And now, a few words about history

In CNN’s reporting on T***p’s remarks yesterday, this, among other choice bits, would have made me laugh if I weren’t so angry and heartbroken about what the man is doing to our country:

On Tuesday, though, Trump defended his 48-hour delay in denouncing white supremacists, arguing that he took his time because he didn’t know the facts.
“I wanted to make sure, unlike most politicians, that what I said was correct, not make a quick statement,” Trump said, calling his initial comment a “fine statement.”
He added: “I don’t want to go quickly and just make a statement for the sake of making a political statement.”


But I’m just going to leave that there and instead address this portion of his remarks: “‘You are changing history, you are changing culture’ by taking down statues to past leaders.” [He was referring specifically to the dismantling of statues of Confederate leaders.]

A) If by “history” you mean the actual facts of the past, well, they don’t change, although they can be discovered, buried, overlooked, newly revealed, etc. Here are a few actual, pertinent facts about US history: our nation was born from invasion, genocide, kidnapping, oppression, and abuse. The Confederate leaders were not US leaders; they were (self-evidently, one would think) leaders of a polity that rejected and violently turned against the United States. Whether or not you think the Civil War was about slavery, the Confederacy was clearly enabled by institutionalized white supremacy–which existed in the rest of the country as well and has yet to be laid in its grave once and for all.

B) If by “history” you mean the way the facts and events of the past are interpreted and retold, well, this is changing all the time as new facts come to light, new ways of looking at them become possible or relevant, new methodologies allow data to be analyzed in new ways, and so on. As historical awareness shifts and grows, why wouldn’t a consensus arise that, for example, the leaders of a violent movement to destroy our nation should no longer be regarded as heroes? That doesn’t mean that we forget the events of the past–it just means we tell them in a way that makes sense given our current knowledge and understanding.

C) Given that our nation began with war crimes and wholesale human-rights violations (see A above), ‘changing culture’ has become part of the American fabric. Our nation has been on a fairly consistent (though not steady) trajectory to expand and ensure human and civil rights to ever more people, embracing differences of every kind and recognizing the commonality and fellow citizenship of all Americans. Events like Charlottesville remind us that we still have a long way to go, but they also remind us of how important it is that we continue to strive to be better than our beginnings, and of how many people remain committed to the ideal of an America that embraces all–even if our so-called president isn’t one of them.

Fear and Hatred Only Beget More Fear and Hatred

What happened in Nice is beyond horrible, and there is no excuse for anyone taking the lives of others in that way. However, we must be careful not to generalize from the murderous actions of one individual who may have believed he was acting in the name of Islam. If the majority of Muslims supported the ideology of groups like the so-called Islamic State and Al Qaeda, the violence and terrorism would be ubiquitous and nonstop; the world would be (perhaps literally) on fire. On the contrary, the majority of Muslims are trying to live their lives decently and peaceably just like most of the rest of us–and they have a harder time doing it not only because of suspicion and prejudice, but because they are the ones who are most often targeted by IS and similar groups. For our part, to look at an act of terrorism by one man (or even a group of men) and say “It’s Muslims” is gross overgeneralization, equivalent to looking at the acts of terrorism committed by Eric Rudolph (aka the Olympic Park Bomber) and saying “It’s Christians.” Moreover, when we engage in this kind of generalization, we are playing into the “Islamic State’s” narrative of the West vs. Islam. The more we stoke fear and hatred and suspicion of Muslims, the more we play into the terrorists’ hands, and the harder it is for us to make allies with moderate and progressive Muslims. Hating and fearing a group of people only succeeds in convincing those people that they need to hate and fear us. That’s how the terrorists win.