Editorial: George Washington and the cancel culture

  • Dawn breaks behind the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, and the U.S. Capitol. Must all our nation's champions have led perfect lives?

    Dawn breaks behind the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, and the U.S. Capitol. Must all our nation's champions have led perfect lives? Associated Press File Photo

The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Posted2/19/2022 2:00 PM

In recent years, we've witnessed a reassessment of many of America's icons.

Rightly, we think, the nation has questioned the veneration of Robert E. Lee and many Confederate leaders. These people committed treason, and it is illogical that the United States should honor them with statues or with military bases bearing their names.


Some would not stop there. Some would challenge tributes paid to Christopher Columbus for atrocities believed to have been committed against Native Americans or further, to slave-owning Founding Fathers.

Last year, the school board in Waukegan went so far as to rename its Thomas Jefferson Middle School after late Congressman John Lewis. Actually, it went even further. It ruled out Barack Obama for that honor because of his administration's policy on deportations.

How far is too far to go in these reassessments?

(Not to mention the practicalities: Are we really to rename Columbus, Ohio? Jefferson, Missouri? The state of Washington? Our nation's capital? Will Waukegan next abolish Jefferson Avenue and one of its major east-west arteries, Washington Street?)

Tuesday will mark the 290th birthday of George Washington, who for so long has been embraced as the Father of the Nation. He was a man most of us grew up revering.

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We don't know if today's youngsters still are exposed to the fable about Washington and the cherry tree. but some of us are old enough to remember as children hearing and innocently believing it. Presumably, the fiction told, Washington as a boy chopped down a cherry tree and when confronted, fessed up with the memorable line, "I cannot tell a lie."

Certainly, we agree that our perspective on Washington needs to be more mature than that.

He was, like all of us, imperfect, and slave owning was no mild imperfection.

He also was, like all of us, a person shaped immeasurably by his time, his place and his culture. That is not meant to defend his defects, but it is a necessary part of putting them into perspective.

We might do well to ask, how will we measure up to standards set centuries hence? Our progeny is apt to condemn any of a number of abhorrences and ignorances we may barely recognize in ourselves today.


There is, meanwhile, good cause to revere Washington's major role in the birth of the nation.

It is very possible that the country would not exist were it not for Washington. And certainly, Washington's vision, altruism and leadership fostered our republican form of government and our economy.

This was a man of valor who could have been king and instead chose stewardship.

We wish he had been a more perfect instrument. But among some worthy questions: Must all our champions be perfect? May we decry the sins while still cheering the blessings? And is there value in inspiration itself, even when delivered by flawed heroes?

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