Robert E. Lee And Ronald Reagan's Advice For Donald Trump

[ Posted Thursday, August 17th, 2017 – 16:37 UTC ]

Since President Donald Trump seems to be in such desperate need of some good advice, I thought today it'd be appropriate to offer up the following for his benefit, from two historic figures.

To begin with, we have none other than General Robert E. Lee -- whose statue in Charlottesville is at the heart of the current fight -- and who had some pretty specific words to say about those who would memorialize the so-called "Lost Cause." Lee wrote in August of 1865 to former governor of Virginia John Letcher, addressing what good citizens of the state should strive to do now that the war was over:

The interests of the State are therefore the same as those of the United States. Its prosperity will rise or fall with the welfare of the country. The duty of its citizens, then, appears to me too plain to admit of doubt. All should unite in honest efforts to obliterate the effects of war, and to restore the blessings of peace. They should remain, if possible, in the country; promote harmony and good feeling; qualify themselves to vote; and elect to the State and general Legislatures wise and patriotic men, who will devote their abilities to the interests of the country, and the healing of all dissensions. I have invariably recommended this course since the cessation of hostilities, and have endeavored to practice it myself.

Four years later, Lee specifically addressed the question of war monuments in the South. He wasn't a big fan of them, to put it bluntly:

I think it wiser, moreover, not to keep open the sores of war, but to follow the example of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife, and to commit to oblivion the feelings it engendered.

Yes, Robert E. Lee was on the side of not erecting Civil War statues, even of himself. He thought healing the nation was far more important. If the man the statue honored were alive today, in other words, he'd probably be arguing in favor of tearing his own statue down. A little food for thought for President Trump, who increasingly is siding with the "keep the statues up" side of the argument.

More recently, though, President Ronald Reagan also had some sage advice for Trump. This comes from a 1983 speech to the National Association of Evangelicals, which is why Reagan was focused so intently on morality. After slamming Planned Parenthood (without actually naming them), abortion, secularism, and speaking out in favor of passing a constitutional amendment to allow prayer in public schools, Reagan then spoke at length about the concept of good and evil and the importance of being on the right side of history:

Now, obviously, much of this new political and social consensus I've talked about is based on a positive view of American history, one that takes pride in our country's accomplishments and record. But we must never forget that no government schemes are going to perfect man. We know that living in this world means dealing with what philosophers would call the phenomenology of evil or, as theologians would put it, the doctrine of sin.

There is sin and evil in the world, and we're enjoined by Scripture and the Lord Jesus to oppose it with all our might. Our nation, too, has a legacy of evil with which it must deal. The glory of this land has been its capacity for transcending the moral evils of our past. For example, the long struggle of minority citizens for equal rights, once a source of disunity and civil war is now a point of pride for all Americans. We must never go back. There is no room for racism, anti-Semitism, or other forms of ethnic and racial hatred in this country.

I know that you've been horrified, as have I, by the resurgence of some hate groups preaching bigotry and prejudice. Use the mighty voice of your pulpits and the powerful standing of your churches to denounce and isolate these hate groups in our midst. The commandment given us is clear and simple: "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself."

But whatever sad episodes exist in our past, any objective observer must hold a positive view of American history, a history that has been the story of hopes fulfilled and dreams made into reality. Especially in this century, America has kept alight the torch of freedom, but not just for ourselves, but for millions of others around the world.

Any of that, with minor updates, would have been entirely suitable for Trump to have said at any time since Charlottesville happened. Although it's tough to imagine Trump speaking of "the phenomenology of evil" or the "doctrine of sin," he could have used simpler language to make the same basic point.

Reagan was just getting warmed up, though. He went on to apply the philosophy to world politics, and denounced the Soviet Union and those who were (at the time) arguing for a nuclear freeze between the United States and the U.S.S.R. Reagan was strongly against the freeze, to put it mildly, and gave his reasons for opposing it, at length.

But while Reagan started his argument about good and evil by denouncing racism and anti-Semitism, it was where this segment wound up that this speech is still remembered for today. Because Reagan used a memorable term while decrying any who would attempt to "label both sides equally at fault." Here is the relevant paragraph (emphasis added):

So, I urge you to speak out against those who would place the United States in a position of military and moral inferiority. You know, I've always believed that old Screwtape reserved his best efforts for those of you in the Church. So, in your discussions of the nuclear freeze proposals, I urge you to beware the temptation of pride -- the temptation of blithely declaring yourselves above it all and label both sides equally at fault, to ignore the facts of history and the aggressive impulses of an evil empire, to simply call the arms race a giant misunderstanding and thereby remove yourself from the struggle between right and wrong and good and evil.

Reagan, of course, would be astonished to see a president of his own party who absolutely refuses to say a bad word about Russia and/or its leader Vladimir Putin, but that's a column for another day.

You can criticize Reagan for holding such a black/white view of the world, and many did at the time. But his "evil empire" speech didn't start with denouncing the Soviet Union, it actually started by denouncing "the resurgence of some hate groups preaching bigotry and prejudice," and by plainly stating: "There is no room for racism, anti-Semitism, or other forms of ethnic and racial hatred in this country."

Reagan knew which side of this particular fight was evil, in other words. And he was unafraid to say so. While his sincerity towards racial unity might be questioned (again, many did at the time), he certainly said the right words in public. He denounced those who would draw a false equivalence, when the issue (to him) was so clearly one of good versus evil.

Donald Trump might want to think about that, the next time he thinks it'd be a good idea to call people marching with swastikas and torches while chanting Nazi and anti-Semitic slogans "very fine people."

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


38 Comments on “Robert E. Lee And Ronald Reagan's Advice For Donald Trump”

  1. [1] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    they're rapists and murderers, and some are good people? maybe donald says the exact same thing about everybody and interpreting it is just one giant rorschach test...


  2. [2] 
    altohone wrote:

    Hey CW

    Wise advice and timely quotes.

    However, those agreeing with the second part of Reagan's speech at this time (when the evil empire of communism is gone) would put them in the same camp as the neoliberals and neocons who espouse spending trillions on military interventions and spending another trillion dollars on new nuclear weapons that can never be used in support of an empire with over a thousand military bases around the world and "aggressive impulses"...
    ... essentially becoming what we were fighting against.

    Perhaps what Lee said should be considered as a guide for our current foreign policy?

    We beat the "evil empire".
    Instead of allowing that massive military might built to defeat evil to shift to new, different enemies or rekindling old ones (now operating under the same ideology as Wall Street) using tenuous justifications, and continuing endless war...

    ...obliterating the effects of war, some healing of dissensions, some promotion of harmony, and restoring the blessings of peace would seem to be in order... as Lee suggested.

    Why would Reagan be astonished?
    Putin is a capitalist.
    Are you claiming Reagan was lying and was motivated by something other than the evil ideology of communism?
    Would he consider Russian or Chinese capitalists just as dangerous?
    If so, what is it that sets us apart now?


  3. [3] 
    ListenWhenYouHear wrote:

    Regarding the removal of Confederate Memorials, Maine Gov. Paul LaPage said today,

    “To me, it’s just like going to New York City right now and taking down the monument of those who perished in 9/11."

    That would be true if the 9/11 Memorial consisted of statues honoring the hi-jackers.

  4. [4] 
    Balthasar wrote:

    That would be the statue honoring all the Maine confederates who fought in 9/11.

  5. [5] 
    Balthasar wrote:

    I'll say this: it would be a short ceremony!

  6. [6] 
    Balthasar wrote:

    Would [Reagan] consider Russian or Chinese capitalists just as dangerous? If so, what is it that sets us apart now?

    The same thing that primarily set us apart then: respect for human rights, and the right of all people to political self-determination through a representative government.

    China continues to mete harsh sentences to political dissidents; Putin simply has them thrown off buildings, or dosed with poison (depending on how subtle he's feeling that day, I suppose). Neither country has a free press. Both exhibit the trappings of capitalism, consumerism, and conspicuous consumption, but both are essentially Command Economies, subject to political dictates from top to bottom.

    Reagan would say that America is set apart by its credo that the people are the masters of the government, not the other way around.

    There have been changes in both China and Russia, to be sure. Russia is no longer communist hell, it's now rather Kleptocratic Plutocratic Autocratic hell. The chinese have allowed some of their citizens to become rich, but still mouth the words of Mao, and deny that the Tieneman Square massacre ever happened.

    Above all, Reagan was a pragmatist. He'd counsel, 'be wary' when dealing with nuclear armed superpowers, at the very least.

  7. [7] 
    Balthasar wrote:

    I am not unaware that the negative review that I give to Russia and China could be applied to some regimes that count us among their clients: most importantly, Saudi Arabia, whose autocratic monarchy breaks nearly every rule in the 'decent country' handbook.

    If course, it's because we're addicted to oil. If we could get it through the thick heads of the Right that the best part of 'clean energy' is that its 'our energy', and that natural gas is our methadone - just a step toward kicking that fossil fuel habit forever, which would make the country stronger, and more independent. They should think of the term 'clean energy' as a synonym for 'not kissing Saudi ass'.

    But the country is trippin' on Trump right now, so we'll have to get back to that when we've sobered up, and had about a million cups of coffee.

  8. [8] 
    TheStig wrote:

    I always learn something new from CW deep history columns.

    I don't think it too soon for another contest. When does Trump resign in deep disgrace? Where does he seek asylum? Part two isn't entirely gratuitous snark on my part....I don't think he can handle being a National Bad Joke. Trump has never been wrong in his 71 yrs....he's not about to start now.

    What would a Trump Monument look like? I remember a cartoon Nixon Monument from the '70s. It was a hole in the ground the size and shape of an inverted Washington Monument.

    Anybody seen the Gaffney Peach? As you drive by it resembles a huge buttocks bending over. Good starting point. Just add a golf flag and a hand reaching tnto the cup.

  9. [9] 
    Kick wrote:

    I've got this plan that we take all the monuments and move them to Trump properties and golf courses and see how much Trump likes them then. :)

    So, seriously, here's the thing about the monuments: Trump doesn't give two sheets about the darned monuments; he's simply using the "our heritage/history" talk in order to turn the conversation from a discussion about the KKK and Nazis (which he'll lose) into a discussion about statues. Don't let him turn the conversation... don't take the bait... FOCUS.

  10. [10] 
    Kick wrote:


    But the country is trippin' on Trump right now, so we'll have to get back to that when we've sobered up, and had about a million cups of coffee.

    So word on the street is:
    * The Washington Post is holding a story they've been asked not to run because it involves a national security issue... still in a holding pattern on that one.
    * In a couple weeks, people that Donald Trump doesn't want talking will be talking.

    Popcorn ready... two weeks. :)

  11. [11] 
    Balthasar wrote:

    Popcorn ready... two weeks. :)

    Oooo, a teaser trailer! (cue announcer:) In a world..

    Extra cinema butter on my popcorn, please - to hell with cholesterol!

  12. [12] 
    Bleyd wrote:


    Whatever the monument would be, it would need to be bright orange.

  13. [13] 
    Kick wrote:


    When does Trump resign in deep disgrace?
    Mid 2018
    Where does he seek asylum?
    Prison... unless he is pardoned by a namby-pamby successor afraid of the good fellas and/or the oligarchs... a.k.a. the mob.
    What would a Trump Monument look like?
    Exactly like the statue of Hitler in Germany: Nonexistent.

    Anybody seen the Gaffney Peach? As you drive by it resembles a huge buttocks bending over. Good starting point. Just add a golf flag and a hand reaching into the cup.

    A very tiny hand. :)

  14. [14] 
    TheStig wrote:

    Bleyd 12

    The Gaffney "Peachoid" is in fact painted a rather bright orange. It's 135 feet tall.

    I may be wrong, but I recall it being very nearly pink in the late '80s when I first saw it, the switch to orange may have been intended to de-emphasize human connotations.

    As a Trump Monument I would add curtain wall "Nazi Pants" to the lower half and some fiberglass shoes. The overall color scheme would be Aryan White, except for a red hat garnish. It's an abstract concept that works from a distance. The golf flag would have to be about 200' tall.

    I'd like to see it sighted at the East Potamac Golf Course and Driving Range in Southwest Washington D.C. Good sight lines from I 395 and the 14th Street bridge.

  15. [15] 
    Paula wrote:

    Everyone on "The Presidential Arts Council" is stepping down. This is an existing institution, vs. the 2 groups that disbanded this week.

    Republican "leaders" are hiding both from their constituents and the media. I'll bet they're meeting/communicating with one-another, however.

    Blotus goes to Camp David this weekend. To avoid protestors? Or because serious people are going to have a talk with him?

    I don't think he's going to last much longer. Last weekend WAS the tipping point.

  16. [16] 
    John M wrote:

    From Mitt Romney's Facebook Page:

    "I will dispense for now from discussion of the moral character of the president's Charlottesville statements. Whether he intended to or not, what he communicated caused racists to rejoice, minorities to weep, and the vast heart of America to mourn. His apologists strain to explain that he didn't mean what we heard. But what we heard is now the reality, and unless it is addressed by the president as such, with unprecedented candor and strength, there may commence an unraveling of our national fabric.
    The leaders of our branches of military service have spoken immediately and forcefully, repudiating the implications of the president's words. Why? In part because the morale and commitment of our forces--made up and sustained by men and women of all races--could be in the balance. Our allies around the world are stunned and our enemies celebrate; America's ability to help secure a peaceful and prosperous world is diminished. And who would want to come to the aid of a country they perceive as racist if ever the need were to arise, as it did after 9/11?
    In homes across the nation, children are asking their parents what this means. Jews, blacks, Hispanics, Muslims are as much a part of America as whites and Protestants. But today they wonder. Where might this lead? To bitterness and tears, or perhaps to anger and violence?
    The potential consequences are severe in the extreme. Accordingly, the president must take remedial action in the extreme. He should address the American people, acknowledge that he was wrong, apologize. State forcefully and unequivocally that racists are 100% to blame for the murder and violence in Charlottesville. Testify that there is no conceivable comparison or moral equivalency between the Nazis--who brutally murdered millions of Jews and who hundreds of thousands of Americans gave their lives to defeat--and the counter-protestors who were outraged to see fools parading the Nazi flag, Nazi armband and Nazi salute. And once and for all, he must definitively repudiate the support of David Duke and his ilk and call for every American to banish racists and haters from any and every association.
    This is a defining moment for President Trump. But much more than that, it is a moment that will define America in the hearts of our children. They are watching, our soldiers are watching, the world is watching. Mr. President, act now for the good of the country."

  17. [17] 
    Paula wrote:

    Looks like Bannon's out.

  18. [18] 
    Paula wrote:

    [16] John M: The thing about Mitt Romney is that he is a Mormon, and, unlike so many rightwing "christians", many Mormons seem to be pretty serious about living their faith.

    Mitt's got other problems but kudos to him for this.

  19. [19] 
    Paula wrote:

    Bannon out will not save Blotus. Blotus is the central malignant tumor. Too little too late, even though some idiot media will once again try to say "this was the moment Blotus pivoted".

    Kelly probably forced this and Blotus will find a way to explode and make it all worse.

  20. [20] 
    Kick wrote:


    Looks like Bannon's out.

    Yep. This should get interesting now. I had heard it was either Bannon or Kelly going. I guessed General Kelly would eventually win and remain standing, but I figured this was at least a month or two away. Dang that was quick.

  21. [21] 
    Kick wrote:


    The Gaffney "Peachoid" is in fact painted a rather bright orange. It's 135 feet tall.

    But TS, I was learning about it today because of your post. They repainted it just a couple months ago, and now it looks more like a huge buttocks that either has diaper rash or got it's arse kicked good... a red situation going on there now.

    Here's a side-by-side comparison of the peach from 2015 to 2017:

    Thanks for the butt peach lesson. Frank Underwood would be so proud. :)

  22. [22] 
    Paula wrote:

    [20]Kick: Everything with Blotus is accelerated.

  23. [23] 
    TheStig wrote:

    It's Crazy Donald's White House Liquidation Sale! Everyone Must Go! We're Over Stocked With Doctrinaires, Millionaires And Just Plain Zealots. You Want Nuts? We've Got ' Em! Flakes? Don't Mention Flake! Some Reputations Slightly Tarnished, But Otherwise Just Like New! Low Mileage Press Secretaries - Wind 'Em Up and Watch 'Em Babble! Your Kids Will Love Em! We Must Make Room For New Inventory! Ask About Our Chief Of Staff! He'll Look Great Standing at Attention
    Outside You Office. Makes A Great Coat Hanger! Come On Down
    To Old Dump On Pennsylvania Ave. Free KFC. I'm Crazy Donald And I Don't Know What The Fuck I'm Doin'!

  24. [24] 
    TheStig wrote:

    Kick, that video made my day! Never saw an aerial panorama of it before. It looks like it has polyp up top...probably nothing, but get it checked..

    I'm not happy with the new dark color version .- it looks like a plum.

    Frank would get even. That's all he does.

    South Carolina grows the best tasting peaches! Eat your heart out Georgia.

  25. [25] 
    Balthasar wrote:

    It would be interesting to know when Bannon was made aware of his imminent departure, because his interview with The American Prospect seemed to me to be eerily similar to the one given to Ryan Lizza by Scaramucci just before he was booted.

    It's almost as though Bannon was winking at us, and saying, 'you know what I'm doing, right?'. I'm struck that he went out of his way to excoriate the Alt-Right, calling them "losers", "fringe" and "a collection of clowns". Sounds like he's setting up a narrative that he isn't being fired for his associations with the alt-right, rather that he is being fired for opposing China or criticizing other administration officials (I hear John Lovitz in my head, going, "yeah, yeah, that's the ticket..).

    So his play was to dive out, leaving Trump holding the 'white supremacist' bag, take a shot at the State Department, and say things that conservative businessmen (i.e., potential future employers) want to hear about supremacists and China, oh, and by the way, put in a good word for Goldman Sachs.

    And, by granting the interview to the Prospect, he also leaves open the option to complain that he'd been misquoted, and to complain about the author's ethical 'breach' in publishing an 'off the record' interview, exactly as Scaramucci had done. Neat.

  26. [26] 
    TheStig wrote:

    I'm a bit surprised Hasbro hasn't issued a Trump White House themed version of the classic board game Clue. It would be called Leak.

  27. [27] 
    Paula wrote:

    [23] Sing it!

  28. [28] 
    Paula wrote:

    Very good piece about what "tolerance" is and isn't. Tolerance requires cooperation from all sides to work. If some elements refuse to extend it, it is not the duty of everyone else to tolerate them. You do not have to tolerate intolerance, as some kind of "moral" duty. As he says, "tolerance is not a suicide pact".

    He compares tolerance to a peace treaty -- and if only one side honors the terms it won't work.

  29. [29] 
    TheStig wrote:


    Tom Waits?

  30. [30] 
    TheStig wrote:


    Excellent essay.

  31. [31] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Can't we do better than just tolerate?

  32. [32] 
    Paula wrote:

    I just read this, btw:

    And it is awful. Robert E. Lee was a brutal and sadistic slave-owner. His statues should be pulled down everywhere.

  33. [33] 
    Paula wrote:

    [29] Tom Waits? Works for me!

  34. [34] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Quick question ... just heard Heather Heyer's mother (?) refer to her daughter as 'miss heyer' ... what's up with that?

  35. [35] 
    LeaningBlue wrote:

    So Fox has had the Huff Po head "Goy Bye" for around 4 hours and the militant and (((-))) crowd had it before Huff Po took it down.

    The writer, Lydia Polgreen, tweeted after it was taken down: "Today’s splash was intended to be a mashup tribute to Yiddish and Beyoncé. Any other interpretation was completely unintended."

    Maybe, but on its face it rings in the same chord as the chants "Jew will not replace us." It's so outrageous, tone deaf, and stupid that somebody will probably raise the theory "Bannon false flag."

    It doesn't matter what was behind a really stupid message. If Huff Po is not moved to act, this is a problem, because this is a Friday night not like most Friday nights. Because Bannon.

  36. [36] 
    nypoet22 wrote:


    Not always

  37. [37] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    oh. that was in response to [31]. in some circumstances tolerance really is the best we can hope to achieve.

  38. [38] 
    LeaningBlue wrote:

    RE: [35]

    I evidently over-reacted; the story doesn't exist anymore, really across the spectrum.

    It's on Russian propaganda sites in Asia. But I stand by my assertion of equivalence in racial slander, which is exactly the same point that is being made there in the propaganda.

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