Commentary

The question Phil Berger needs to answer

North Carolina Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger finally spoke out for the first time yesterday on the crisis that has gripped the nation in the aftermath of the horrific events in Charlottesville last weekend. To his credit, he specifically condemned white supremacy and Nazis (though, admittedly, that’s a pretty low bar to negotiate).

Here’s the bizarre and sadly typical thing about Berger’s statement, however: It never once mentions Donald Trump, but somehow manages to attack Roy Cooper for speaking out against a bill that would provide immunity to some drivers who injure protesters with their cars and calling for the removal of confederate monuments.

You really can’t make this stuff up. Only Phil Berger could figure out a way to turn a crisis brought by a buffoon of a president of his own party and some of his racist allies into a reason to attack an honorable man who stands against them.

Here’s the deal, though: Even if one sets aside and dismisses all of Berger’s bombast and bluster as just the usual politically-motivated white noise we’ve come to expect from his office, there remains a central policy question that he needs to answer with respect to the confederate monuments in North Carolina. Berger’s law on the subject (the one he pushed through two years ago) says that local governments may not remove such monuments even if they are on the property of those local governments.

So, the question is this: “Why?”

None of those local governments received — by any available indication — state approval to erect the monuments in the first place. Why should they have to obtain state approval to take them down or remove them to a museum? None of them needs state approval to put up new ones.

Berger’s Facebook post claims that “riots” are not the appropriate way to remove monuments, but what has that to do with the vote of a duly-elected local government that chooses to remove a monument?

Many of the existing monuments go beyond mere celebration of confederate veterans. One in Charlotte (erected 64 years after the end of the Civil War) talks about the confederacy being an effort to “PRESERVE THE ANGLO-SAXON CIVILIZATION OF THE SOUTH.”

Another in Wadesboro, erected 40 years after the war, reads in part: “THEY BELIEVED OUR SOCIAL INSTITUTIONS AND OUR RIGHT OF LOCAL SELF-GOVERNMENT IMPERILED BY THE AVOWED HOSTILITY OF A LARGE SECTION OF THE UNION….” Social institutions, huh?

The bottom line: There are very good reasons for all caring and thinking North Carolinians to be offended by the public veneration of monuments such as these. Phil Berger needs to explain why — other than out of a simple desire to appeal to his narrow right-wing base — he has forbidden local governments from removing them from local government property.

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