Who Are We?

Ross Douthat – NYTimes.com:

[writing about American history – AJR] so far we haven’t found a way to correct the story while honoring its full sweep — including all the white-male-Protestant-European protagonists to whom, for all their sins, we owe so much of our inheritance.

Instead liberalism, under pressure from the left, has become steadily more anxious about its political and cultural progenitors, with Woodrow Wilson joining Jackson and Jefferson in the dock. Meanwhile the right’s narrative has become steadily more exclusionary — religious-conservative outreach to Muslims has given way to Islamophobia, racial optimism has been replaced by white resentment.

Maybe no unifying story is really possible. Maybe the gap between a heroic founders-and-settlers narrative and the truth about what befell blacks and Indians and others cannot be adequately bridged.

Though I quibble with some of Douthat’s historical references (Jefferson is not in the dock any more than are the Southerners who fought on the wrong side of history in the Civil War, but I take his point about those who believe he is), his conclusion is central to our current political mess. We as a culture have found no way to accurately and forthrightly bridge what was with what we’d like to believe of ourselves.

There’s just no way around this. Other nations, South Africa comes to mind first, have dealt with their shameful past by way of “truth commissions.” Testimony given, inclusive discussion had, no recriminations. And then they moved forward, away from their dark days.

America needs both a bridge between its past and today, as well as a means of re-incorporating those of us feeling left behind, forgotten, rejected by race, ethnicity, religion, unemployment.

We need a new American Century, but this time for ourselves.

#American #politics #culture #liberalism #conservatism #history #truth