Notable & Quotable: Aug. 24, 2017

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In "Trump's Tangle of Rhetorical Inadequacy," The Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan writes, "A gifted leader might make the case for building more statues rather than tearing down the ones we have."

The Tear It Down movement is driven by the left and is acceded to by some on the right. This is the sophisticated stance. I do not share it. We should not tear down but build.

When a nation tears down its statues, it's toppling more than brass and marble. It is in a way toppling itself - tearing down all the things, good, bad and inadequate, that made it. Or, rather, everyone. Not all of what made America is good - does anyone even think this? - but why try to hide from that?

When you tear down statues, you tear down avenues of communication between generations. Statues teach. You walk by a statue of Robert E. Lee with your 7-year-old, and he asks who that is. You say he was a great general. When he's 8, on the same walk, you explain the Civil War. When he's 10 you explain what was at issue, and how Lee was not only on the losing side but the wrong side. This is part of how history is communicated. We're not doing it so well in our schools. It will be sad to lose another venue.

Condi Rice said it well, before the current controversy. She did not agree with the impulse to tear down. "Keep your history before you," she said. Keep it in your line of sight.

And once the tearing down starts, there's no knowing where it will end. On this the president is right. Once the local statues are purged the Tear-Downers will look to Statuary Hall, and the names of military bases, and then on to the Founders, to the slave-holding Washington and Jefferson. Then, perhaps, to their words and ideas. In what way will that help us?

Edmund Burke famously said we have a duty to the past, the present and the future. In the minds of the Tear-Downers only the present is important, and only their higher morality. But they are not the first ever to recognize the truth about slavery. Hundreds of thousands of dead Union soldiers did it before them. There are statues of them, too.

Here is a better way. Leave what is, alone. Be a noble people who inspire - and build - more statues. I'd like one that honors the families of the victims in the Charleston shooting.

More statues, not fewer; more honor, not more debris. More debris is the last thing we need.

The Wall Street Journal remembers "Jerry Lewis, Comic Giant of the 20th Century, Dies at 91."

Mr. Lewis first gained fame as half of the Martin and Lewis comedy duo, a partnership with singer Dean Martin that was among the most celebrated pairings in show business. Onstage, Mr. Lewis delighted audiences with goofball shenanigans while Mr. Martin, his foil, played the cool troubadour. When Mr. Martin initiated a duet, his partner broke into the wrong tune. Asked to sing it "in unison," Mr. Lewis objected: "No, I want to sing it here in the club!"

Mr. Lewis described the act as "a handsome man and a monkey," and it kept audiences in stitches for a decade, until the entertainers dissolved the partnership amid acrimony in 1956.

After their breakup, Mr. Lewis honed his role as the bumbling goof in films such as "The Bellboy," "The Disorderly Orderly" and "Who's Minding the Store?" He also used sound and action to fashion a new form of physical comedy - struggling with squeaky shoes or miming a switchblade fight - that prefigured the work of comedians who followed. Mr. Lewis' manic energy is echoed in the antics of Robin Williams, his physical gyrations in the films of Jim Carrey and his pratfalls in the stumbles of Michael Richards' clumsy Kramer in TV's "Seinfeld."

But Mr. Lewis' slapstick concealed a drive that emerged in late-career projects and his work for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. He also developed a reputation for candid interviews in which he detailed his own troubles and insecurities, like a longtime addiction to painkillers and the anguish of losing his youngest son to a drug overdose.

David Brooks of The New York Times discusses "What moderates believe."

Donald Trump is not the answer to this nation's problems, so the great questions of the moment are: If not Trump, what? What does the reaction to Trump look like?

For some people, the warriors of the populist right must be replaced by warriors of the populist left. For these people, Trump has revealed an ugly authoritarian tendency in American society that has to be fought with relentless fervor and moral clarity.

For others, it's Trump's warrior mentality itself that must be replaced. Warriors on one side inevitably call forth warriors on the other, and that just means more culture war, more barbarism, more dishonesty and more dysfunction.

The people in this camp we will call moderates. Like most of you, I dislike the word moderate. It is too milquetoast. But I've been inspired by Aurelian Craiutu's great book "Faces of Moderation" to stick with this word, at least until a better one comes along.

Moderates do not see politics as warfare. Instead, national politics is a voyage with a fractious fleet. Wisdom is finding the right formation of ships for each specific circumstance so the whole assembly can ride the waves forward for another day. Moderation is not an ideology; it's a way of coping with the complexity of the world.

Notable & Quotable is compiled by Graham Osteen. Contact him at graham@theitem.com.