The copious recent examples of favorable comments by President Trump and those in his administration about figures and monuments supporting the Confederacy have left many Americans wondering how the Trump administration feels about slavery exactly.
But things got testy when April Ryan, a White House reporter for American Urban Radio Networks, asked White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders to comment on slavery at Wednesday's news briefing.
RYAN: The question is, does this administration believe, does this president believe, slavery was wrong? And before you answer, Mary Frances Berry, the historian, said in 1860, there was a compromise. The compromise was to have Southern states keep slavery. But the Confederacy fired on Fort Sumter. That caused the Civil War. And because of the Civil War, what happened? The North won, and there’s no slavery.
SANDERS: I think it is disgusting and absurd to suggest that anyone inside of this building would support slavery.
It is clear that White House chief of staff has a favorable view of Robert E. Lee, the Confederate general who led thousands into battle against the United States to fight for the continued enslavement of black people.
“I would tell you that Robert E. Lee was an honorable man,” John Kelly recently told Fox News' Laura Ingraham. “He was a man that gave up his country to fight for his state, which 150 years ago was more important than country.”
But many Americans — as the ongoing debates over Confederate memorials suggests — have a less favorable view of Lee, who even after losing the Civil War spoke out against racial equality.
Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, creator of the Emmy-award winning “The Civil War,” said that the death toll that came as a result of Lee's actions was historic.
Ken Burns told me Robert E Lee killed more Americans than Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Ho Chi Minh, Saddam Hussein & Osama bin Laden combined.
— Joe Scarborough (@JoeNBC) November 1, 2017
Even Lee's indirect descendant, the Rev. Rob Lee, an anti-racism activist, rejected Kelly's view of his relative.
“It is clear to me that General Kelly sees honor in a man who fought for continued enslavement of people and chattel slavery,” Lee told The Fix. “That is, after all, what states’ rights was for. There is no honor in that to me.”
Trump has repeatedly spoken of his support for the memorials celebrating the men who fought to preserve slavery.
Ed Gillespie will turn the really bad Virginia economy #'s around, and fast. Strong on crime, he might even save our great statues/heritage!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 26, 2017
Following Kelly's comments, Sanders said, “General Kelly was simply making the point that just because history isn't perfect doesn't mean it's not our history.”
What is not clear to some is whether this administration understands — or cares — that many Americans have views of the Civil War that include the belief that the defense of Confederate generals is support for slavery.
Hmmm. What exactly, I wonder, would be the right "compromise" between slavery and freedom for human beings?https://t.co/ZWwpwCSGzx
— Rep Frederica Wilson (@RepWilson) October 31, 2017
Over the past few months, multiple states from New York to Virginia to Florida have conducted statewide polls gauging voters' view on what Lee and the Confederate memorials represent. Perhaps unsurprisingly, results often vary based on race and political ideology.
Trump promised to unite a very divided country, following an election where the country's continued racial strife was revealed to be a major issue for voters. Some want the president and his top officials to speak with clarity about a period of American history so horrific that many consider it one of this nation's original sins.
To some Americans, it's not absurd that some would think that the Trump White House may support slavery. To them, it's absurd that the president has left so many in a position where they need to wonder.