I have been honored with a request to offer some thoughts, in article form, on the current state of affairs in the USA as a new controversial President takes power. To that end, the most striking observation I’ve noted while preparing a first draft, has been about the banishment of nuance from not only daily conversation, but also political commentary. It is as if this moment in American history exists in a vacuum detached or rather unmoored from the two hundred plus years of our continued history.
Given the sheer changes we’ve experienced in the last two generations socially and also in terms of scientific and technological achievement, perhaps we’re now either unable to or can no longer be concerned with deciphering the language of the past as we’ve left it too far behind. Or maybe more insidiously as Orwell purported in 1984, whoever it is controlling access to the past and American History, in general, has left out enough to leave us all mired in a morass of half-truths and incredulity. Whatever the cause or reason it is undeniable that currently we find ourselves more often than not unwilling subjects in the current a-historical, anti-intellectual climes.
But to go back to my initial point: looking back on this nation’s history there is an undeniable ebb and flow to our politics. Some years the political pendulum swings towards Liberalism. Then, following a quick change of momentum, a consolidated effort to return back to the prior conservative status quo ensues. This consolidated effort, in my opinion is the basis for (in my estimation) the current burgeoning conservative Populist movement and its employment of an intense acerbic rhetoric focused on recapturing either power or access to long lost prosperity usurped by those misguided persons or groups which were, maybe a few terms before, the vehicles of political change.
Back to July 1917, my great-grandmother was 12 at the time. During that same year Josephine Baker said in regards to The Massacre of East St. Louis, [a race riot during the seemingly Progressive Era, where white workers angered by the influx of black workers killed about 200 people]: “The very idea of America makes me shake and tremble and gives me nightmares.”
There is some significance to including this incident, almost a century later, in this discussion. It’s clear that historically jobs and economic opportunity for Americans are of the utmost importance. For the sake of the continued prosperity of a few, Americans have and will continue to overlook blatantly obvious and statistically proven episodes of racial economic and sexual exploitation. I concluded from the election of Donald Trump that prosperity for a few at the expense of ignoring the global ramifications of climate change, not to mention a further divided society, a silenced scientific community, along with a hurried abdication of our global responsibilities at the UN, and turning a blind eye to both facts and the plight of our fellow countrymen and countrywomen comprising various minority demographics was acceptable. Now, can someone tell me, as I’ve asked an inordinate number of times: ‘for whom are we making America great?’
It may come as a surprise for certain Americans to imagine that there are some segments of our population still waiting for America to treat them fairly. While it is beyond my understanding, somehow a significant number of Americans have difficulty imagining that our storied history with racism, class warfare, immigration, sexual inequality, and gender issues, that these social ills continue today, albeit some more covert than overt. Consequently, it’s expected that significant numbers of Americans disavow the existence of historical narratives outside the dominant whitewashed one concerning our past ‘greatness’.