‘We could all have been Cana­di­ans’

Trash­ing the Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion in the Age of Hys­te­ria

The Washington Times Daily - - COMMENTARY - By Suzanne Fields Suzanne Fields is a colum­nist for The Wash­ing­ton Times and is na­tion­ally syn­di­cated.

Lib­eral hys­te­ria over Don­ald Trump was hardly re­quired to pose ques­tions about “the pa­tri­otic myths” of the Found­ing Fa­thers, but his el­e­va­tion to the Oval Of­fice has ac­cel­er­ated the trash­ing of the heroic past, even the sto­ries of the Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion that gen­er­a­tions of school chil­dren cher­ished.

And not just Par­son Weems’ imag­i­na­tive tale of Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton cut­ting down his fa­ther’s cher­ished cherry tree, and his own­ing up with his as­ser­tion that “I can­not tell a lie.” That story, from the first bi­og­ra­phy of the first pres­i­dent, has long been ex­posed as the fic­tion of a teach­ing mo­ment meant to en­cour­age child­hood virtue. The cur­rent fash­ion of de­bunk­ing au­then­tic sto­ries of the Found­ing Fa­thers pro­vides dif­fer­ent lessons, pierc­ing the pride of coun­try and the ques­tion­ing of the moral­ity of our ori­gins.

The Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion is tar­geted as “the last bul­wark of na­tional myth,” or as Adam Gop­nik of New Yorker mag­a­zine char­ac­ter­izes it, with a snort of snark, as some­thing “still sa­cred in its self-di­rected pro­pa­ganda.” He spec­u­lates wist­fully that “we could all have been Cana­di­ans,” and says that such a re­sult would have been a more san­guine al­ter­na­tive than ide­al­iz­ing what our Found­ing Fa­thers ac­tu­ally wrought. He is only half (or per­haps a quar­ter) in jest try­ing to be provoca­tive.

“The Dec­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence, the Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion, the cre­ation of the United States of Amer­ica,” he writes, “what if all this was a ter­ri­ble idea, and what if the injustices and mad­ness of Amer­i­can life since then have oc­curred not in spite of the virtues of the Found­ing Fa­thers, but be­cause of them?”

Read­ing a range of new aca­demic his­to­ries drew him into his ab­surd cause and ef­fect anal­y­sis of the Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion. In­stead of the demo­cratic prin­ci­ples con­ceived by thought­ful and prag­matic ide­al­ists, these ar­gu­ments find that the Founders con­cocted their schemes and dreams through mix­ing the rhetoric of slave­hold­ers with En­light­en­ment ar­gle-bar­gle, “pro­duc­ing a coun­try al­ways marked for vi­o­lence, dis­rup­tion, and dem­a­gogy.” The Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion is thus the last ma­jor myth still stand­ing.

De­con­structed and gone from text­books is the por­trait of the brave if flawed Christo­pher Colum­bus, who sought a shorter route to In­dia and stum­bled into a new world in­stead. He is in the new telling a ra­pa­cious war­rior who led to the geno­cide of Amer­i­can In­di­ans, as he called them, and so Colum­bus Day must be erased from the books.

De­con­structed and gone from mem­ory are the rugged pi­o­neers who set out to set­tle the new and un­tamed land, hop­ing to ar­rive in the West with their scalps in­tact. They’re re­placed by greedy and un­scrupu­lous men who stole the land of the no­ble red men and de­served their sav­age hair­cut.

De­con­structed and gone with the wind are the he­roes of the South, who sac­ri­ficed their blood and trea­sure in de­fense of kith and kin, as they saw it, trapped in the com­pro­mises made over the slav­ery that was the shame of all, South­ern slave­holder and New Eng­land slave im­porter alike. Pulling down of the statue of Robert E. Lee in New Or­leans, as graphic as the top­pling of the evil Sad­dam Hus­sein in Bagh­dad in 2003, was a cruel re­minder that not even a no­ble man on the wrong side can be spared by the po­lit­i­cally cor­rect mob.

The aca­demic de­con­struc­tion of Amer­i­can his­tory has un­til now spared the Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion be­cause, in the New Yorker ac­count, “fetishiz­ing” a Found­ing Fa­ther can be worth a Pulitzer Prize, as in the suc­cess of “Hamil­ton,” the hip-hop mu­si­cal by Lin-Manuel Mi­randa. But that’s chang­ing, with his­to­ri­ans nib­bling away at con­ven­tional in­ter­pre­ta­tions of the Amer­i­can ex­pe­ri­ence, fan­ning the fires of con­tem­po­rary polemics and ques­tion­ing the demo­cratic roots of pride in coun­try.

Adam Gop­nik, who grew up in Philadel­phia and Mon­treal, be­trays an emo­tional sym­pa­thy for the Cana­dian sen­si­bil­ity, which en­cour­ages him to den­i­grate Amer­i­can hero­ics and sac­ri­fice. As a child, he writes, he learned that Amer­i­cans hid be­hind trees to fight the red­coats, as if that be­trayed cow­ardice. He den­i­grates Amer­i­can hero­ism on D-Day in the car­nage on Omaha Beach, when com­pared to the Cana­di­ans who fought well at the more lightly de­fended Juno Beach. It’s a silly com­par­i­son, as men of both na­tions who fought there would have been the first to say.

Mr. Gop­nik knows that his au­di­ence of mil­len­ni­als is hardly a “great­est gen­er­a­tion,” like the men and women who won World War II. He re­calls pa­rades in Philadel­phia, with flags and the singing of “The Marines’ Hymn,” and that Cana­dian pa­tri­otic pageantry was cel­e­brated in a hockey an­them sung when a Cana­dian beat the Rus­sians in 1972. Could a young man re­sist that con­trast? Ap­par­ently not. That’s what comes from a bad re­write of his­tory.

The aca­demic de­con­struc­tion of Amer­i­can his­tory has un­til now spared the Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion be­cause, in the New Yorker ac­count, “fetishiz­ing” a Found­ing Fa­ther can be worth a Pulitzer Prize.


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