The city council bans Columbus Day, echoing the Ku Klux Klan.
To paraphrase Marx, all great historical events occur twice: first as tragedy, second as some action by the Los Angeles City Council. The latest demonstration came Wednesday when the council banished Columbus Day from the city calendar. Henceforth in L.A., the second Monday in October will be Indigenous Peoples Day.
We have no dispute with any group or city that wishes to celebrate the culture and achievements of indigenous peoples. Such celebrations are a staple of American life and contribute in their way to e pluribus unum.
But L.A.’s move isn’t about celebrating. It’s about indicting anything that represents Western civilization, as Christopher Columbus most certainly does. So how ironic that in deposing the Italian explorer, Los Angeles council members find themselves taking the side of the Ku Klux Klan of the early 20th century—whose nativism led it to oppose statues, memorials and days devoted to Columbus because he was Catholic, Southern European and called to mind the new waves of non-English immigrants at the time.
That’s precisely the danger of applying modern sensibilities to judge people from the past. Columbus had his faults, and honest histories address them. But if we honored only saints, few would make it onto pedestals.
If Columbus has to go, does FDR’s wartime internment of Japanese-Americans mean we tear down his memorial on the national mall? Most Americans sensibly would say no, but today it’s the vandals who are ascendant, here attacking a bust of Lincoln in Chicago, there beheading a Columbus statue in New York, there desecrating a Joan of Arc statue in New Orleans.
So perhaps it’s fitting that an L.A. City Council that thinks it is leading a politically correct charge is really completing the work urged by an earlier generation of haters and nativists. We wonder if the council knows it has given President Trump a political gift by demonstrating that what so many on the left really oppose is the larger triumph of Western civilization.
Appeared in the September 1, 2017, print edition.