Here's What Vivek Ramaswamy Got Wrong About The Civil War Debate With Don Lemon
Last month, former CNN host Don Lemon and Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy got into a contentious exchange on “CNN This Morning.” The argument, which many believe was the cause of Lemon’s shocking sudden departure from the network, was over Ramaswamy’s assertions that Black Americans received certain freedoms following the Civil War.
“Black people secured their freedoms after the Civil War; it is a historical fact, Don, just study it, only after their Second Amendment rights were secured,” Ramaswamy said. Lemon quickly retorted: “You are discounting a whole host of things that happened after the Civil War when it comes to African Americans, including the whole reason that the Civil Rights Movement happened is because Black people did not secure their freedoms after the Civil War.”
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While speaking to The Root, historian, professor and author Dr. Walter Greason explained that Ramaswamy’s false claims are part of the GOP’s larger political agenda.
“[Ramaswamy] is part of a huge rhetorical effort that goes back over a century of trying to misrepresent the past,” he said. “So he’s got lots of bad company standing on his side.” Greason also explains the complexity of the Civil War that the politician inaccurately oversimplifies.
“In remembering the war, people get confused. I always push people to look back at the actual acts of succession that provoke the Civil War. So look at the documents drafted in South Carolina at the end of 1860 and into early 1861. They’re saying that they want to defend their rights to own people. That is the number one cause and it then spreads throughout the other Confederate states to justify that they feel that their right to enslave Africans is threatened by Abraham Lincoln’s election.”
Greason continued, “Now, after the war, they’ll try and sanitize this argument in their law and say, ‘Well, we were standing up for our state’s rights. We didn’t want the federal government to encroach on our prerogatives to rule ourselves.’ But the core right that they identified at the beginning of the conflict was to enslave Africans.” The historian expounds on the fact that Lincoln didn’t want to make it a war about slavery in the beginning since he knew “racial equality wasn’t a popular idea in the Northern states.”
Lincoln originally framed the Civil War as a way to restore the union, to negate the acts of succession and to declare that the federal government was supreme. However, according to Greason, Lincoln eventually recognized that he had to condemn and eliminate slavery in order to bring the union back together. “There are a lot of misunderstandings [about the Civil War] that allow the space for someone like Ramaswamy to basically misrepresent and lie to the American people today relying on the fact that most people don’t read and they certainly don’t read history.”
Greason believes that Lemon was correct when he stated that Black Americans did not secure their freedoms after the war was fought. “We often have a simplified understanding of the way Black freedom evolves in the United States in that we see slavery in the 19th century as the worst form of oppression. But we overlook segregation in the North and in the West. If we start to see that slavery and segregation are related, in fact, there is no real Black freedom until 1965. And even beyond that point, the forces of conservatism continue to fight against Black freedom to the present day.”
The professor concludes by discussing how people of color—Ramaswamy is Indian-American—are frequently conduits for hateful Republican rhetoric. “White nationalist, white segregationist politicians love to find people and say, ‘See, they’re from the Black or the Mexican or the Puerto Rican community and they agree with our conservative policies that say there’s no need for serious change or systemic analysis of injustice in this country,’” he said.
“It’s a visceral point that’s designed to negate centuries of dedicated work,” he continued. “People giving their very lives to the idea of democracy and liberty for all by saying, ‘Oh, this one person says that there’s no injustice...it’s fine. This is essentially what Ramaswamy is auditioning for—he wants that voice. He wants to be the new Bobby Jindal.”
By referring to Jindal, who was the first Indian-American to run for president back in 2016, Greason addresses Ramaswamy’s disturbing ascension to power. “Ultimately, this is the same strategy [used by] some wealthy conservative immigrants from different parts of the world to claim their unique individual status by embracing racism through conservatism.”
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