Contrary to the historically fraudulent and inflammatory premise of the New York Times “1619 Project,” the United States was not “founded” on slavery nor is slavery the centerpiece of American history. Independence, natural rights, freedom and limited government is. The stain of slavery in our early years, terrible as that was, doesn’t negate the manifold virtues and achievements of our history by comparative world standards. To paraphrase the biblical admonition, “Let the nation that is without sin cast the first stone.”
Slavery was a worldwide evil for millennia long before America was born and still disgracefully exists in other places. The Israelites were enslaved by the Egyptians for 430 years. Should the pyramids now be destroyed? American Indians enslaved other Indians they captured in battle. Blacks in Africa enslaved other blacks, and sold them to slave traders who brought them to America.
Fifty years ago, historian Will Durant noted that war has been the norm in all but 268 of the previous 3,421 years. When America expanded westward, the Indian Wars were inevitable, with the more populous and technologically advanced society overwhelming the more primitive one. I’m not celebrating that outcome or moralizing, just observing. War is a constant of human history with national borders established by right of conquest.
It’s been said that, “History is not there for you to like or dislike. It is there for you to learn from. If it offends you, even better. Because then you are less likely to repeat it. It’s not yours to erase. It belongs to all of us.” (That’s why Germany has Holocaust museums.)
That quote is the definitive rebuttal to the insanity of the “cancel culture” poisoning and tearing apart American society. Its spawning ground is academia where radical leftists have mimicked the Jacobins of the French Revolution and Chairman Mao’s Red Guards during their respective reigns of terror.
The Marxist model of “permanent revolution” through class warfare to bring about the “dictatorship of the proletariat” has now been supplanted by the “cancel culture” with race, identity-politics, intersectionality, victimology and hypersensitivity.
In the 1980s, U.N. Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick spoke of the “blame America first” crowd. The hatred these extremist social justice warriors feel for our history and, especially, for capitalism is motivated in part by their resentment of a market economy that rewards captains of industry, professional athletes and celebrities more generously than the philosopher kings they imagine themselves to be. In their orgy of self-flagellation, historical monuments have been torn down; schools, building, and sports teams renamed; songs and books banned; free speech trampled; cities boycotted and lives ruined in an epidemic of mindless censorship because some fragile snowflake’s feelings might be hurt.
This brings to mind George Orwell’s 1948 novel about a future dystopian society. (He flipped the last two digits and titled it “1984.”) “Big Brother’s” surveillance is omnipresent, punishing nonconformists who resist the will of a totalitarian police state. The protagonist, Winston Smith, reluctantly works for the state in a large hall, with countless others, censoring (wait for the word) history, rewriting it to suit the propaganda of his masters. Offending ideas, events and people are excised and tossed down a “memory hole” by the side of his desk to never be heard of again. Orwell’s description of which was an ominous preview of today’s cancel culture:
“Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which The Party is always right.”
Yes, some of our otherwise exemplary Founders owned slaves. So what will the angry mobs and their feckless government facilitators demand next: Tear down the Washington Monument, rename the nation’s capital, the state of Washington, and remove the father of our country from the $1 bill (and the quarter)? Demolish the Jefferson Memorial and ban recordings of the 1960s rock group, Jefferson Airplane? Change the name on millions of street signs across the nation? And banish the Southern states? Enough of this idiocy!
“Presentism” is the sanctimonious practice of judging contemporaneous past actions by the standards of today. That was then; this is now. The past can’t be changed. To erase it, removes the good with the bad. History cannot hold the future hostage. What matters much more is how we’ve evolved and where we’re going.
Mike Rosen is a Denver-based American radio personality and political commentator.