuments, including street and school names. “The rest of our symbolic landscape should receive the same level of scrutiny as a single statue of Columbus,” said the editorial, assuming there was a level of scrutiny.
The city “must ensure the shared network of spaces maintained and created in our names lives up to our highest democratic values,” the editorial says.
It wants a panel of experts to make the decision.
That’s where it goes wrong, because an appointed panel will not support democratic values. That would come from a referendum allowing the people to decide the heroes and the goats.
I haven’t compiled a list of all public statuary and monuments, but I know — and have said — this: If the city removes Frank Rizzo, on vague accusations of racism, and Columbus for murky charges of genocide — how can Mayor Weathervane bear working in an office located under the statue of William Penn, an unrepentant slaveholder? How can an Ivy League university bear a name that triggers so many students?
Slaveholder George Washington is honored with a statue and the name of a major thoroughfare. Slaveholder Thomas Jefferson has a university named after him, even though he was arguably a pedophile and rapist, meaning Sally Hemings. Slaveholder Ben Franklin has a science institute, a bridge and a parkway named after him. Anti-Semite (and slaveholder) Ulysses S. Grant has a statue. Racist Walt Whitman has a bridge. Franklin Delano Roosevelt wrongly imprisoned Japanese Americans and has a large park named after him.
This is not an exhaustive list.
That no one in the city government, and this includes harridan Councilwoman Helen Gym, have even mentioned these slaveholders opens a question about their sincerity to a truly just and equitable America. Are they cowards?
If you are honest about going after villains, you have to go after them all. To not do that is sheer hypocrisy.
Should we wash the names of Penn, Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, etc. from our national memory?
Let the people decide if they are to be judged by a single evil flaw, or by the totality of the good they created.
I trust they will get it right — and end the ridiculous self flagellation that approaches suicide of our national pysche.