“If we tear down every statue of every person whose viewpoints and whose behavior wasn’t always ideal, wasn’t always perfect, we’re … not going to know about many of the historical figures who, for better or for worse, shaped who we are and how we got here,” Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, says.
That’s his perspective on the tearing down of statues such as Ulysses S. Grant, George Washington, and Abraham Lincoln. Protesters have vandalized and attempted to topple statues in the weeks since the May 25 death of George Floyd. Lee says peace is a more effective plan than violence, and even introduced a resolution condemning mob violence, which was rejected by the Senate. He joins The Daily Signal Podcast to discuss.
We also cover these stories:
- Two Chinese hackers have been identified and charged with stealing large amounts of data and information, including COVID-19 research, from the U.S. government.
- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says that the next coronavirus relief package will include stimulus checks, similar to the package passed in March.
- House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., asked Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., to apologize to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., for reportedly calling her “disgusting” and an expletive.
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Rachel del Guidice: I’m very honored to be joined on The Daily Signal Podcast by Sen. Mike Lee of Utah. Sen. Lee, thank you so much for coming on.
Sen. Mike Lee: Thank you.
Del Guidice: In the weeks since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, protesters have torn down or attempted to tear down statues of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant, and even Presidents George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, among others. Sen. Lee, what is your perspective on the attacks we’ve seen on America’s history and Founders?
Lee: Well, my message to those trying to tear down any statue anywhere is stop. Mob violence just isn’t the answer in a civil society, and it certainly shouldn’t be in ours.
Now, look, if New York City wants to take down a statue of Christopher Columbus on New York City property, or any other statue for that matter, the people of New York have every right to do so, but they should do it peacefully and through the process set up by their system of government, through their elected officials and not through mob violence.
That’s one of the reasons why I introduced a resolution in the Senate earlier this month condemning mob violence, because some Black Lives Matter rioters shot one of my constituents in Provo, Utah—average ordinary man just driving home, minding his own business, when Black Lives Matter rioters were blocking the street, surrounded his car, and they shot him.
This was a problem and it’s unacceptable. All I asked was for Senate Democrats to condemn mob violence, and they refused.
Del Guidice: In your resolution, you write that mob violence and the mob mentality that feeds it, including its cruel and intolerant cancel culture, should be condemned by all Americans. Why is this the case?
Lee: Well, it needs to be condemned and hasn’t been condemned. One of the reasons why it hasn’t been condemned is that we’ve got a lot of people in America who seem to be applauding it. Many of those same people are being funded by our government. That’s why I think we need to start defunding those who hate America because they’re hating America on America’s dime.
Colleges that punish free speech and discriminate against conservative viewpoints and religious students shouldn’t get federal funding. City councils who defund their police departments and who refuse to protect public safety shouldn’t get federal grants. School districts that embrace the ahistorical nonsense of the 1619 Project shouldn’t get federal education spending.
None of these organizations should get a single dime of taxpayer dollars while they are effectively backing some of these things. It’s a problem.
Del Guidice: You also talk about how America’s law enforcement officers do an extremely difficult job extremely well, despite some cases of excusable misconduct by some. You just mentioned the efforts to defund the police. What is your perspective on this?
Lee: Well, every city that’s given into the demands of the Black Lives Matter movement has seen violence go up in their city. Murders are up in New York City. Murders are up in Minneapolis. Murders are up in Atlanta and in Seattle.
You can’t improve public safety by defunding the police. We need the police. The police stop crime. The tragic part is that the poorest communities, those that suffer the most from the violence caused by the Black Lives Matter movement, those are the people in the communities who need the police the most.
Now, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t problems that need to be addressed. There certainly are, but it does mean that the answer cannot be and certainly is not simply getting rid of the police. That doesn’t make any sense.
Del Guidice: In the resolution, you also talk about a loss of common decency. How did we get here, would you say, from a time to where at one point in this country law enforcement was respected and now, especially today, sometimes in the past, but especially today, we see everything but that?
Lee: You know, there are a lot of explanations for that. There are a lot of reasons that have contributed to that. I think you can point to a breakdown of the family as the fundamental unit of society. I think you can point to sometimes difficult to follow and difficult to trace lines of accountability.
Law enforcement used to be primarily, if not exclusively, the domain of local officers who reported to local elected officials, and the more we’ve mixed state, local, and federal law enforcement funding, the blurrier those lines have become. As a result of that, we’ve seen a proliferation of laws and we’ve seen different law enforcement styles that sometimes have aggravated the problem.
The introduction of drugs and the acceptance of drug culture certainly hasn’t helped in any of this, but we’re in the situation in which we now find ourselves. We have to address it.
There are a number of ways that we can handle it. I think all of those approaches need to take into account: efforts to strengthen, not weaken, families; to strengthen, not weaken, the role [of] parents; to strengthen, not weaken, the resources available to police; while at the same time reforming standards of law enforcement personnel to make sure that officers who do go rogue are held accountable.
One of the things that’s so unfortunate about what happened to George Floyd is that the officer who killed him had been subject to 17 formal misconduct complaints against him, and yet he was never held accountable for any of those. Had he been formally disciplined for any one of those complaints, George Floyd would probably be alive today.
That is truly tragic, and I think that’s one of the reasons why we need a wake-up call for making sure that we don’t have police and other public employee unions effectively insulating police officers who have engaged in repeated acts of misconduct from any kind of disciplinary action.
Del Guidice: You had mentioned the one person in your state that had violence put upon him by someone that was part of the mob. How about other people in Utah? What about small business owners, others that you’ve talked to, how have they been adversely affected by all of the violence that we’ve seen happening in the country?
Lee: There certainly has been some private property damage. There have been people who have felt like they can’t go outside, who have felt like they’ve become prisoners in their own homes. You’ve had people whose automobiles have been vandalized or in some cases even destroyed.
Now, we’re fortunate in my state. We haven’t had it nearly the same level that you’ve seen it in some other cities, including places like Minneapolis, and like Seattle, and like Portland, but you have seen a lot of people feeling like they’ve lost their sense of community and their sense of hope and faith in their community to operate in a place where mutual respect, and peace, and tolerance, and acceptance can pervade each community from one end to the other. That really is a tragic loss, and it’s something that people feel very deeply.
Del Guidice: We’ve talked a lot about your resolution. Would you say Congress has a role beyond your resolution in protecting statues and monuments?
Lee: I think Congress most of the time is not the owner of the statue. As I’ve said in the past, look, if someone owns a statue, if it’s their own personal private property, that person has the right to do anything with this statue they want. Most of the time they’re not going to decide to destroy it, but if they want to, they can certainly do that. But it’s not up to a third party to make that decision for them.
By the same token, if it’s owned by a corporation, a corporate governance structure is going to decide who has the decision-making power over that statue. If, on the other hand, the statue was owned by the public, then whatever government owns it has the power to make and dispose of that.
Most of the statues in this country, in so far as they’re publicly owned, are probably owned by state and municipal governments and not by the federal government. Those statues that are federally owned ultimately are subject to disposal or disposition only insofar as an act of Congress authorizes that, where only insofar as a previous act of Congress has authorized particular executive branch officials.
I think there will continue to be reviews from time to time within Congress of what the policies should be and who should have the decision-making power, but in no circumstance should we just hand this over to whatever group of people decides to engage in lawless activity on a particular day and say, “If you feel strongly about something, you can take a statue that belongs to the American people and destroy it on your own initiative based on your own rage at the moment.” That’s never acceptable.
Del Guidice: On that note, Sen. Lee, is there a danger, would you say, in trying to erase physical representations of history, such as these monuments?
Lee: Absolutely. Look, I wrote a book a few years ago that touches on some of these points. It’s called “Written Out of History.” It explains the dynamic that occurs when we see history being written by the victors, and it almost always is.
Our history books reflect the worldview of those who won certain conflicts. For example, our look back on the American Revolution tends overall to take the view that it was a good thing that we defeated England in the Revolutionary War, and other viewpoints sometimes get suppressed in the process.
It is important, just the same, to go back and review historical texts on any topic, on any significant decision, and make sure that we understand both viewpoints.
So, as it relates to your specific question and statues, if we tear down every statue of every person whose viewpoints and whose behavior wasn’t always ideal, wasn’t always perfect, or wasn’t always acceptable according to our modern worldview, we’re going to have very few statues to begin with, but we’re also not going to know about many of the historical figures who, for better or for worse, shaped who we are and how we got here.
I think it’s a good idea, generally speaking, to have more of a knowledge of more historical figures in our country than it is to have less.
Del Guidice: Looking at the violence that we’ve talked about and just the attacks on history, what would you say has maybe stood out to you as one of the most troubling or upsetting parts of this whole situation that we’ve seen play out in the past weeks and months?
Lee: I think the single most upsetting aspect of it, other than what I think everyone would agree is the most upsetting part of that, is the loss of human life and the danger to life and limb, once you take it beyond that aspect of this violence, which is the most obvious and widely agreed upon consequence.
If you’re looking at the most troubling secondary feature, I would probably say it’s that you’ve got people who consider themselves and are considered by society to be part of polite society, polite, educated society, the educational and corporate establishment of the United States and many government officials who seem to be just fine with this violence and in many cases are defending it, in many cases are applauding it, at least to the degree that they’re saying, “These people make some really good points, and I applaud them for showing how strongly they feel.”
Now, look, it’s fine to accept the fact that there are legitimate viewpoints at play, and it’s fine to say that those people who are rioting have a right peaceably to demonstrate, but insofar as anyone in polite society is suggesting that the mob violence is in any way, shape, or form acceptable is what I find so incredibly disturbing and disheartening.
We need to have a series of conversations as Americans not just in halls of government, in seats of power, but around the family dinner table, with our friends, our family, our co-workers, our neighbors, even those that we don’t know as well, and we need to start coming together around the fact that regardless of where we might disagree, we should all agree on the fact that mob violence is never acceptable. It’s one of the reasons why I’ve found the rejection of my resolution two weeks ago so incredibly disturbing.
Del Guidice: As we wrap up here, what is your message to those who continue to lobby and even try themselves to tear down these monuments?
Lee: My message to those who still would like to tear down monuments and engage in mob violence is that we today live in the greatest civilization the world has ever known. We live in a country that while imperfect, because it consists of human beings, has done more to elevate the human condition, has brought more people out of poverty, has educated more people than any other civilization that I know much about.
It’s a country that, while imperfect, has a form of government that was put in place in the Age of Enlightenment and based on principles that, while not universally consistently followed, are themselves inspiring.
The idea upon which America is founded was and is good. Insofar as we can unite behind those principles and respect each other’s decency, and dignity, and right to live and exist, we’ll be much better off. Peace is a much better path than violence. Accept peace and let’s move forward.
Del Guidice: Sen. Lee, thank you so much for joining us today on The Daily Signal Podcast. It’s been great to have you.
Lee: Thank you very much.