The New Iconoclasm: Down With Jefferson, Up With Sharpton
Rarely a week passes without dramatic pictures on TV and in the press of sledgehammers taken to heroes of the Old Confederacy, along with new “replacement” sculpture and statuary to Black Lives Matter (like the formidable slab within full view of the White House itself) and already on the list of Places to See in Washington, DC. We will, no doubt, soon see statues of Rev. Al Sharpton alongside of, or even replacing, those of Martin Luther King, Jr. The Reverend Sharpton is the titular and also unchallenged leader of Black Lives Matter, now turning the country upside down to express its indignation over the murder in Minneapolis and its (supposed) epitome of police brutality towards black Americans.
The Rev. Sharpton was a constant presence in the White House during the presidency of Barack Obama, and has been treated with oily sycophancy by every major Democratic candidate for that party’s nomination. (When Sharpton’s acolytes in Black Lives Matter shouted down Bernie Sanders at a Seattle rally, the candidate reacted with instant compliance, and surrendered the microphone to them.) He has taught leading Democrats, at nearly all levels of the party, to view crime as a problem of prejudiced and brutal police, not of ruthless and pitiless criminals.
Do Americans know much about Sharpton, the unquestioned leader of Black Lives Matter, an organization now carrying all before it, including governors of states and mayors of cities? He first came to prominence for his central role in the assaults on Jews in 1991 in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn. It has been called by historian Edward Shapiro “the only antisemitic riot in American history.” This has not prevented Senator Elizabeth Warren from calling Sharpton a paragon who has “dedicated his life to the fight for justice for all” or ex-candidate Kamala Harris from exuding about how much he “has done … for our country.” And so on ad infinitum, ad nauseam.
How different are these Democrats from the ones we once knew! I recall how, as a young boy, I went every four years to the polling booths of Brooklyn where my parents voted for Roosevelt while I stood nearby, distributing FDR leaflets. How different are the current crop from the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who excoriated Sharpton’s thugs in 1991 as a “lynch mob” identical to the white unionists who had assaulted blacks in Detroit for “stealing” their jobs. That same Sharpton is today the darling of progressive America, Moynihan a distant memory.
Edward Alexander is author of Irving Howe: Socialist, Critic, Jew and numerous other books.