Few people are as universally praised as Father Damien of Molokai. Loved by the Hawaiian people that he ministered to, named De Grootste Belg, "the Greatest Belgian" by his mother country of Belgium, venerated and canonized as a saint in the Catholic Church by Benedict XVI as of 2009, and even praised by the likes of Barack Obama and Gandhi. That being said, such bipartisan praise for the Holy Leper, did not stop Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez from attempting to smear his reputation by declaring the placement of his statue at the Capital Rotunda a product of a white supremacist culture that upholds white men at the expense of all other groups. Before getting into AOC's comments and response to bipartisan criticism, it is important to first take a brief look at Father Damien himself as well as the history of the placement of his statue.
Father Damien was born in January 3rd, 1840 as Joseph de Veuster in his native land of Belgium. After his oldest brother joined the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, a Catholic religious order founded during the French Revolution despite anti-clerical persecution, Joseph decided to follow in his brother's footsteps, joining the novitiate for the order and taking the name Damien. After his brother was unable to leave for his mission to Hawaii due to illness, Damien requested permission to go in his brothers place, arriving in Honolulu on March 19th, 1864 and being ordained to the priesthood on May 21st of the same year. After hearing of a plea from a leper colony on the island of Molokai called Kalaupapa, Father Damien volunteered to minister to the leper colony even though it would likely lead to premature death, either because of the harsh, near primitive living conditions or from catching the leprosy of those he would care for.
Despite these hellish conditions, Father Damien would stay on Molokai of his own volition. Providing the people of Molokai with spiritual direction, the sacraments, and performing acts of charity and mercy, Father Damien greatly improved living conditions on the island for the leper colony, spiritually, emotionally, and physically. In 1885, Father Damien would contract the deadly disease of leprosy, a fate that would have caused many to despair. However, Father Damien continued to minister to the lepers of Kalaupapa until April 15th, 1889 when he would succumb to his illness after sixteen years of selfless service to those he had given his life for.
As for Father Damien's reputation postmortem, he has since been upheld by his native people, the Belgians, as "the Greatest Belgian", declared in 2005 by vote among the Belgian populace. As for his reputation among the Hawaiian people, Father Damien seems to be well loved as well by Father Gomes, a Catholic priest from the same community as Father Damien, who stated that the Hawaiian people "see him as a model of faith, a servant of God and a servant of humanity. He really was a great humanitarian."
Carter, a Catholic Hawaiian catechist also praised Father Damien in an interview with CNA: "Any Hawaiian here who is aware of their history--which most Hawaiians are--would absolutely, Catholic or not, defend the legacy of Damien as a man who was embraced by the people, and who is a hero to us because of his love for the Hawaiian people...We did not judge him by the color of his skin. We judged him by the love that he had for our people..."
In addition to this glowing reputation from the Belgian and Hawaiian people, Father Damien has also been venerated in the Catholic Church by many, culminating in his canonization by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009, recognizing him as a saint of the Catholic Church. Following this canonization, Barack Obama commented on the matter stating his “deep admiration for the life of Blessed Damien De Veuster.” Obama, a native of the Hawaiian Island Oahu continues, "Fr. Damien has also earned a special place in the hearts of Hawaiians. I recall many stories from my youth about his tireless work there..." Gandhi himself also gave Saint Damien praise stating, "The political and journalistic world can boast of very few heroes who compare with Father Damien of Molokai... It is worthwhile to look for the sources of such heroism."
As for the object in question, the statue of Saint Damien in the Capitol is a symbol of "white supremacist culture" according to Ocasio-Cortez, because it is the statue of a white man in place of the nonwhite people of Hawaii who should really be represented by someone of their own culture like Queen Liliʻuokalani who she mentions in her post. What Ocasio-Cortez fails to recognize, however, is that Queen Liliʻuokalani herselfwas an admirer of Saint Damien, having visited his leper colony herself and being left speechless at the living conditions and horror of leprosy that Saint Damien endured for the sake of his people's souls. In fact Queen Liliʻuokalani was so moved by Saint Damien that she awarded him with the Royal Order of Kalakaua in 1881. Additionally, the statue itself that Ocasio-Cortez highlighted as a symbol of "white supremacist culture" was actually gifted to the Capital Rotunda in 1969 by Hawaii's heavily Democrat and multi-ethnic legislature as their first of two selections along with their second, King Kamehameha the Great, a native born Hawaiian who united the Hawaiian Islands and formed the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1810.
After heavy bipartisan criticism, Ocasio-Cortez responded by claiming that critics took her video out of context, which they admittedly did if they argued that Ocasio-Cortez was asserting that Father Damien was a white supremacist. Responding to John Gage of the DC Examiner, AOC stated: "Read the text of the video you posted: it’s not about litigating an indiv [sic] person or statue, but examining that the TOTALITY of all 100+ statues are almost all white & male, incl [sic] to rep largely nonwhite places." It is in this response that AOC reveals the hand of the progressive mentality regarding the tearing down of statues over the past month.
For the past month, many Americans have been dumbfounded at the progressive trend of demolishing monuments, asking themselves why people protesting racism and bigotry would vandalize memorials like the Lincoln Memorial and the 54th Regiment Memorial, which recounts the Black regiment of Massachusetts that fought in the Civil War. With renewed calls to tear down or move the memorials from the public square in recent days, these attacks are clearly more concerted than a little spray paint would lead one to believe. The casus belli in either case is that the memorials depict African Americans in a subservient manner. However this is clearly not true for the man at hand, Father Damien, whose depiction has nothing to do with African Americans.
The underlying reason for this concerted effort to remove these historical figures of diverse backgrounds is not simply because of the individuals themselves, but as AOC highlights: "it's not about litigating an individual person or statue, but examining that the TOTALITY of all 100+ statues are almost all white & male." It is with this in mind that AOC proclaims: "This is what patriarchy and white supremacist culture looks like!" It is not about Father Damien, Abraham Lincoln, the 54th Regiment or any of the other heroes that had their reputations tarnished or their memorials vandalized and ground into dust over the past month. Progressives do not care about these figures, because they do not care about history except insofar as it can be used to push and promote their various agendas.
In other words, rather than defining the Progressive's ideology, history is meant to be defined by the Progressive's ideology. History is instead looked at as something malleable and to be conformed to an ideology rather than the springboard from which ideas are to be tried, acquired, and formed. Rather than seeking their ideas from the wellspring of knowledge of their progenitors, progressives such as AOC seek to use history for their own ends, deeming what they see as useless or harmful to their agenda as evil or the product of an evil culture.
It is in this way that the progressive can deem everyone from the 54th Regiment to Teddy Roosevelt to Father Damien and Kamehameha the Great as the product of white supremacy, because regardless of their heroism, nationality, or ethnicity, they are all held up by a fading American culture that is in need of resuscitation and the New Progressive Movement, led by "leaders" such as AOC, are seeking to snuff out what is left of it, by destroying its history and calumniating its heroes, so they can remake American culture as they see fit. AOC's comments regarding Father Damien are just another instance of the historical anarchism that has taken hold of the United States; an iconoclasm that seeks to deface and dismantle history itself in order to "liberate peoplekind" from the "bondage" of its heroes, culture, and past.