September 9, 2021
The Protest of Future Past

The Protest of Future Past

By FRC's Joshua Arnold

No mob of rioters broke down the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in Richmond, Virginia. The statue was removed yesterday on the order of Governor Ralph Northam. Today, the state government is opening a 134-year-old time capsule buried in the statue's pedestal, and replacing it with a new time capsule.

"This monument and its time capsule reflected Virginia in 1890 -- and it's time to remove both, so that our public spaces better reflect who we are as a people in 2021," Governor Northam said in a press release. "The past 18 months have seen historic change, from the pandemic to protests for racial justice that led to the removal of these monuments to a lost cause. It is fitting that we replace the old time capsule with a new one that tells that story."

Northam is correct about one thing: Richmond, Virginia has changed a lot. Among the artifacts in the 2021 capsule are a BLM sticker, an LGBT "pride" pin, a face mask, and a "Ratify ERA" sash. Most items bear a direct connection to left-wing political causes of the past 18 months, particularly the massive race riots of last summer. Listed first, as if emblematic of the whole, is a photo taken last June of a black ballerina standing by the Lee statue, fist raised. Items listed in the 1887 capsule included buttons, currency, military records, and other memorabilia of the Confederacy. The current toleration of diversity in Virginia, and throughout America, was inconceivable when the first capsule was buried.

Of course, both capsules are politically slanted. The 2021 capsule contains no MAGA-hat, just as the 1887 capsule omits articles from freed slaves. Yet, in some ways, the older capsule did "better reflect" the people of Virginia. It contained Chamber of Commerce reports, statistics of the city of Richmond, an 1886 U.S. silver dollar, and a day-old copy of the Richmond Times. Northam's time capsule contains only a snapshot of activism, largely irrelevant to the Virginians of 2150.

Both capsules are protests, but protests of different kinds. The 1887 capsule -- and the statue of Lee -- was created by a defeated and occupied people against their victorious and vindictive foes. But it also looked forward, including The Emigrant's Friend, an 1881 pamphlet to help immigrants understand America, which said of Virginia, "the heart-burnings of the conflict are subsiding: and Virginia will yet be richer and greater for the trials and losses she has endured."

Meanwhile, the 2021 capsule tells the story of a protest, not a people. From Virginia's long and splendid history, it commemorates only the introduction of slavery in 1619. Lee's pedestal remains vacant because, to the new orthodoxy, America cannot have heroes, only villains. The old capsule is removed, and the new capsule inserted in the same place to cynically transmit a crude insult back through history -- or a virtue signal to the future. Perhaps deep down the Left does recognize our responsibility to generations before and after, what Edmund Burke called the "democracy of the dead and unborn."

The modern Left cannot lead America into a shining, utopian future because it does not believe in one. They believe only in perpetual protest, even while they dominate the cultural and political elite. Their vision is darker than a Netflix original series.

One item in the 2021 capsule whispers hope, though in melancholy tones: a photo of Virginia police guarding the White House after the January 6 riot. That would have been unthinkable after the Civil War. It indicates that the sharpest divisions in our nation can be healed, with time.