The desecration, destruction, or removal of statues depicting noted historical figures has become a growth industry in America. And sadly…
So far one Theodore Roosevelt hasn’t fared too badly. His equestrian statue in the American Museum of Natural History was declared verboten (June 2020), and with Mayor de Blasio’s approval. Another was knocked over and damaged by masked worthies in Portland, Oregon, a city used to vandalism.
In my view any so-called progressive who even tacitly supports destruction or removal of T.R. statues in different parts of the country is wrong-headed. How fast people, even the supposedly high-minded, forget.
For many quite positive, scholarly biographies of this president have been penned by well-regarded historians. And still carry weight.
To evaluate that first Roosevelt in the White House, you have to have a sense of paradox. For instance, this man some would deride as a rough-edged hunter and imperialist also spearheaded a national forest system, including via executive orders, in order to protect great swaths of land that would have been irretrievably ruined by rampant logging. You’d think such bold, significant action (while there was still time) would be valued by today’s environmentalists, many of whom situate themselves on the Left.
T.R. also pushed for a vital Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906. Muckraking books of that era, especially Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle” on the shockingly insalubrious Chicago slaughterhouse industry, were not lost on this president. Roosevelt knew standards had to be set to keep people healthy, and thankfully so! Imagine taking your life into your hands every time you had lunch.
Teddy R. was a man some might today label as a conservative; but in his own era he was a significant progressive, too, via some of his central concerns and accomplishments. (Including as a “trust-buster,” womens’ suffrage supporter and international peacemaker, for which he received a Nobel Prize.)
If all that again seems paradoxical, so be it. For the truth of life is often found in a hazy, gray middle. And as Rick Nelson had it in “Garden Party” (1972), you simply can’t please ‘em all.
So: because not everyone can be pleased, does that mean more Roosevelt statues should simply come down? No way!
I wish today’s “progressives” weren’t quite so supine and rubber-stamping regarding this horrid, self-centered, barbaric trend. And that all Americans, including many who aren’t on the current Left, didn’t swallow such ill-considered moves so readily, either.
T.R.! I mean can you imagine? Jefferson, too? Even Washington? And Lincoln! Who will it be next? F.D.R.? Eisenhower? The question matters greatly. For the damage done is already unforgivable, and throws a harsh light indeed on the true nature of supposed “idealists” (of one basic mindset) these days.
More generally, this is what can happen when the past doesn’t get respected for what it was, rather than for what some (with a skewed sense of history) think it ought to have been. We’re now seeing how the revisionism, relativism and political correctness that began claiming our schools and media circa 1970 helped lead to all this. And it’s more than a little dangerous.
Yet again, there certainly was paradox in that first Roosevelt, as there was in Jefferson, Lincoln, or Wilson. And abroad, in figures like Winston Churchill. But you can’t throw out proverbial baby with the bathwater, i.e., all the legated good (and beneficial) with what today’s self-righteous consider less positive.
While we’re on this subject of paradox: today’s students traipse at lovely university campuses such as Nashville’s Vanderbilt, built by a powerful railroad baron. Ditto for Stanford. Or how about John D. Rockefeller’s University of Chicago, which that brutal oil monopolist helped spawn? Or a famed locus of culture like Carnegie Hall (not to mention this tough steel magnate’s Carnegie libraries launched here and around the world)? How about much other good wrought by people now often placed in one handy historical category, and deemed reprehensible?
All of which not only impoverishes history, but our present, too. When some single-minded bunch can “cancel” this or that statue for its own reasons, and get away with it due to rationalizations from our “educated,” yes, we have big problems, and now! (Of course if any moderates or conservatives damage property, that becomes a different story.)
B.B. Singer has taught as several colleges including Niagara University.