Making America Great Again: In Victory, Magnanimity

So we took this trip to Dallas. The wife and I were walking along the Turtle Creek greenway, which is quite lovely for an urban park, when we came across this large statue that was visible at another park across the road.

"Who is that?" she asked.

I answered, "It's Robert E. Lee, of course."

"Why would there be a monument to Lee in Dallas?" she asked incredulously.

"I don't know," I admitted, "but I'm pretty sure that's him."

Sure enough.

This statue was personally dedicated by Franklin D. Roosevelt, who came to Dallas for the purpose. The park was built out by his WPA. If you think they were kidding about celebrating Robert E. Lee, they weren't. In addition to the giant equestrian statue, they built a 2/3rds-scale exact replica of his mansion in Arlington.

They also built a lot of stuff that looks a lot more like what I've seen of CCC/WPA projects around the country. This bridge is a good example. They built benches and picnic tables out of similar stone, all of which remain in beautiful shape.

The upshot of this is not that Making America Great Again means that we should resume the mid-century celebration of the military heroes of the Confederacy. No, the thing I want to point out is how magnanimous this action was coming from FDR. He was elected in a similarly heated election, and faced similarly heated opposition after coming into office. Many people thought his CCC was little more than his version of Hitler Youth, which he was going to use to impose totalitarian rule on the nation.

But he didn't do that. He put them to work. Not everything they did was the most obviously sensible thing to do, either. Even if you accept that building a monument to Robert E. Lee served a useful political purpose in unifying Americans and healing older divisions; even if you believe wholeheartedly that building lasting parks and public recreation areas beautifies the country in a worthwhile way; even then, it's not at all clear that anyone really needed a 2/3rds-scale replica of Lee's mansion.

It put people to work, though. It taught them useful skills. It did, in fact, beautify the nation -- as did the CCC's yeoman work on similar parks and monuments around the nation, such as the repairs to the Confederate fortress at Fort Pulaski, or their building of shelters for hikers on the Appalachian trail.

It also showed a way for Americans to join each other in being Americans.

Trump can't fall back on exactly what worked for FDR, and I'm not suggesting that he should. The method is what is important. Put people back to work. Build something good, something that will last, even if it's not the very most obvious and sensible thing. Do it in a way that celebrates America, even the parts of it you may not always truly love. Show magnanimity in victory.


RonF said...

As I've mentioned before in this space I'm a Scout leader. I've spent a lot of time in facilities and parks built by the CCC and I think it would be a great thing to bring back. The unions would scream, but that's something a Republican Congress and a Republican President ought to ignore. Putting a whole bunch of youth to work and moving them out into the boonies away from the cities would be a great thing.

RonF said...

This is off topic, but ....

When are we going to see the videos telling students how to talk to their parents about the election over Thanksgiving dinner again?

How about a video telling the students to shut the h*ll up and listen for a change?

douglas said...

Hopefully the boot of ideological regulation will be lifted from the neck of American business and the kids will be working again, and there won't be enough of them to warrant re-creating the CCC.

There are a number of WPA projects around L.A. that I do like quite a bit, though, even if I'm not as fond of how they got there.

Ron, haven't you heard- the thing that's going around this year from them is that politics shouldn't be spoken of at the Thanksgiving table. Gee, I wonder why the change of heart?

Ymar Sakar said...

I would think Lincoln's pardoning and immunity given to all Confederate officers was more magnanimous than some Democrat's statue, paid from taxpayer coffers.

One gets to become President for Life. The other one gets killed for being a tyrant.

Grim said...

You're thinking of Johnson. Lincoln did issue a provisional pardon in 1863, but it was not to all officers -- and was only effective in areas where the Union had regained control.

Johnson doesn't get credit for being magnanimous, usually. I think people take him to have been too much a secret sympathizer to have been motivated by a big heart.

Tom said...

I'm not sure it was magnanimity, really. FDR was a Democrat, and the Democrats were generally on the side of the Confederacy during the Civil War, so it was a Democratic president having a monument to a Democratic hero built. However, maybe the people of Texas took it for magnanimity.

One problem with the CCC, WPA, etc., was that while it gave individuals jobs, it also extended the Depression by about 7 years. Everyone suffered so that a few million Americans could have jobs. Had the New Deal not been put into effect, the Depression would have been over much sooner, jobs would have naturally come back, and if FDR wanted some work done on parks, he could have done it the way government normally does such things.