House Speaker Nancy Pelosi declined to condemn the destruction of a statue of Christopher Columbus in the city of Baltimore (where she was born and raised) yesterday in the latest example of politicians enabling such mob action with their silence. When asked about a mob pulling down the statue and dumping it in the harbor (with no interference from police), Pelosi simply declared “People will do what they do.” Indeed, they will when leaders refuse to condemn their conduct. Her comment explains why a recently arrested supporter of Antifa declared that they are winning in the campaign to destroy statues and memorials. Update: Maryland Governor Larry Hogan blasted Pelosi for being out of touch with her comments. Rather than pander to the most extreme elements of these protests, Hogan insisted “while efforts towards peaceful change are welcome, there is no place in Maryland for lawlessness, vandalism, and destruction of public property.”
The incident in Baltimore is the latest such example of mob destruction of public art and memorials. As in Washington D.C. where the police chief said that he made the “tactical decision” to allow a mob to destroy such public memorials, the mob was allowed free rein and ample time to topple and drag the statue.
Democratic leaders continue to straddle the fence in not acknowledging, let alone condemning, the extreme elements of recent protests. While the vast majority of protesters have been peaceful, there has been significant violence and property damage. Antifa and other “anti-fascist” organizations have long been a violent presence on college campus, including my own. Indeed, the recently arrested Antifa member accused of organizing the effort to topple the famous Andrew Jackson statue is a GW student.
I have criticized Democratic leaders for their support of Antifa despite its pronounced anti-free speech beliefs and violent history. The effort to remain neutral in the face of violent acts will not last long as today’s allies becomes tomorrow’s reactionaries.
Despite the current divisions in our society, we should be able to agree that the decision to remove such statues must be done collectively and legally in our society. It is disgraceful that a Speaker of the House of Representatives, and the third in line for the presidency of the United States, should have to be prodded to condemn such unlawful action and even then will not do so. While Pelosi said “I don’t care that much about statues,” she should care a bit about statutes like the ones making this a crime.
The media however has been relatively quiet on Pelosi’s comment. Unlike Trump’s equivocation that there were “very fine people on both sides” in Charlottesville, there is no expectation that Pelosi would condemn a mob destroying public art.
This is why James Freeman Clarke once said that “A politician thinks of the next election; a statesman thinks of the next generation.”