As Bruce Springsteen likes to say, “I have spent my life judging the distance between American reality and the American dream.”
Sadly, there is often a great gulf that separates the promise of America and American reality. I thought about Springsteen’s quote as I read Joshua Zeitz‘s piece at Politico: “What Happened in Charlottesville Is All Too American.”
Here is a taste:
Politicians and pundits often invoke the idea of American Exceptionalism with little understanding of its origins. A woolly concept with roots that extend back to the era of colonial settlement, it views the United States as somehow immune from the forces of history. The term assumed prominence in the middle part of the 20th century, as social scientists working in the aftermath of two world wars attempted to understand why endemic social, economic and political divisions that drove a century of combat, ethnic cleansing and genocide in Europe were seemingly non-operative in the United States. Was it because America lacked a feudal past? Because it was a land with greater material bounty? Was it the leveling influence of the frontier that made us different?
The entire debate was an exercise in national innocence. In retrospect, it’s remarkable that some of the country’s best minds even stopped to ponder the question. To believe that the United States had been immune to the forces that produced blood-and-soil fascism, they had to write off a great deal of recent history.
By a conservative estimate, from 1890 to 1917 white Southerners lynched roughly three black people each week. “Back in those days, to kill a Negro was nothing,” a black man from Mississippi later recalled. “It was like killing a chicken or killing a snake.”
Read the rest here.
Two quick thoughts.
This history should make us cringe whenever Trump says “Make America Great AGAIN.”
Trump obviously did not have this history in mind on Saturday when he told us to “cherish our history.” Or maybe he did. I don’t know if this was a dog-whistle to the Alt-right, but it sure sounded like one. Think about this. The President of the United States addressed the nation after a series of racial hate crimes that stemmed from white nationalists protesting the removal of a monument to Robert E. Lee and he told them to “cherish our history.”