Some of my friends on the ‘right’ are concerned about “cancel culture.” Like, REALLY concerned. They talk about people’s lives being ruined just because they were exercising their First Amendment right to free speech. But then the liberal media came for them, and now they are CANCELED. The country will destroy itself, they argue, just for the sake of being “politically correct.”
It’s the old ‘slippery slope’ I learned about in law school. And with the American Museum of Natural History’s decision to remove a Teddy Roosevelt statue, we are already hearing people of wealth and power (looking at you Matt Schlapp!) complaining about how statues of Jesus will be removed next.
A very smart person told me that the news media has been compromised by prioritizing efficiency over durability. That’s a pretty nuanced opinion from someone who describes himself as libertarian, but I think he is quite right here. Except it’s not just news media. Social media has accelerated dissemination of information to the point that I think a whole lot of people are looking for the simplest conclusion that will let them digest the information and determine where it fits in their personal life story.
The easiest way to accomplish that incorporation of knowledge, which is coming at us like water from a firehose, is the binary construct: good or evil. People with more of a financial background can add a third choice, for a structure that is basically: buy, sell or hold.
I realize that it’s pretty important to have a functioning protocol for the incorporation of data, but humans need a little more fluidity and more choices – more individuality, if you will. In other words, the reductionist constructs of good/evil and buy/sell/hold utterly erase details (also known as facts), some of which might be very important to the person receiving this information.
Which brings us back to TR. I just watched The American Experience on PBS revealing a ton of personal details about the 26th President. I never studied Teddy Roosevelt, so it was pretty revelatory. He was an incredible American, and I certainly would not want to see him removed from Mt. Rushmore (if that is even possible). He once gave a speech and was shot by a would-be assassin. TR just kept on giving the speech and mocked the shooter as he was taken away. He received medical attention immediately following. Also, Teddy Roosevelt busted trusts and set the stage for organized labor to take root in the USA. He was a great American.
And he was a colonialist, a eugenics dabbler, a New York elitist, an unfaithful husband, a showman and an egomaniac. And that brings us to the statue in New York. It shows TR in triumph on his horse, and it is a beautiful and inspiring image.
And if that were all there was to it, it would really be fine, but there are two other figures who are part of the statue. There is a half naked Native American and and half naked black African who are also represented. They are on foot and walk slightly behind the mounted Roosevelt.
I find it to be a disturbing image and, whatever the intention of the artist, the two men on foot appear to be clearly inferior and subjugated to the more civilized white man they follow. My friends at RedState.com are saying that I’m just seeing what I want to see. I would focus, however, on what we know of TR himself. You see, it’s not about me being a snowflake. It’s about facts and truth.
And when it comes to the facts, TR did think white people and Americans were essentially superior and that interventionist wars were reasonable foreign policy. This doesn’t mean he gets erased from the history books. This means that images which show him reveling in his perceived superiority should not occupy places of honor.
And one other thing, no one is canceling Teddy Roosevelt. He’s not Kevin Spacey.
The prudent path is to see the good and the bad of this great man, and where the bad is too greatly emphasized, make that change. There is no growth without change. We can’t course-correct (even if only to a slight degree) without change. And the American Museum of Natural History is proving that needed change is possible.