THE PHRASE "for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction" is not only a really lame way to open a column, it also happens to be true.
It’s an important life lesson – not to mention Newton’s Third Law – we should keep in mind with the ongoing national debate over Confederate monuments and imagery.
As some of the dust settles in the wake of the events in Charlottesville, it’s possible to get a more accurate picture of the lay of the land in terms of public opinion.
There’s not a lot of polling done so far on the issue of Confederate monuments, but almost all of the polling that has been done shows a pretty consistent snapshot of what the nation at large thinks about it.
And so far at least, the polls tell us that... removing Confederate monuments isn’t really that popular.
In most polls, including a few from what you might call left-leaning organizations such as NPR, the percentage of total respondents who support fully removing Confederate monuments only runs about 27-33 percent.
That might not be such a surprise to you. But if you drill down into the results, you see something a bit more interesting.
Namely that according to some polls, only about half of African Americans support completely removing the monuments. The highest anti-monument number recorded for Democrats as a whole is 72 percent — solid but far from unanimous.
Again, this is a consistent result in most of the polling we’ve seen so far, which admittedly is thin on the ground.
Now, surely you can say that polls don’t matter, or aren’t to be trusted, or are used to push an agenda. And you would be able to find evidence to support your view.
But when you see several polls with similar results, it’s usually best from a political standpoint to try and make sense of what you’re seeing.
From a purely political point of view, an even more interesting thing about the monument polling is that a pretty large percentage really don’t have their minds made up yet either way.
This more persuadable group of people is likely to have more impact in the big picture moving forward, depending on which way the moral and political debate shifts.
And that’s where the concept of an opposite reaction comes in.
Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, vying for the Democratic nomination to succeed current Gov. Nathan Deal, was an early adopter of the concept of bringing down the monuments. All of them.
Almost immediately on the heels of the violence in Charlottesville, Abrams issued a statement calling for the removal of the state’s largest Confederate homage, which also happens to be the largest sculpture in the world: the portrayal of Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Jefferson Davis on the side of Stone Mountain.
Hewn from solid granite over the course of decades, the Stone Mountain carving— while objectively quite impressive as an example of the sculptor’s art —seems at best to be laughably anachronistic in the year 2017, and at worst an embarrassment for the entire state, especially given the sculpture’s historical ties to the KKK.
For now let’s leave aside the larger debate over how wise it would be to blow up the world’s largest single work of art while American forces are now doubling down in a war against a foe in Afghanistan that likes to blow up stone sculptures on its own side of the world.
Of more local concern, engineers estimate the cost of environmental abatement involved with physically destroying the Stone Mountain carvings would be tens of millions of dollars.
Turns out that scraping or blowing up the side of the mountain where that carving is will generate a lot of toxic dust that we don’t want people to breathe.
I’ll leave it to more talented wordsmiths to elaborate on the poignant poetic symbolism there.
Politically, Abrams’ move seemed destined to do two things: Cement her support against Democratic rival Stacey Evans (yes, both women are named Stacey with an “e”), and virtually guarantee enormous conservative turnout against her in the general election.
If you don’t believe that, remember what happened to former Gov. Roy Barnes’s reelection bid in 2002, when he suggested taking the Confederate emblem off the Georgia state flag.
His defeat at the hands of the “flaggers” arguably heralded the era of total Republican one-party dominance of Georgia politics (though that is admittedly an oversimplification).
While there was certainly support at the time for changing the outdated Georgia flag—with its design firmly rooted in the segregationist era—events showed that the more fierce and longer-lasting passion was on the side of those who didn’t want it changed.
But you say that times are different now? That Georgia has many more transplants from more liberal areas of the country? That minority voters today are much more engaged and willing to demand that their voices and concerns be heard?
You would be absolutely right.
But the question is, how right? Right enough to overcome inertia on the subject of taking down monuments? For every vote you gain by suggesting we do that, how many do you lose?
It is possible that this is one of the those moral issues that is simply beyond the scope of the ballot box to credibly deal with. Nonetheless, the ballot box is always a reality to be confronted in some form or fashion.
Former Democratic strategist and CNN analyst Paul Begala recently said that on the monument issue, Democrats might be “driving straight into a trap Trump has set.”
That seems to be giving Trump far too much credit. But it will be interesting to see moving forward who has stronger legs—the people who want the monuments removed, or the monuments themselves.