This wasn’t the first rough night in recent weeks for the 15th-century explorer. He was decapitated in Waterbury, Conn., and in Boston, where the rest of him stood, awkwardly, arms folded across chest. He was knocked from his pedestal in St. Paul, Minn. and Richmond; sprayed with graffiti in Miami and Kenosha, Wis.; and removed unceremoniously in New Haven, Conn., and St. Louis. Sacramento evicted him Tuesday, along with Queen Isabella. In the ultimate indignity, even his namesake Columbus, Ohio., removed him from in front of City Hall.
He’s been given a 24-hour security detail in Astoria, Queens, and in Philadelphia, his defenders have gone to court to protect him. Things got so grim that little Newton Falls, Ohio, issued a proclamation calling itself a “Statuary Sanctuary City” and said it would shelter other jurisdictions’ cast-off statues of Columbus, along with George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Ulysses S. Grant, Patrick Henry, Francis Scott Key and Theodore Roosevelt.
They are among those whose statues have been, or are in danger of being, dispossessed by a movement to reckon with America’s legacy of slavery and genocide that began with Confederate generals but has expanded to Founding Fathers, U.S. presidents and various and sundry conquistadors and settlers.
The people have every right to decide which figures to put on a pedestal and which to take down, but they ought to wage the fight through the legislatures and the courts. Vandalism only plays into President Trump’s and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s hands as they try to make the (false) case to the voters that the country is overrun by lawless mobs. “Our Founding Fathers are being roped to the ground like they were Saddam Hussein,” McConnell said on the Senate floor, adding that “in Seattle, a large statue of Vladimir Lenin stands quite untouched.”
Where? Let me at him! I’ll deal with him as soon as I finish with Samuel Gompers at 10th and L streets NW here in D.C.
The defenestration of Columbus comes with a particular problem of tossing the baby with the bathwater. Columbus, and Columbus Day, have long been points of cultural pride for Italian Americans. There are now coast-to-coast efforts to replace Columbus Day with Italian-American Heritage Day. If we can drink beer and eat corned beef on St. Patrick’s Day, surely all Americans can enjoy Barolo and bolognese once a year — and the indigenous people whose ruin Columbus set in motion should have their day, too.
But this still leaves a glaring problem behind: a 68-square-mile monument to Columbus here in the Mid-Atlantic. It is time for the District of Columbia to say goodbye, Columbus — and get itself a new name.
As it happens, the House has already approved one. On June 26, Democrats approved, on a party-line vote, H.R. 51, the Washington, D.C. Admission Act, welcoming the nation’s capital as a state, with two senators and a new name: “Washington, Douglass Commonwealth.” (Frederick Douglass is getting recognized more and more, I notice.) This is an improvement on the D.C. Council’s attempt a few years ago to call us “New Columbia.”
The Senate will let the D.C. statehood bill sink faster than Columbus in the Inner Harbor. Taxation without representation will continue in Washington, which claims more people than Wyoming and Vermont and pays more federal income tax than 22 states but has no vote in either chamber of Congress, at least until Democrats control the Senate and the presidency.
Until then, perhaps we should change the name of our vassal state, at least unofficially, to be more in line with our circumstances. Some possibilities for a D.C. without Columbus:
Alternatively, we could tweak Trump by reminding him what his neighbors think of him, by renaming D.C. “Democrat City” or “Deep-state Central.”
But the most productive course may be to flatter the president, Soviet-style. We would rename Washington, District of Columbia, as “Trumpgrad, Donald’s Conquest.” Thus glorified, Trump would quickly agree to give us our statehood and our senators. We can even offer to build a statue of Trump.
Later, after we get our voting rights, we can drag it into the Potomac.