Bouie: America Punishes Only a Certain Kind of Rebel

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tags: racism, Reconstruction, political violence

We are not the only democracy to have had a corrupt, would-be authoritarian in high office. But we have had a hard time holding that person minimally accountable, much less keeping him out of contention for future office, which would have been accomplished had he been removed from the White House.

As it stands, Trump has all but announced his plan to run for president in 2024, and Republican Party activists are eager to give him the nomination.

Who is to blame for the former president’s return to prominence? Is it the Democratic leaders who have been content to leave him to his own devices, or is it the Republican ones who have surrendered to his delusions and those of his most devoted fans?

Neither group is blameless, but the problem goes beyond our political elites, however fearful, timid or craven they happen to be. This isn’t the first time the United States has struggled to hold insurrectionists accountable for their actions.

Consider our Civil War.

Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy and the commander in chief of an army that killed more than 360,000 American troops, died a free man. Robert E. Lee, the commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, died a free man as well. Alexander Stephens, the Confederate vice president, whose “cornerstone” speech defined the secessionist cause, served five terms in Congress after the war and also died a free man. Nor was this trio an exception. Other, less prominent Confederates were also able to escape any real punishment.

Most of the leaders of the deadliest insurrection in American history died free men, pardoned by President Andrew Johnson in the first years of Reconstruction and released from federal custody — if they were arrested in the first place. Howell Cobb of Georgia, for example, was the president of the secession convention, a drafter of the Confederate Constitution, a member of the Confederate Congress and an officer in the Confederate Army. He died while on vacation in New York, three years after the war ended. Some of these men would show contrition. But more typical were those who moved smoothly from open rebellion to opposition to Reconstruction to serving as propagandists for what would become the “Lost Cause.”

Read entire article at New York Times

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