I hear that activists pulled down the statue of U. S. Grant in a San Francisco park because they found him insufficiently decisive in condemning slavery. Well, very few have done the unglamorous work of eradicating slavery to the degree that Grant did. If we can offer public recognition only to perfect people, then recognition will go to nobody– or only to the loudest liars out there, who of course love to praise themselves (and their phone calls) as “perfect.” The logic of moral absolutism plays into the hands of amoral opportunism. That’s why complexity is preferable to clarity when we are dealing with the past. When dealing with the future, by all means seek that clarity. But try to live up to it yourself rather than denouncing others.
This situation actually just gives me the hook to tell my favorite Lincoln story. Somebody from the War Department came in with the important information that General Grant drank. Shouldn’t such a man be relieved of his command? “Find out what Grant drinks,” said Lincoln, “and send a case of it to every other general I have.”
Here’s to the end of racism (harder to abolish than slavery). Cin-cin! (Or is that somehow racist?)