A review of Erasing America: Losing our Future by Destroying our Past (Regnery Publishing, 2018) by James S. Robbins
James Robbins’ book, Erasing America, targets the most egregious enemies of the current American culture: the radical Leftists who seek to destroy the past. Although there are strong points to the book, particularly in pointing out the sheer silliness of politically correct academics, his take on the South and on the Confederacy is a serious flaw in what otherwise is an interesting critique. In the spirit of charity, I will focus on his strong points first before critiquing the major flaws in Robbins’ approach.
His strongest chapter is his critique of the current fad of professional football players kneeling in protest at the playing of the National Anthem. He recognizes the hypocrisy of the NFL which banned players wearing decals to commemorate police officers slain by the Dallas sniper in 2016 yet refused to punish Colin Kaepernick and the other players who went along with his actions. Attendance at NFL games as well as television ratings have plummeted; I have not watched a single NFL game after the bureaucratic response by Commissioner Goodell.
Robbins also correctly points out that Black Lives Matter, the group the kneelers are supporting by their protests, is wrong about the number of police shootings of unarmed African Americans. In 2017 police shot sixty-eight unarmed suspects, over two-thirds of whom were not African Americans. Most of the remaining twenty shootings were clearly justified. The lack of respect of black lives, sadly, comes from other blacks. The vast majority of the 4334 people shot in Chicago in 2016 were black, with most of the perpetrators also being black. Ninety percent of the 7881 blacks murdered that same year were killed by blacks. This does not fit the Leftist narrative, so they do not publicize or consider these statistics. The NFL’s focus on “social justice causes” as a response to the protests really means a focus on more people claiming victim status and the furtherance of a victim culture among some of the highest paid and pampered athletes in the world.
Another strong chapter is about the Leftist war on Christmas. This is also the most humorous chapter, since Robbins points out some of the silliest and most irrational claims of racism by the Left, mainly from academics. The extremes to which the Left goes are striking: some Leftists have called “Jingle Bells” racist, claiming it comes from the minstrel tradition with its blackface performers (even if it did, it is the genetic fallacy to argue that it is racist from its origin). Other academics have criticized “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot like Christmas” for “gender-stereotyped toys,” and “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” is really a swipe at second-wave feminism. “Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer” has been attacked due to the North Pole needing diversity training for its staff – and for Santa, too. Most humorous of all is the claim that “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” is racist because it involves “greenface,” which is similar to “blackface,’ noting the Boris Karloff played a green monster in Frankenstein.
The book also defends controls on the United States border rather than open borders with reasonable argumentation. He notes the need to allow new immigrants to assimilate, including learning English, and the need to vet alleged refugees to make sure their status is legitimate. However, the main problem with the book arises in the Introduction and the first two chapters.
The Introduction begins on a promising note, correctly stating that the United States has, in effect, become two cultures with opposite world views. In the next paragraph, however, he states, “It [the United States] was the country that atoned for slavery with the blood of the fratricidal Civil War.” He remains consistent with that narrative throughout the book. There are numerous objections to his claim. First, the use of the word “atonement” implies a kind of blood sacrifice, the kind envisioned in “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” It calls to mind Abraham Lincoln’s similar language in his Second Inaugural Address. Even if the War between the States was about keeping the institution of slavery, it would not follow that the war was worth the lives of 750,000 who were killed or died of disease. That is a horrific claim, similar to the Left’s claim that the country as a whole still needs to “atone” for slavery via reparations for slavery and tearing down monuments. While Robbins opposes such practices, he undermines his own arguments. Such statements about the war “atoning” for slavery are absurd, but if held consistently lead to more absurdities. Should all Americans of European descent be killed in a war or die in a plague to atone for the killing of Native Americans? Should Americans be punished for the horrific treatment of the Irish and Chinese that continued as late as the early twentieth century? Should Northerners atone for the abuse of workers, including child workers, in northern factories? Should Yankee soldiers have atoned via their deaths since some of them raped slaves during Sherman’s March to the Sea? In addition, who are we to atone? At least in the Christianity in which I was reared, atonement was the work of Christ, fully God, fully man, and could not be accomplished by sinful human beings.
In any case, the causes of the War between the States were multiple, and it was not simply a war about slavery. Southern delegates rejected Lincoln’s offer of proposing a constitutional amendment to make slavery permanent. It is true that Southern planters and politicians feared the Abolitionists; they had good reason to, given John Brown’s attempt at stirring up a slave revolution at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia. However, their main concern regarding slavery was allowing citizens in the territories to have the right to vote on whether they would have slavery instead of the federal government doing so. They understood they would lose the vote in some of the territories, but they also understood that the Constitution gave states certain rights. With slavery then protected by the U. S. Constitution, Southern supporters of secession believed that the federal government lacked the authority to override the public’s right to choose whether or not to accept slavery in a given state or territory. If the federal government exercised excessive power on this point, government most likely would later expand its powers even more over the states. Secessionists believed this was a betrayal of the Constitution and thus of the American Revolution. Their goal was to restore the rights of the states against an over-arching federal government.
Of course slavery was the issue at hand regarding expansion of federal rights, and the secession documents of the first group of states to leave the Union reflect that. But there were other issues, such as the tariff, which Southerners saw as an abuse of power to benefit Northern, especially New England, industries. This is not to justify slavery; it was morally wrong, and the vast majority of the defenders of the Southern point of view today recognize that. It is naïve of Robbins to oversimplify the causes of the War to a verdict on slavery. Oddly, he is not opposed to secession in principle, although he believes the Southern states did not have adequate grounds to secede. How can the “Civil War,” as he labels it, set a verdict on the right to secede if Robbins is not opposed in principle to the secession of California or parts thereof?
As for slavery, it was clear at the start of the war when Lincoln and Congress made clear that the war was about saving the Union that it was not a crusade against slavery. The Emancipation Proclamation was a political document that freed no slaves in the states that were not in the Confederacy and was designed to foment unrest among the slaves in the Confederate states. Although it is risky to speculate about counterfactuals, it is probable that if the South has been granted its independence that slavery’s days were numbered. The overall intellectual and moral trend in the West was against slavery, and with greater mechanization of farming as well as lower cotton prices, the economic justification for slavery was weakening.
Robbins also seems to confuse patriotism for one’s land with worship of the nation-state. He accepts the position that the United States is “a city set on a hill,” giving it a near-sacred moral status over and above other nations. This position was, unfortunately, parroted by President Reagan and is a popular rhetorical device among some politicians. One does not have to agree with the Left’s belief that the U. S. is irredeemably evil to recognize that, like other nations, the United States has behaved in both moral and immoral ways. Such is the nature of human beings who are mixtures of good and evil. A nation, composed of people, reflects such a mix. Americans can honor and respect their country without worshipping it.
Robbins is correct to oppose removal of Confederate monuments, but he argues that such monuments can be reminders of our mistakes from which we can learn. Thus he continues to advocate his earlier “atonement for slavery” point of view. He is also right in referring to the valor of the Confederate Army, the virtues of Robert E. Lee, and the general acceptance by both North and South for monuments as the soldiers who fought in the war started dying off. Again, he makes some good arguments, but weakens his case by his view that the Union was virtuous and the Confederacy vicious in the War between the States.
I would recommend Robbins’s book for its collection of information about the madness of political correctness and for some of his arguments against it. However, this book should be read with caution due to its flawed perspective on the Confederacy.