A Confederacy of Dunces

Mayor Bill de Blasio goes hunting for ‘hate’ on New York City property.

A bust of Confederate general Stonewall Jackson at Bronx Community College.

By William McGurn

Spare a thought for poor Bill de Blasio. As cities across the South are shedding their Confederate memorials faster than you can say Stonewall Jackson, what New York’s mayor wouldn’t give for a larger-than-life Robert E. Lee bronze in full “Gone With the Wind” glory that he could order taken down.

Instead, he had to content himself with the announcement, days after last month’s deadly protest in Charlottesville, that the violence there had led him to order a 90-day review of “all symbols of hate on city property.”

Alas for the mayor, the Confederate pickings in his Yankee city are slim. The president of Bronx Community College found busts of Jackson and Lee and removed them. The Episcopalians took down two plaques commemorating a maple tree that Lee planted outside a now-closed church when he was stationed at Brooklyn’s Fort Hamilton in the 1840s. The tree itself lives, despite its Confederate roots.

Overly sensitive folks saw this design element as threatening- especially underground.

But it was left to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to embrace the full absurdity of the moment when it declared that a mosaic at a Times Square subway stop is not in fact meant to be a Confederate flag—but will be altered anyway because it too closely resembles one.

Polls show most Americans oppose the removal of Confederate memorials, at least by mobs or politicians winking at them. Even so, the vandals are ascendant. In recent days Francis Scott Key joined a list of statuesque notables, from Joan of Arc to Wall Street’s Charging Bull, that have been toppled or otherwise despoiled.

Mr. de Blasio is hardly the only pol to grandstand here. But as mayor of the nation’s largest city—and America’s self-styled progressive-in- chief—his eagerness helps illuminate why these hunts for hate hold such an attraction for the Democratic left.

One big reason is that the left’s identity politics is not about healing old wounds. It’s about picking at them. Is there anyone in New York who believes a de Blasio panel rummaging through the city’s monuments for evidence of “hate” will contribute to either greater reconciliation or a deeper appreciation for the complexities of the Civil War?

Second, even where the charge of hate is outrageous, the accusation puts political opponents on the moral defensive. Look at the Southern Poverty Law Center. Most of Washington understands the SPLC’s hate designations are arbitrary and political. But in a confirmation hearing earlier this month for Amy Barrett, an eminently qualified nominee for the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Sen. Al Franken berated her for having appeared before an SPLC-designated “hate group.”

The “hate group”? The Alliance Defending Freedom, a religious-liberty outfit whose “hate” turns out to be holding traditional Christian views on marriage and sexuality.

Still, the last reason driving Mr. de Blasio to the soapbox may be the most telling: Railing at dead white hateful males is lots more fun than doing the hard work required to improve city life for New Yorkers. Because in the real world, the progressive agenda doesn’t work very well.

Now, if Mr. de Blasio were truly looking to tear down monuments that actively contribute to racial injustice, he would find plenty in his city. These include a failing public school system in which only a small fraction of African-American students test at grade level; a new, state-mandated $15 minimum wage, which will further price young black men out of jobs when it goes into effect; and the misguided welfare programs that undermine the black family.

Compare this state of affairs with what Joel Kotkin’s Center for Opportunity Urbanism found when it looked at the best cities for racial minorities to get ahead. The center ranked cities by homeownership, entrepreneurship and median household income. When it crunched the numbers, 13 of the top 15 cities for African-Americans turned out to be in the former Confederacy.

That might be embarrassing, if the mayor were interested in improving actual outcomes. Instead, His Honor is now caught up with a new, non-Confederate target: the Christopher Columbus statue high atop a column on Columbus Circle. After the speaker of the city council, Melissa Mark-Viverito, suggested Columbus should come down too, Mr. de Blasio refused to rule it out, generating a whole new controversy.

The New York Post wisely suggested Mr. de Blasio “take a mulligan” on his statue-killing commission. But he shows no inclination to do so. And he says he will still march in the Oct. 9 Columbus Day parade, despite the possibility of jeers from Italian-Americans protective of the Genoese explorer.

In the post-Charlottesville press conference that got him into so much trouble, Mr. Trump pointed to the Robert E. Lee statue whose removal was the ostensible reason for the initial Charlottesville protest—and suggested George Washington might well be the next week’s target. “Where does it stop?” he asked.

Mayor de Blasio and his fellow progressives have given their answer: It doesn’t.