Former President Donald Trump lamented the removal of a massive statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in Richmond, Va., Wednesday, warning that “[o]ur culture is being destroyed and our history and heritage, both good and bad, are being extinguished by the Radical Left”.
In an emailed statement released by his Save America PAC, Trump described the Lee statue as “magnificent,” “very famous,” and “a beautiful piece of bronze sculpture” before accusing those who supported its removal of “complete desecration.”
The former president’s statement then segued into a history lesson.
“Robert E. Lee is considered by many Generals to be the greatest strategist of them all,” Trump said. “President Lincoln wanted him to command the North, in which case the war would have been over in one day. Robert E. Lee instead chose the other side because of his great love of Virginia, and except for Gettysburg, would have won the war.
“He should be remembered as perhaps the greatest unifying force after the war was over, ardent in his resolve to bring the North and South together through many means of reconciliation and imploring his soldiers to do their duty in becoming good citizens of this Country,” the former president went on.
Trump closed his statement by pivoting to the disastrous evacuation of US forces from Afghanistan, writing: “If only we had Robert E. Lee to command our troops in Afghanistan, that disaster would have ended in a complete and total victory many years ago. What an embarrassment we are suffering because we don’t have the genius of a Robert E. Lee!”
The 21-foot-tall bronze statue of Lee, which had anchored the Virginia capital’s Monument Avenue since its installation in 1890, was removed from its graffitied pedestal, cut into pieces and taken away for storage to the cheers of hundreds of onlookers.
Virginia Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam had ordered the statue’s removal last summer amid nationwide protests and rioting following the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. However, the matter was tied up in litigation until the Supreme Court of Virginia cleared the way last week for the statue to be taken down.
Four other Confederate monuments on the avenue — depicting Civil War leaders J.E.B. Stuart, Stonewall Jackson, Jefferson Davis, and Matthew Fontaine Maury — were removed last year.
The toppling of the Lee statue was the latest chapter in a generations-long debate over the fate of Confederate monuments that grew in urgency following the deadly white nationalist riot in Charlottesville, Va. in August 2017. The violence stemmed from a “Unite the Right” protest against the removal of statues of Lee and Jackson, which were ultimately taken down in July of this year.
Days after the riot, Trump tweeted his opposition to the removal of historic monuments.
“Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments,” he wrote at the time. “You can’t change history, but you can learn from it. Robert E Lee, Stonewall Jackson – who’s next, Washington, Jefferson? So foolish!”
As protests rocked cities across the country in the summer of 2020, Trump announced that he had authorized federal authorities to arrest anyone caught vandalizing or attempting to tear down monuments and threatened that offenders would receive prison terms of up to 10 years.
“They’re bad people, they don’t love our country, and they’re not taking down our monuments,” Trump told reporters at the time. “I just want to make that clear.”
The last statue standing on Monument Avenue depicts black tennis champion Arthur Ashe, who was born and raised in Richmond and won three Grand Slam singles titles before dying of AIDS-related pneumonia in 1993.