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Every day that Donald Trump remains in office he appears to further diminish that institution. Every tweet that he issues shows just how temperamentally unsuited he is as US president. He is successful because like Barnum and Bailey he is in constant entertainment mode.

Since the American civil war most presidents (with a few notable exceptions) interpreted their role as being a president for all Americans.

Since coming to office Donald Trump has reversed any such notion as he seems to actually enjoy the role of protagonist in chief. He thrives on division. His response to the white supremacist rally and violence in Virginia was mind boggling even by the standards of this erratic and politically incorrect tycoon.

Neo Nazis, Klansmen, rednecks and white supremacists believe they have found a champion in the US president. And he can’t disavow them completely because they were amongst the hardcore of the alt.right that propelled him to the White House.

President Trump will always be haunted by the sheer scale of the popular vote that opposed him. He may be in office but he has no moral authority. Trump would make for a better leader of Russia, China or Venezuela, where the president has the last word and he can dispense at will with the inconvenient trappings of democracy such as parliaments, the judiciary or independent scrutiny. It beggars belief that an incumbent of the White House – who is so recently born from European stock and who leads a nation built on immigration – could hold such an isolationist world view which denies globalisation and scapegoats minorities.

Notwithstanding all of the above, the events in Charlottesville, Virginia are worth looking at in more detail. The decision of the local authority to remove the statue of Confederate General Robert E Lee has considerable merit. Image result for Confederate General Robert E Lee statue

These statues give legitimacy to certain sections of American opinion that have never come to terms with civil rights, whether they are towards African Americans, Jews or in some areas Catholics. They are in effect rallying points for commemorations for the unreconstructed. It’s inconceivable that Japanese Americans would be allowed to erect a statue for Emperor Hirohito or Hispanics would erect a memorial to Mexican General Santa Ana on an equal footing with that of the Alamo.

The sad truth is that many Americans in the southern states have never come to terms with the reality of the civil war or their own economic decline. Demographic changes, particularly those favouring African American and Hispanics, are swamping the nostalgia a few white working class communities feel about their past. Of course it’s difficult for them. Scores of American movies like Gone with Wind/ The Horse Soldiers/ The Undefeated/ Raintree County have romanticised the ‘genteel nature of the old South’ ignoring the fact its wealth was built on slavery, serfdom and segregation but no one is clamouring to have these movies banned or removed like the statues of confederate veterans. Yet it is such movies rather than the war memorials that do more damage to understanding of the civil war and its causes.

Confederates like Robert E Lee and Jefferson Davis were men of their time and both were pro slavery. There is little to redeem their attitudes when looked back at from the 21st century.

But it’s also conveniently forgotten that both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, founding fathers of the US – were also slave owners and when they made their declaration that ‘all men were created equal’ – they actually meant all white men. Yet no one is talking about pulling down their monuments.

The truth is that modern legislators should put less emphasis on removing confederate memorials and spend more money on educational programmes that tackle the ignorance and misguided loyalty that the alt right spreads about white supremacy and the past.

Recently northern Sinn Féin toyed with the idea of renaming the Royal Victoria Hospital and Queen’s University but thankfully it was a short lived proposal. Our past is the past – beautiful at times

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but shameful too. We can’t re-write it or live in it, just better understand it.

At home I often get goose bumps passing the John Mitchel statue.

Mitchel, unlike Daniel O’Connell, was an unashamed supporter of slavery who described black people as ‘innately Inferior’ – whilst seeing no contradiction in campaigning for Irish rights. What’s even more revealing is that this Newry statue was erected in 1965 – the same year as the Selma to Montgomery march and two years before our own civil rights movement. Selective ignorance travels oceans.