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September 26, 2017


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I am conflicted less about historical illiteracy than a political party reflexively picking the scab of our national comity. Trump's war on modernity is sublimely absurd given his own personal history, which his followers celebrate for its sybaritic cruelty. I doubt they love anything so quaint as "history" (or confusing references to someone named Caligula). They want history simplified to its most comprehesnible elements: tribe, skin color, and "culture".

For most of us in this forum, it's the management of our modern chaos that demands most of our attention. How do we advance the common good in ways that actually makes life fairer and, for some of us, even possible? The murk of history and its endless arguments are less salient than the necessity of dealing with economic dislocation along with climate change.

Black people occupy an extraordinary position in our national discourse because of a history replete with cruelty and malevolence. To paraphrase Faulkner, that history is not even over. History is not merely something we search for in books or Confederate statuary. It's alive in the faces of people still carrying the psychic burdens of homegrown terrorism (see: lynching). Historical literacy might, at the margins, make us more circumspect. But you can't delve too deeply without touching the raw nerves that still define the inner lives of so many people of color.

Last night, the Sons of the Confederacy selected one Roy Moore to represent them in the US Senate. I doubt these good people are steeped in historical nuance anymore than Donald Trump is. For them, it's enough to know white people still have power and should continue to rule for the indefinite future. History may have many uses but it can't absolve America of its own checkered past. We either look for it in our own hearts or continue to find refuge in excuses, some of which are high-toned and scholarly.

My choice for the anthem is Woody Gutherie's This Land Is My Land. Probably too Commie for it to come to pass.

US History is a long litany of greed. Greed for land, money, cheap labor, the right kind of religion, demigods, privilege, laws that benefit specific interests, and the ever elusive freedom. Good things have happened unintentionally, but then are undone by our national psychosis.

How about Bob Dylan's "Masters of War".
Trump sees his survival and further domination in starting a Race War and a War with North Korea.
Martial Law and suspension of Elections.
Bannon as Trumps Road Warrior. Bring on the Hunger Games.

This country was built for the most part on stolen land, and quite often by slave labor.

That's our history, and until we acknowledge that, and somehow come to grips with it, we will never be able to get past the tribal state we find ourselves in.

I usually stay out of the comments string. But B. Franklin's glib toss-off, with which most here no doubt will agree, compels a response.

I'm particularly interested in specifics about how we "acknowledge" and "come to grips." None of America's dark side is new to me; I was taught about its outlines in grade-school. American historians have produced enormous quantities of scholarship on it, with additions coming all the time. I'm all for teaching much more history, but outside of some specific instances, it's not as if these issues have been suppressed. Indeed, many were fiercely debated at the time.

As for stolen land and slave labor, this is the doleful history of humanity in every corner of the globe. It doesn't mean you have to like it or approve or not seek to create a more just world. But every country is built on "stolen" land. The indigenous nations of pre-Columbian America were constantly fighting over territory, often taking slaves.

We also get some credit, for the Enlightenment and (trigger warning) Western ideas that ultimately led to the American experiment, which has expanded the bounds of liberty further than any nation. The left needs to get a grip on that.

But I would welcome some specifics. And if it's the usual bromides, then we will stay divided — because at least half the nation is not going to accept that stolen-land-slave-labor is all there is to America. So our divisions will increase.

I'm not happy to say this but Rogue's parsing of history is itself the problem here. "Western ideas" are liberal, not conservative. They are emphatically not those of the Neo-Confederates and culture warriors who compulsively divide Americans against one another. White nationalists elected one of their own president who pledged to weaponize virtually every aspect of our discourse, from immigration to race relations. We have not been more divided as a nation since the actual Civil War. Compulsory patriotism is one aspect of this divide where people who gladly believed Barack Obama was a Kenyan anti-colonialist socialist insist everyone think as they do. They are thugs.

America is a work in progress and that work will never be done. If you think black people are the problem, you won't be prompted to compromise for the common good so much as insist that until we restore cultural ideals of the 1950s, the entire enterprise of politics and government is tainted. The toxicity of this belief system should be as obvious as Donald Trump's complete inadequacy as a national leader. If you need a historical gloss to this phenomenon, Google "southern strategy".

I am a liberal who detests the smug political correctness that shows up in academe and social media. But the political correctness on the right is a dead end because of its own ahistoricism. We don't have to celebrate and memorialize anti-American traitors to this nation's ideals. We don't have to dress Jesus in the camouflage of white identity and Americanism. Tribalism on the right is about one predominant thing: skin color. If you don't see that, you are either asleep or infected by it.

I beg Rogue to step back from this precipice. The study of history should not be used to suggest a moral equivalence between combatants in an ongoing civil war that goes back to the birth of this nation. It's time to move on.

I'm not sure where Rogue went to primary and secondary school, but I went to Washington Elementary and Cortez High School and I never heard a word about "stolen land" and very little about slavery--other than while it was bad, it was over a long time ago, so let's not dwell on it.

Also nothing about about Woodrow Wilson's love of Birth of a Nation and the KKK, nothing about Jim Crow and the undermining of Reconstruction, nothing about any of the contributions that black Americans made to our country--other than as sports or entertainment figures. Nothing about the black Buffalo Soldiers who went up San Juan Hill with TR. "The bravest men he ever saw" according to their white commander. Nothing about the black women, the human computers, who played such an important role in the early days of the space program. Not a word about lynchings.

And let's not forget about the "no Irish or dogs" signs, the repeated, violent crushing of labor movements, the importation of disposable Chinese and Mexican labor, every broken treaty with the Indian tribes, all the illegal activities of the CIA, oh hell, it's a long list, the list of things we weren't taught.

We became an empire and in doing so, we acted like many empires before us. Are we 'better' than them? Ok, sure. We're better than them. I don't think we can take much credit for the Enlightenment, though.

However, to not acknowledge the evil things that were done in our name, to pretend that our Founders were somehow inspired by God, that our statesmen always did the 'right' thing, that our wars were always just, well, that's the kind of willful ignorance that leads to the dead end we find ourselves in.

Unfortunately, we have many states that are quite comfortable perpetuating that sort of ignorance in their schools.

Like the song says, "just gimme some truth."

And if we can't handle it, well, that's on us.

Thanks to Soleri for his wise comment and kind warning. It is all about tribalism and skin color.....especially in places where there are no people of color, or only those who know how to be invisible like the Hispanic workers who are the backbone of the entire dairy industry in rural Wisconsin where I live. I would only add one word to Soleri's perfect summation, and that word is fear. The Republicans have preyed on people's fears so they could pick all our pockets and destroy our Democracy. Greed destroys everything.

One of the completely hypocritical things I've noticed in the NFL kneeling debate is how the "flag wavers" self-servingly try to say the protesters are "disrespecting" the military. These flag wavers deliberately forget what Colin Kaepernick said at the beginning about police misconduct and killer cops. Another fact that makes the flag wavers argument disingenuous is that the military (as evidenced by the Air Force's denunciation of racism this week) has had NO comments on the "kneelers." Finally, this story might give one an idea how the military thinks about equality and racism--which is exactly what BLM and the NFL "kneelers" are protesting because racism informs the criminal police terrorizing the Black communities. Really, what does "one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all" mean? I'm guessing it DOESN'T mean a "just us" kind of justice....

And, for you police-lovers, by "criminal police," I mean the "criminal terrorist element" within the majority good-intentioned police officers stationed in Black communities. It's these rogues causing the problems. And they need to be weeded OUT.

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