During a press briefing on Tuesday, reporter and CNN political analyst April Ryan asked if the White House thinks slavery is wrong. Regardless of Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders' response, it's disturbing that in 2017 this question would even need to be asked. But in Trump's America, it's no surprise.
The question was triggered by an interview on Monday night, during which White House Chief of Staff John Kelly told Fox News’ Laura Ingraham that Confederate general Robert E. Lee was an “honorable man” and that the Civil War was caused by “the lack of an ability to compromise.”
I would tell you that Robert E. Lee was an honorable man. He was a man that gave up his country to fight for his state, which 150 years ago was more important than country. It was always loyalty to state first back in those days. Now it’s different today. But the lack of an ability to compromise led to the Civil War, and men and women of good faith on both sides made their stand where their conscience had them make their stand.
People were astonished that Kelly had suggested the Union should have compromised with the pro-slavery Confederacy. Such a "compromise" likely would have led to the perpetuation of slavery. Author Ta-Nehisi Coates posted a poignant Twitter thread that summed up the problem.
[The] notion that we are putting today's standards on the past is, in itself, racist. [It] implies only white, slave-holding, opinions matter.
[Abraham] Lincoln’s own platform was a compromise. Lincoln was not an abolitionist. He proposed to limit slavery’s expansion, not end it. During the Civil War, Lincoln repeatedly sought to compromise by paying reparations—to slaveholders—and shipping blacks out the country.
Coates found it "shocking" that Kelly, "someone charged with defending their country, in some profound way, does not comprehend the country they claim to defend.” Moreover, he thinks the administration has suggested it's sympathetic toward white supremacy. Trump, like Kelly, has defended Lee and said that we shouldn't remove Confederate statues because that would be "changing history" and "culture." He also called some people marching with white supremacists at the deadly neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville this summer "fine people." Not to mention, he's endlessly attacking NFL players who choose to kneel during the National Anthem to protest police brutality in the United States, calling them "sons of b*tches" and demanding they be fired.
The president has also shown a history of attacking and dismissing women of color who criticize him. Trump and Kelly recently criticized Florida Congresswoman Frederica Wilson after she claimed the president had been insensitive toward the pregnant widow of a soldier killed in Niger earlier in October. Despite the widow, Myeshia Johnson, confirming Wilson's account of Trump's phone call, the president called Wilson "wacky," and Kelly called her an "empty barrel."
The fact that Ryan would feel it necessary to pose the question, "was slavery wrong?" speaks volumes about what this administration has represented. Kelly's comments about the Civil War in particular show a clear lack of empathy or understanding for the experience of people of color in this country.
“Been a lot of hemming and hawing over the term ‘white supremacist,” Coates wrote. “Fools who won’t be satisfied until Trump literally lynches someone. But, like, when the ‘adult in the room’ believes a war for slavery was honorable, believes that the torturer of humans, vendor of people, who led that war was honorable, when that dude portrays a sitting member of Congress as some shucking and jiving hustler, when he sticks by that portrayal of a black women, in the face of clear video evidence, when he has so descended into the dream. You really do see the effect of white supremacy.” And like Ryan, Americans need to continue to bring the administration's problematic tendencies to light.