THE DONALD AND THE SLIPPERY SLOPE
Logicians tell us that the “slippery slope”, an argument which posits that one seemingly reasonable concession on societal values, or most any argument, will lead to less reasonable and more destructive consequences, is a weak one. And it causes this writer considerable discomfort to admit that our President got something right; thus, this post begins life with two strikes against it.
If you subscribe to POTUS’ Twitter feed, or even if you don’t, you may have gotten to share The Donald’s reaction to individuals advocating changing the names of schools, streets, or any old thing named after Confederate generals and politicians. “Who’s next? Washington? Jefferson?” quoth he, though undoubtedly in all caps. In other words, a classic ‘slippery slope’ argument. Liberal pundits reassured the public that this was not their intent, that these iconic Founders were above reproach. Two days later Al Sharpton called for the demolition of the Jefferson Memorial, and the list of historical figures who are too enmeshed with slavery to recognize rapidly metastasized to include the first president of The Society for the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage, America’s first abolitionist group.
Regular readers of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram or the Dallas Morning News will be way ahead of me on this, but the Dallas Independent School District has initiated a program whereby all of the individuals who have schools in the district named after them are having a resume generated to help the district decide whether their name should be removed from the school. There are plenty of Confederate figures on the list, probably the least controversial figures to remove, but a second large group consists of heroes of the Texan War of Independence. These men were slaveholders, yes, but they usually don’t have any connection with the Confederacy; most of them were dead, and the most prominent of them, Sam Houston, was a Unionist.
The ‘renaming’ controversy, though related, is a bit distinct from the ‘statues’ controversy, but the strongest argument for removing statues honoring the CSA heroes, and for differentiating them from slaveholding founders, is that the rebels were, well, rebels, traitors to the United States, whilst the founders were engaged in building the nation. Taken at face value, a mere slaveholder does not meet this standard of guilt. It ought to be self-evident that all historical figures, however admirable on the whole, are going to have various weaknesses and faults, just as many despots and war criminals had their talents and may have accomplished things for their nation in economic spheres, yet we have no difficulty condemning the totality of their record.
One argument for renaming a school, as opposed to a street or a post office, is that the young scholars don’t find these ancient historical figures relatable. That this is true I have no doubt, but do we really want all our schools to be named after Ariana Grande or The Weeknd? I’m certainly glad that I didn’t go to the Hugh O’Brien High School or Bobby Vee Elementary. And I’m also glad that these decisions aren’t up to me—perhaps the standard of guilt should in fact be mere slaveholding--but these nets of guilt are definitely being cast too widely for my comfort.