I wholeheartedly agree with historian and producer Ron Maxwell’s recent comments that “one doesn’t have to be Woke to understand how vile and abhorrent slavery was.” Indeed, slavery was and is grotesque. It’s also true that America’s Founding Fathers fought for liberty and demonstrated remarkable courage in standing up to those who aimed to intimidate, dominate and silence. We need more of that bravery from today’s leaders in the face of a different kind of intimidation and attempts to silence.
There is obviously no justifying past misdeeds, but as we watch the subjective airbrushing of America’s history, it’s time leaders begin to defend the good, the honorable, and perhaps most importantly, an accurate accounting of historical events.
It seems that everywhere one looks, cancel culture is running amok. In San Francisco, the school board eliminated the legacy of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln in schools – never mind that one played a pivotal role in forming our country and the other signed the Emancipation Proclamation. In New York City, the city council recently demanded a statue of Thomas Jefferson be removed from City Hall.
In Virginia, the cancel culture elites are taking steps to erase the name and legacy of one of George Washington’s friends and mentors, Lord Thomas Fairfax. The Lord Fairfax Community College Board voted to replace the college’s namesake and begin the “airbrushing” of Virginia’s past.
I fear that Thomas Jefferson (the author of the Declaration of Independence), James Madison (the father of our Constitution), and George Mason and Patrick Henry (driving forces behind the Bill of Rights), are the next primary targets of the cancel culture brigade.
This type of revisionism and censorship is now commonplace in America. In recent months, Amazon removed from its streaming service a documentary about Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Twitter blocked links to a U.S. Senate investigative report about Hunter Biden, and Facebook and Twitter restricted users’ access to a news story in The New York Post. In another troubling development, Google, Amazon and Apple teamed up to ban a social media app and Twitter rival, Parler, because it dared to permit conservative voices that had been silenced by Twitter.
Today’s overt canceling of views, voices and opinions is dangerous and un-American. Extending this impulse to erase our nation’s founders from history goes hand in hand with the rejection of American exceptionalism. All of it ignores the reality that America is a model that people around the world have sought to replicate for more than 200 years. Hundreds of millions of people want to live here, in this “shining city on the hill.”
We must never forget or erase the role Virginians played in founding our country and crafting the documents that protect our rights, including the freedoms of religion and speech. Virginia is full of historic landmarks to that legacy. We are home to founders and presidents. We mark battlefields where blood was shed and lives were lost to ensure America lived up to its founding ideals. A free and proud people do not negate, redefine, or erase their cultural patrimony. We are better than that.
Just as we must never overlook or excuse the sins of our past, we must resist the misguided movement to cleanse our history and rename every institution and building. We must teach it all, so that we and future generations of Virginians can learn from it – the good along with the bad.
A candidate for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, the writer in September retired as co-CEO the Carlyle Group, a Washington-based private equity firm. Republicans will select their nominee next month in a convention.