There have been many articles over the years proclaiming the death of irony. It turned out not to be so: what’s more ironic, in a sick way, than one of the world’s richest countries having 1/3 of the COVID-19 cases? I am, however, concerned about the plight of nuance. It appears to be knock, knock, knocking on heaven’s door.
Nuance and I are old friends. While many see life in stark terms of black and white, I revel in the gray and ambiguous. While I’m still burning a candle for it, I’m afraid nuance is dead in our public life.
I usually detest bothsiderism but both the right and the left share the blame for nuance’s demise. Nuance was finally banished from the Republican party upon the nomination of the Impeached Insult Comedian. House GOPers such as Louie Gohmert Piles, Matt Gaetz, and Gym Jordan have trampled nuance to death with their antics. It’s unclear if they’re three of the horsemen of the apocalypse or the Three Stooges. Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk.
Nuance suffered major blows in the last week with the toppling of a statue honoring General/President Ulysses Grant as well as the Lady Forward statue in Madison, Wisconsin. The latter became a symbol of pride during the anti-Walker demonstrations in what seems like another lifetime. Its downfall certainly vexed Our Scout Prime:
She's long been a beloved symbol of WI protest. This was a mistake and I'd hope people would own it rather than the weak justifications I've seen. Worse is the assault of an ally–Tim Carpenter, an openly gay Democratic rep. https://t.co/PofgyAC6sG
— scoutprime (@scoutprime) June 24, 2020
I feel your pain, Scout.
An appreciation for, and an understanding of, nuance would have prevented the toppling of a statue honoring the man who did more to defeat the Confederacy than anyone else, General/President Grant. His father-in-law was a slave owner (as was Lincoln’s) who gave Ulysses and Julia a slave. Grant found the whole thing embarrassing and freed the poor bastard within a year. Many have credited that incident with beginning the process of Grant’s enlightenment on racial matters.
As president, Grant joined forces with the advocates of radical reconstruction and equal rights. The Civil Rights Act of 1875 was perhaps his greatest accomplishment as president. It was struck down by the Supremes in 1883, but it set the template for Civil Rights legislation in the next century. That’s right, Grant was the LBJ of the 19th Century; another historical figure nuance is needed to understand.
If you don’t believe me, here’s what the great Frederick Douglass had to say about Ulysses Grant:
“A man too broad for prejudice, too humane to despise the humblest, too great to be small at any point. In him the Negro found a protector, the Indian a friend, a vanquished foe a brother, an imperiled nation a savior…”
Grant’s historical reputation was the first casualty of the cult of the Lost Cause. In recent years, his star has been on the rise because of his record on Civil Rights while Woodrow Wilson’s has declined because he was a segregationist. Nuance requires that I point out that Wilson was instrumental in passing significant progressive legislation as president.
I dislike criticizing those I agree with and rarely do so. I’m down with removing monuments to Lee, Davis, Calhoun, and others. I’ve even stopped making nuanced arguments about Jackson Square in New Orleans. While I understand the thrill of toppling statues, I prefer a legal process, which has the benefit of being safer. The bronze statue of General/President Jackson is heavy and could hurt someone if hastily removed. I’ll have more about that and the renaming frenzy next week at the Bayou Brief.
Perhaps the post title is melodramatic. Nuance will live as long as people take the time to understand the complexities of our history. History is made by human beings and we’re flawed and, well, human.
A final thought: while we know who is buried in Grant’s Tomb, why is there a statue of Andrew Jackson in Lafayette Square? That’s too nuanced even for me.
The last word goes to Oscar Brand with an 1868 campaign song: