War over Amer­ica’s past is re­ally about its fu­ture

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Opinion - BY VIC­TOR DAVIS HAN­SON

The sum­mer sea­son has ripped off the thin scab that cov­ered an Amer­i­can wound, re­veal­ing a fes­ter­ing dis­agree­ment about the na­ture and ori­gins of the United States.

The San Fran­cisco Board of Ed­u­ca­tion re­cently voted to paint over, and thus de­stroy, a 1,600square-foot mu­ral of Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton’s life in San Fran­cisco’s Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton High School.

Vic­tor Ar­naut­off, a com­mu­nist Rus­sian-Amer­i­can artist and Stan­ford Univer­sity art pro­fes­sor, had painted “Life of Wash­ing­ton” in 1936, com­mis­sioned by the New Deal’s Works Progress Ad­min­is­tra­tion. A com­mu­nity task force ap­pointed by the school dis­trict had rec­om­mended that the board ad­dress stu­dent and par­ent ob­jec­tions to the 83-year-old mu­ral, which some viewed as racist for its de­pic­tion of black slaves and Na­tive Amer­i­cans.

Nike pitch­man and for­mer NFL quar­ter­back Colin Kaeper­nick re­cently

ob­jected to the com­pany’s re­lease of a spe­cial Fourth of July sneaker em­bla­zoned with a 13-star Betsy Ross flag. The ter­ri­fied Nike im­me­di­ately pulled the shoe off the mar­ket.

The New York Times opin­ion team is­sued a Fourth of July video about “the myth of Amer­ica as the great­est na­tion on earth.” The Times’ jour­nal­ists con­ceded that the United States is “just OK.”

Dur­ing a re­cent speech to stu­dents at a Min­nesota high school, Rep. Il­han Omar (D-Minn.) of­fered a scathing ap­praisal of her adopted coun­try, which she de­picted as a dis­ap­point­ment whose racism and in­equal­ity did not meet her ex­pec­ta­tions as an ide­al­is­tic refugee. Omar’s fam­ily had fled worn-torn So­ma­lia and spent four-years in a Kenyan refugee camp be­fore reach­ing Min­nesota, where Omar re­ceived a sub­si­dized ed­u­ca­tion and ended up a con­gress­woman.

The U.S. Women’s Na­tional Soc­cer Team won the World Cup ear­lier this month. Team stal­wart Me­gan Rapinoe re­fused to put her hand over heart dur­ing the playing of the na­tional an­them, boasted that she would never visit the “f–-ing White House” and, with others, non­cha­lantly let the Amer­i­can flag fall to the ground dur­ing the vic­tory celebratio­n.

The city coun­cil in St. Louis Park, a sub­urb of Min­neapo­lis, voted to stop recit­ing the Pledge of Al­le­giance be­fore its meet­ing on the ra­tio­nale that it wished not to of­fend a “di­verse com­mu­nity.”

The list of these pub­lic push­backs at tra­di­tional Amer­i­can pa­tri­otic cus­toms and rit­u­als could be mul­ti­plied. They fol­low the re­cent fre­quent top­pling of stat­ues of 19th­cen­tury Amer­i­can fig­ures, many of them from the South, and the re­nam­ing of streets and build­ings to blot out men­tion of fa­mous men and women from the past now deemed il­lib­eral en­e­mies of the peo­ple.

Such the­ater is the street ver­sion of what can­di­dates in the Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial pri­mary have been say­ing for months. They want to dis­band bor­der en­force­ment, is­sue blan­ket amnesties, de­mand repa­ra­tions for de­scen­dants of slaves, is­sue for­mal apolo­gies to groups per­ceived to be the sub­jects of dis­crim­i­na­tion, and rail against Amer­i­can un­fair­ness, in­equal­ity, and a racist and sex­ist past.

In their rad­i­cal pro­gres­sive view – shared by bil­lion­aires from Sil­i­con Val­ley, re­cent im­mi­grants and the new Demo­cratic Party – Amer­ica was flawed, per­haps fatally, at its ori­gins. Things have not got­ten much bet­ter in the coun­try’s sub­se­quent 243 years, nor will they get any bet­ter – at least not un­til Amer­ica as we know it is dis­man­tled and re­placed by a new na­tion pred­i­cated on race, class and gen­der iden­tity-pol­i­tics agen­das.

In this view, an “OK” Amer­ica is no bet­ter than other coun­tries. As Barack Obama once bluntly put it, Amer­ica is only ex­cep­tional in rel­a­tive terms, given that ci­ti­zens of Greece and the United King­dom be­lieve their own coun­tries are just as ex­cep­tional. In other words, there is no ab­so­lute stan­dard to judge a na­tion’s ex­cel­lence.

About half the coun­try dis­agrees. It in­sists that Amer­ica’s sins, past and present, are those of mankind. But only in Amer­ica were hu­man fail­ings con­stantly cri­tiqued and ad­dressed.

Amer­ica does not have be per­fect to be good. As the world’s wealth­i­est democ­racy, it cer­tainly has given peo­ple from all over the world greater se­cu­rity and af­flu­ence than any other na­tion in his­tory – with the largest econ­omy, largest mil­i­tary, great­est en­ergy pro­duc­tion and most top-ranked uni­ver­si­ties in the world.

Amer­ica alone kept the post­war peace and still pre­serves free and safe global com­mu­ni­ca­tions, travel and commerce.

The tra­di­tion­al­ists see Amer­i­can his­tory as a unique ef­fort to over­come hu­man weak­ness, bias and sin. That ef­fort is un­matched by other cul­tures and na­tions, and ex­plains why mil­lions of for­eign na­tion­als swarm into the United States, both legally and il­le­gally.

These ar­gu­ments over our past are re­ally over the present – and es­pe­cially the fu­ture.

If pro­gres­sives and so­cial­ists can at last con­vince the Amer­i­can pub­lic that their coun­try was al­ways hope­lessly flawed, they can gain power to re­make it based on their own in­ter­ests. These elites see Amer­i­cans not as unique in­di­vid­u­als but as race, class and gen­der col­lec­tives, with shared grievances from the past that must be paid out in the present and the fu­ture.

We’ve seen some­thing like this fight be­fore, in 1861 – and it didn’t end well.

Vic­tor Davis Han­son is a clas­si­cist and his­to­rian at the Hoover In­sti­tu­tion, Stan­ford Univer­sity, and the au­thor of the soon-to-be re­leased “The Sec­ond World Wars: How the First Global Con­flict Was Fought and Won,” to ap­pear in Oc­to­ber from Ba­sic Books. You can reach him by e-mail­ing au­[email protected]

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