MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
The United States has been, for years, on the cusp of either returning to the fantasy of a privileged elite or moving forward to achieve the creative possibilities of an actualized democracy.
Those politicians and individuals who advocate "restoring America to its greatness" are living in a Disneyesque dream, guided by the image of a Norman Rockwell portrait of a white-ruled United States that is the "greatest nation in the world." The underlying message here - which helps explain Donald Trump's appeal to an overtly racist sector of the population - is that only the continuation of white dominance in the electoral process can "save" the country. It is a vision of the United States that looks backward through a fractured, distorted lens.
The late Eduardo Galeano wrote about the European-descended ruling class at the end of the last century. He focused on South and Central America, but what he wrote in his brilliant book Open Veins of Latin America equally applies to the US:
Veneration for the past has always seemed to me reactionary. The right chooses to talk about the past because it prefers dead people.... The powerful who legitimatize their privileges by heredity cultivate nostalgia. History is studied as if we were visiting a museum, but this collection of mummies is a swindle. They lie to us about the past: they mask the face of reality. They force the oppressed victims to absorb an alien, desiccated, sterile memory fabricated by the oppressor, so that they will resign themselves to a life that isn't theirs as if it were the only one possible.
For example, columnist Steve Jonas writes about the true symbolism of the Confederate Flag when it was created. This was before the revisionist notions of the rebel flag as a symbol of "heritage" and "bravery" took hold. Jonas notes:
That flag it turns out, is indeed a most apt representation for the doctrine that drove slavery and the Confederate States of America, and has now, as I said, spread across our land. In my previous columns on the South, the Civil War, and what it really was about, I regularly quoted the well-known "Cornerstone Speech" by the CSA Vice-President Alexander Stephens, justifying slavery, on the basis of the Doctrine. What has very recently come to wide public attention is the statement by the designer of the aforementioned CSA battle flag, which was created ... in 1863. That designer, one William T. Thompson, said:
"As a people, we are fighting to maintain the heaven ordained supremacy of the white man over the inferior or colored race; .... we still think that a battle flag on a pure white field would be more appropriate and handsome [than its predecessor]. Such a flag would be a suitable emblem of our young confederacy, and sustained by the brave hearts and strong arms of the south, it would soon take rank among the proudest ensigns of the nations, and be hailed by the civilized world as the WHITE MAN'S FLAG." [Last three words were capitalized in the original text.]
Thompson also noted that the flag's white border, unusual as flags go, was not placed there by accident. Many Southerners, in justifying its continued use and display, refer to it as some kind of "historical reference," representing the "heritage of the South." Well, in the words of the flag's designer himself, to the extent that that "heritage" is the institution of slavery, secession, and white supremacy, it does.
The Confederate Flag is a clear instance of the glorification of a false notion of the past, but many more widespread examples abound. In the US, it is the entrenched white elite, as a whole, who promote the restoration of a fantasized past as the guiding vision for the nature's future. Ronald Reagan exemplified this when he regularly evoked the fanciful "city on the hill":
I think American conservatives are uniquely equipped to present to the world this vision of the future - a vision worthy of the American past.
Reagan championed the image of a nation moving forward by seizing upon a mythical past as a model. However, such a sentimental evocation - an image that disregards oppression, slavery, economic inequality, colonization and a hyper-militarized foreign policy - leads to illusions that are destructive to the country. As Galeano eloquently phrased the paradox: "History is studied as if we were visiting a museum, but this collection of mummies is a swindle."
So what politicians and pundits who champion a return to the past - as if the US experienced some golden age of democracy and fairness - are really advocating is the entrenchment of a society ruled by white property owners and corporations.
Politicians who would lead us back to an illusionary historical model for the future are eroding the promise of democracy. They are trying to govern as if the US were the Magic Kingdom - but no wand of manufactured nostalgia will actually transform the moral infrastructure of this nation.
If we are to begin that process of transformation, we must first of all acknowledge the reality of our history.
Not to be reposted without the permission of Truthout.