The Codcast: Tipping point for Confederate statues

After this month’s white nationalist rally in Virginia, statues of Confederate leaders are falling across the South. Protests by white supremacists against the planned removal of a Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville have set in motion a rush to rid town greens and parks of icons to the Confederate cause.

Many have decried the moves, saying they are erasing tributes to Southern heritage and history. Others say the embrace of the statues by groups with such abhorrent views is proof that they represent something much more malevolent than “Southern pride” and should be excised from our public places.

The context in which many of the Confederate statues were erected is an important part of the debate, says Boston University historian Nina Silber on this week’s Codcast. Many were put up in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and sent a “message of white supremacy” as Southern states were consolidating the Jim Crow system of segregation as part of the backlash to Reconstruction.

As for the alliance of Confederate-flag-carrying white nationalists and neo-Nazis in the Charlottesville rally, Silber says that is not just a “current coming together of these ideologies,” and that there is an ugly history of convergence between Nazi thinkers and the Confederacy.

To Nazis of the 1930s and ‘40s, “there was something admirable about the Old South, its system of slavery, and a social hierarchy that put a supposedly superior race on top,” she says. “Hitler himself spoke admiringly of the Old South.” Silber explained this history last week in an op-ed in the Washington Post, writing that “the line between fascism and worship of the Confederacy is not so clear. In fact, it never has been.”

But most people certainly don’t equate respect for Confederate monuments with hate-filled ideologies. Steve Koczela of the MassINC Polling Group, who joined in the conversation with Silber, surveyed Virginia voters in the wake of the events in Charlottesville and found a majority of them support keeping the statues in place and most see them as paying tribute to Southern heritage, not racism, findings that are largely mirrored in national polling data.

What about those, including President Trump, asking where the statue-toppling ends. Will we remove figures of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, who were both slave-owners? Silber says there is a slippery slope, but “the fact that there’s a slippery slope does not mean we shouldn’t start out on the slope.”

In her view, there’s a clear distinction in that Washington and Jefferson were “foremost involved in a project about the creation of the American republic, which included many of the principles we hold dear today.”

In today’s Boston Globe, Renee Loth wrestles with the Confederate monument debate, expressing support for removing many of them, but questioning the methods being used to do so.

“The statues that are signifiers of racial subjugation need to be removed — but it won’t help to do it through vandalism, as at Duke University, or skulkingly under cover of night, as in Baltimore,” writes Loth.

That sort of rush to topple monuments, says Koczela, an Iraq War veteran, evokes images of the euphoria that accompanied tearing down of monuments with the fall of Saddam Hussein. Years later, the country is in tatters.

“Does the act of taking down of statues do anything?” he asks. How do we “make sure we’re not just taking down statues to make ourselves feel better.”

All of which underscores the fact that deciding to remove Confederate monuments is a much easier task than getting to the root of the difficult race issues that make the debate so charged.

–MICHAEL JONAS


BEACON HILL

Rep. Susannah Whipps may have joined the unenrolled in-crowd, but it’s unclear whether that will cost her her committee assignments on Beacon Hill. (CommonWealth)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Felix Arroyo, Boston’s chief of health and human services, is fired after an investigation of an employee’s claim of sexual harassment. Arroyo denies he harassed the woman. (WBUR)

Truro selectmen voted to give full-time residents a 20 percent break on their annual property tax bills, a move that has upset part-time homeowners who are considering a challenge to the decision because it shifts more of the burden onto them. (Cape Cod Times)

Housing activists say tenants in Boston are facing a wave of “building clearouts,” as new owners buy properties and look to get rid of all tenants and jack up rents. (Boston Globe)

Salem issues a request for proposals for a fiber optic network that would provide some competition to Comcast. (Salem News)

Barnstable County officials have proposed an early retirement plan to reduce staffing by 20 percent and save $1.4 million a year, if approved by the Legislature. (Cape Cod Times)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

With the election of Donald Trump, progressive federalism’s moment has arrived, says Yale legal scholar Heather Gerken. (CommonWealth)

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has reportedly proposed lifting conservation restrictions on parts of four national monuments and open them up for drilling and mining, dealing a blow to former President Barack Obama’s environmental legacy. (New York Times)

A month after Trump tweeted his intent to ban transgender people from the military, the White House has sent a memo to the Pentagon with directions to implement the ban in six months. (U.S. News & World Report)

A Herald editorial implores Republican congressional leaders to take charge and “pay no attention to the little man behind the curtain.”

Former New Hampshire senator Kelly Ayotte has taken a job as senior advisor with Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions, which promotes conservative solutions to expanding renewable energy. (Eagle-Tribune)

ELECTIONS

Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera is raising a lot more money than his many rivals but he is spending it fast. Still, he had $48,000 on hand, according to the most recent report, while City Councilor Modesto Maldonado had $7,469 and former mayor William Lantigua had $1,125. (Eagle-Tribune) Several candidates call for federal and state oversight of the election, citing a history of election problems in the city. (Boston Herald)

Businessman John Kingston says he’ll put up $2 million of his own money in his Republican bid against US Sen. Elizabeth Warren. (Boston Globe)

State Sen. Jamie Eldridge of Acton will not run for the congressional seat being left open by the retirement of US Rep. Niki Tsongas. (State House News) Dan Koh, departing chief of staff to Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, is expected to jump in the race, but Joe Battenfeld says a less than impressive tenure at City Hall may be a drag on his candidacy. (Boston Herald)

Michael Kushmerek, president of the Fitchburg City Council, said he plans to run for the state  Senate seat being vacated by Jennifer Flanagan, who was named a commissioner of the Cannabis Control Commission. (Telegram & Gazette) Flanagan’s exit from a less-than-overwhelmingly Democratic district could give Republicans a shot at a picking up a seat. (Boston Globe)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Amazon says it plans to lower the prices at Whole Foods stores once it acquires the chain, which is nicknamed Whole Paycheck. (Time)

The heir to the behemoth Samsung business empire was convicted in a South Korean court of bribery and embezzlement and sentenced to five years in prison in a closely watched trial that sends a message to the country’s biggest corporations that the corrupt behavior will no longer be tolerated. (New York Times)

A Freedom of Information request by state Rep. William Straus revealed there have been no penalties assessed by NOAA against New Bedford fishing magnate Carlos Rafael, the so-called “Codfather” who pled guilty to federal charges of smuggling money and violating catch quotas. (Standard-Times)

EDUCATION

Teachers in Worcester ratified a new contract that calls for a 7 percent raise over three years. (Telegram & Gazette)

Boston teachers and the city have reached a tentative agreement on a short-term contract that addresses some issues, but does not resolve a major sticking point over the fate of surplus teachers who are currently earning full salaries but are not in regular classroom positions. (Boston Globe)

The municipally owned Quincy College is launching an athletic program for the first time in its nearly 60 years, with men’s soccer and basketball teams slated to take on other two-year schools this year and women’s teams beginning next year. (Patriot Ledger)

Boston College High School, an all-boys Jesuit academy, has hired a woman, Grace Cotter Regan, as its new president, the first woman to lead the school in its 154-year history. (Boston Globe)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Massachusetts Environmental Police seized more than 300 pounds of illegally caught striped bass along Cape Cod Canal after receiving complaints that fishermen were exceeding the legal limits. (Cape Cod Times)

A handful of energy companies from western states made presentations to Somerset residents and officials about the reuse of the shuttered Montaup power plant but they generated far more questions than answers. (Herald News)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Both the DA and a defense lawyer for the pair suggest the charges against Max Kennedy and his daughter Caroline stemming from a noisy party last weekend in Hyannisport are likely to be dismissed. (Boston Globe)