Friday 23 February 2018

Trump mourns loss of statues as US history 'ripped apart'

Hope Hicks arrives at Trump Tower in New York. A White House official said Ms Hicks will serve temporarily as White House communications director, alongside the press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Photo: AP
Hope Hicks arrives at Trump Tower in New York. A White House official said Ms Hicks will serve temporarily as White House communications director, alongside the press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Photo: AP

Harriet Alexander in Washington

Donald Trump yesterday described the removal of Confederate statues as a "sad" sign of "history and culture of our great country being ripped apart".

The violence in Charlottesville at the weekend was sparked by a white supremacist protest against the removal of a statue of General Robert E Lee, who led the Confederate troops against Abraham Lincoln in their battle to create a separate, slave-owning state.

Donald Trump addresses the media at Trump Tower. Photos: Reuters
Donald Trump addresses the media at Trump Tower. Photos: Reuters

The monuments have become flashpoints, with African-Americans in particular objecting to the lionising of men who fought to keep slavery, and white supremacists rallying around the historic symbols.

Yesterday, Mr Trump apparently sided, once again, with the white supremacists. "Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments," he tweeted. "You can't change history, but you can learn from it. Robert E Lee, Stonewall Jackson - who's next, Washington, Jefferson? So foolish!

"Also the beauty that is being taken out of our cities, towns and parks will be greatly missed and never able to be comparably replaced!"

His comments put him at odds with the families of some of the most famous Confederate leaders, who have called for their ancestors' statues to be removed.

Steve Bannon Photo: Getty Images
Steve Bannon Photo: Getty Images

However, Mr Trump was backed by Paul LePage, the Republican governor of Maine, who said on that removing the statues was "just like" removing a monument to the victims of 9/11.

He said Left-wing protesters were ignorant of history and wanted to erase it, like "the Taliban in Afghanistan" in their desire to remove monuments.

Two great-great-grandsons of General Stonewall Jackson wrote an open letter to the mayor of Richmond, Virginia - where they live - saying: "Confederate monuments like the Jackson statue were never intended as benign symbols. Rather, they were the articulated artwork of white supremacy.

"While not ashamed of our great-great-grandfather, we're ashamed to benefit from white supremacy while our black family and friends suffer. We are ashamed of the monument."

America has more than 700 Confederate statues and monuments, almost half in Georgia, Virginia and North Carolina. Statues were removed in New Orleans in April and in Baltimore early on Wednesday, after the Charlottesville protests.

In North Carolina, protesters took matters into their own hands and toppled a Confederate soldier's statue themselves.

In Birmingham, Alabama, this week a 52ft Confederate obelisk was covered up in a wooden box. In Lexington, Kentucky, the local authorities were last night voting on whether they should be removed.


Robert E Lee V, the great-great-grandson of the general, said he had no problem with their removal.

"Eventually, someone is going to have to make a decision and if that's the local lawmaker, so be it. Maybe it's appropriate to have them in museums."

Meanwhile, White House chief strategist Steve Bannon branded the white nationalists who rallied in Charlottesville as "clowns" in a phone conversation likened to Anthony Scaramucci's infamous interview with the 'New Yorker'.

In a wide-ranging, unsolicited interview with small, left-leaning magazine 'The American Prospect', the former CEO of right-wing Breitbart News website argued the US was in an "economic war" with China, dismissed Mr Trump's vow to bring down "fire and fury" on North Korea, and talked of daily "fighting" within the government.

Mr Bannon, an economic nationalist, is reported to be on shaky ground with Mr Trump, who gave him only a tepid endorsement this week.

The frank, freewheeling telephone interview drew comparisons with the one Mr Scaramucci, the former White House communications director, gave to the 'New Yorker' shortly before he was fired.

"This isn't as profane as Scaramucci but otherwise it's the same transgression.

"If he's not fired, he's bulletproof," 'Washington Post' contributor Daniel Drezner tweeted. "Just read the Bannon interview with the 'Prospect'. It's truly extraordinary. .

Like Mr Scaramucci, Mr Bannon reportedly did not realise the conversation was on the record.

"Apparently Bannon never thought that the journalist might take his (very newsworthy) comments and turn them into a story," Mr Swan reported.

'Prospect' said that Mr Bannon had never specified that the interview was off the record.

Mr Bannon has yet to comment.

During the interview, the senior White House adviser talked about the storm over Mr Trump's defensive response to deadly violence at the white supremacist rally in Virginia at the weekend.

Far from defending the president, Mr Bannon spoke with disdain about the white nationalist movement he helped cultivate as a former head of Breitbart.

"Ethno-nationalism - it's losers. It's a fringe element. I think the media plays it up too much, and we gotta help crush it, you know, uh, help crush it more," he was quoted as saying.

"These guys are a collection of clowns."

He also said the administration's focus should be on China.

"To me the economic war with China is everything. And we have to be maniacally focused on that," he said.

"If we continue to lose it, we're five years away, I think, 10 years at the most, of hitting an inflection point from which we'll never be able to recover." (© Daily Telgraph, London)

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