We enslaved Black people for centuries and as a nation we have yet to confront and accept that history with intelligence and humility.
Our feet remain entangled in the roots of our unprocessed American past so we can’t move beyond it. We’re stuck. We’ve been stuck on the racial divide for over four hundred years!
In fact, today half our nation is doing the self-destructive thing of erasing history from the history books, teaching kids an abomination called “patriotic history” that censors the horrors of slavery because, they say, we should not expose kids to uncomfortable material.
This patently fake concern for the well-being of the young is evident in the far-right’s savage policies of utter disregard for children after they’re born.
Like the scoundrels they are, Trumpists take refuge in patriotism and their indoctrination intends to recast the United States into a theocracy where the new generations can be more docile and less questioning. Fascists fear critical thinkers and hate anything associated with them.
Erasing history will only preserve the virus of racism and keep it infectious, which is precisely their point: America should remain proudly White, Christian, and nationalistic. Just look at the new John Roberts’ United States Supreme Court: Trumpists just hit a home run with it.
The right has also censored the genocide of Indigenous peoples. Almost ten million of them were murdered over a few hundred years but they don’t teach that in school either. As with slavery, America tends to look away from the devastation it inflicted on native inhabitants.
The lethal European colonizers that came to these shores eventually founded the United States, a nation-state whose main idea about itself still rests on mixed messages.
In the Declaration of Independence our ancestors wrote “All men are created equal”, at a time when men were unthinkably far from being equal. In fact, soon after that was written slaves were formally declared to be worth Three-Fifths of a human. Women didn’t even enter the picture.
The horrendous Three-Fifths Compromise was part of our Constitution for its first eighty years, even when the slave population in the South surpassed that of whites.
When the beautiful words “We the People” were written in the Constitution they literally meant We, White and mostly slave-owning men. The empowered men we call our Founding Fathers made up only a very tiny minority, and they were extremely worried about the huge numbers of unpropertied people in the general population. Their immediate question was how to protect private property from those who didn’t have any, while still remaining fair to the masses?
That was the Framers’ most important question of all, and the way they settled it made permanent our deepest division which is between the proverbial haves and the have not’s.
James Madison in Federalist number 10 grappled with how the governance, the interests, and the participation in government – if any — of the vast majority of unpropertied people could somehow be honored, while also protecting the right to private property, and the right of those who own property to use their ability to acquire more property if they so wished.
It proved impossible to reconcile and make equal those two very different sets of interests.
Our most sacred document, the Constitution, was ratified in 1788, and in the end the Framers chose to write it through the lens of private property.
From this vantage point the United States has been functioning pretty close to what the Founders intended. For them, private property came before actual democracy, and over the centuries their intended choice would forever institutionalize putting profit before people.
Again we look at the John Robert’s United States Supreme Court, which in 2010 decided the Citizens United case where they misconstrued corporate money to be used for political purposes as “free speech”; and then with Shelby County in 2013 they gutted the Voting Rights Act.
Those Justices are unelected folks who have life-long appointments, no ethics committee watching over them, and going way back to 1803, they invented Judicial Review which makes them the least accountable branch of government in the United States. They exemplify America’s dividedness because they are an activist minority who absolutely do not reflect the interests of the majority of Americans. And they intend to keep it that way. The latest three radical conservatives added to the court are all young and will rule for many decades.
The powerful mixed messages of “All Men are Created Equal”, and “We the People” were as effective in mobilizing patriotic sentiment back in the day, as they’ve been effective in clouding our national moral clarity ever since.
We call our naked imperialism “planting democracy”. The French subsumed their imperialism and their colonialism under “the civilizing mission”. How nice. Euphemisms are sedatives. They were invented to make brutality and gore into something vague, distant and somehow painless.
The founding of nations often involves early histories of lofty origins sometimes written in the epidictic language more commonly used in ceremonies and symbolic narratives. Honor, legitimacy and wisdom bestow on the new nation its now-divine right not only to keep its current possessions but to grow bigger until it becomes the new empire.
Nationalism demands from the nation that it keep its history unblemished and beautiful, fatherly, honorable and benign. We took that further and saw ourselves as the exceptional and indispensable nation, bringing the world “freedom and democracy”, often at the barrel of a gun. In both domestic and foreign policy we will kill for profit but do it in the name of democracy.
Continuing to avoid a full reckoning with our country’s past; refusing to understand it once and for all; and now proactively denying it will only keep reopening our self-inflicted and debilitating racial and socioeconomic divisions. Reopening a wound again and again will eventually turn it into an open sore that won’t heal anymore.
It is a certainty we are divided and falling. Can we still heal ourselves?