Opinion: Is the party of Lincoln now the party of Lee?

This year will mark my 30th anniversary as a syndicated columnist. During these years, I have written more words than I would have preferred about race. But race is America’s great moral stain and unending challenge. I’ve tackled school choice, affirmative action, transracial adoption, crime, police conduct, family structure, poverty, free-enterprise zones and more.

Some of those columns took the left to task for maliciously accusing Republicans of racism. A missive on “JournoList,” an online forum of left-leaning journalists started in 2007, plotted strategy for how to defend Barack Obama from the taint of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Spencer Ackerman advised, “If the right forces us to either defend Wright or tear him down … we lose the game they’ve put upon us. Instead, take one of them — Fred Barnes, Karl Rove, who cares — and call them racists.”

That said, in the era of Donald Trump, I stand slack-jawed as some on the right live down to the worst calumnies conjured from the left’s febrile imagination. That the entire Republican Party has not risen up, en masse, to renounce Donald Trump’s comments about Charlottesville is a disgrace. Nancy Pelosi’s response to the attack on Steve Scalise showed far more decency than did Trump’s to Charlottesville.

Contra Donald Trump, the Hitler Youth wannabes who paraded through Charlottesville last Friday night are not sincere Republicans falsely accused of being Nazis. They are the real thing. It should have been the most basic act of American civic hygiene to condemn and anathematize them. (Some Republicans did.) But since it seems we must state the obvious: The “Unite the Right” organizers, including alt-right leaders Richard Spencer and Jason Kessler, advertised their demonstration with Nazi-style imagery, carried torches reminiscent of Nuremberg and Klan rallies, and chanted “Blood and soil” and “The Jews will not replace us.” The next day, they clashed with counter-protesters and one of them committed a savage act of terrorism, crashing his car into a crowd. He murdered one person and wounded 19 others, five critically.

Yet Trump’s Monday condemnation, if you can call it that, was tardy, stilted and almost immediately withdrawn by his fiery Tuesday press conference. True to his pattern of peddling “alternative facts,” Trump insisted that “not all of those people were supremacists by any stretch … you take a look … the night before, they were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee.” I’ve taken a look. How does “the Jews will not replace us” convey benevolence? Sorry, but people of goodwill who oppose removing the statue of Lee were not in attendance last weekend. Any honorable opponent of iconoclasm would have been repelled by the fascist flags, the slogans, the military gear and the murderous violence.

President Trump’s lawyer has circulated an apologia for the Confederate general, arguing that there was no difference between Lee and George Washington. “Both saved America,” he wrote. Here’s what Gen. Ulysses Grant concluded about Lee 130 years ago: “He fought long and valiantly and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people have ever fought, and for which there was the least excuse.”

Hanging racism around Republican necks is the fulfillment of the dearest wish of the left, and unless powerfully rebutted by however many decent Republicans still exist, will discredit the party for years to come.

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Writes for Creators Syndicate.