Trying to Understand the Summer of Our Discontent: The tangled web of protests

First Minneapolis and now Portland have become icons of the renewed struggle for racial and economic justice, but it’s far more complicated than this side and that side, one of which must be morally right and the other morally wrong. The added matter of working our way through a pandemic sans informed and competent leadership from the White House raises the level of complexity. The ongoing protests have unleashed a struggle for redistribution of political and social power and influence, particularly in major metropolitan areas. I can’t pretend how to fully understand what’s going on, but have a few observations to offer that help me, and may help you.

The nation has too long ignored systemic racism and intentionally designed economic inequities. Stubborn opposition is one reason the struggle has taken so long and seen such slow progress. Another is the inertia of people, mostly white, who value the stability and predictability of the way things are over the challenges of dramatic change. This summer’s eruption of protests signals the end of patient waiting. Yet entrenched opposition and deep seated inertia are hard to overcome, especially when national leadership endorses both.

Nevertheless, protests about issues of social justice are spreading, and with them increasing apprehension from self identified conservatives who believe things are spiraling out of control. What things? What control? For them, what’s spiraling are the generally accepted ways of a stable, predictable society in which one knows one’s place, and expects others to know theirs. What’s out of control are the established patterns of setting and enforcing standards and boundaries to maintain stability and predictability. The evidence is what they are told are rioting mobs committing wanton property damage .

Apprehension about civil unrest and property damage allows social justice issues to be hidden or ignored. It encourages some to deny there are social justice issues worthy of protest. It makes incidents of property destruction to be the important issues of justice. Some believe protesters are the issue regardless of how they protest or what they protest about. Some are willing to admit social justice issues exist, but demand an end to the protests as the price for their willingness to consider change. Taken together, they make protests and property rights the subject. Questions about racial and economic justice are shelved out of view.

It angers protesters that serious matters of political, racial and economic injustice corrupting human lives are subsumed under the greater value of property rights and social order that maintain the status quo and keep things in their proper places.

On the other hand, it angers conservatives that from their vantage, liberal protesters disrespect legitimate property rights and the American value of hard working self sufficiency. Protesters should be working for a living instead of throwing rocks and behaving like spoiled brats. There is no difference in conservative eyes between peaceful protesters and perpetrators of property destroying violence who often follow in their wake.

It is wrong to say that one side values property over human life and the civil rights non whites, while the other uses accusations of racism to promote unwanted socialism in America. Liberals and conservatives alike are steeped in American individualism. Protesters are determined that individual rights and privileges enjoyed by the white population can no longer be denied to people of color. Conservatives insist rights have not been denied, and in any case are to be earned, not given. Their unspoken fear is that more rights for others will mean fewer rights for them.

American individualism is often seen as antithetical to a communitarian focus on the greater good, but they overlap in many ways. Conservatives are often more community minded than they’re given credit for, but define community at the local level with an emphasis on voluntary associations, distrusting state and federal interference. Liberals are less community minded than they claim. This summer’s protests display liberal distrust of local governments that systematically deny equal rights to people of color, and of the current administration’s violent use of federal law enforcement against them. Both are happy with government programs that benefit their interests. Conservatives simply deny that it is socialism. They’re not really for smaller government, just government providing fewer services that don’t go to them.

Conservatives and liberals are bordered by right wing libertarians and left wing neoMarxists (not Cold War communists). Both engage in protests, and both use social media to amplify their ideologies. Each is inflexible, unwilling to negotiate, and prone to belief in conspiracies. Far right libertarians distrust government in any form and consider taxation to be theft. They believe property rights outweigh human rights, except for their own. Ironically, they willingly enjoy every benefit government sends their way. They just don’t want to pay for it. Their ideology of rugged individualism oddly gravitates toward authoritarian oligarchy. Neo marxists are romantics who refuse to recognize that experiments with Marxism always end in Leninism, Maoism, or something chaotically destructive of the society and its economy. Full of contradictions, they dislike capitalism, but favor private enterprise and honest markets. Both right wing libertarians and left wing neoMarxists wallow in conspiracy, and label as enemies anyone not in their camp

There are two more overlapping groups in the mix. One consists of the angry and disaffected who seize opportunities to destroy other people’s property. Protests create the right opportunities for them to act, as do athletic victory celebrations, New Year’s Eve, and any gathering giving them cover and excuse. The other consists of criminal gangs taking advantage of general mayhem to score as much profit as possible. They’re not on anybody’s side and disinterested in the issues. One cannot ignore the possibility that, for a small remuneration, they will act as agents provocateur on behalf of the highest bidder.

A conglomeration like this disallows a simple us against them explanation of what’s going on. It makes it too easy for important issues of social justice to be buried. Facebook and twitter are filled with conservative demands that restoring order is the most important thing to do. Issues of racial and economic justice have disappeared from their view.

Liberal protesters, I believe, don’t realize how easily they’ve played into the hands of the right wing. Protesters committed to social and political change that redress racial and economic injustice too often want results that cannot be achieved in one giant step. True as it is that progress has been too late and too little, it remains equally true that needed change takes place one step at a time. The steps can be speeded up, made larger, and obstacles removed from their path, but they remain steps. I believe the bulk of the American public is not indifferent to the need for change, but bulky things are hard to move. Once moving, the arc of their turning radius is large. That’s reality. And the path to real change is paved with realism.

Portland, Trump & Manufactured Crises

Not so long ago, gun rights advocates argued the right to bear arms was essential to defending against the possibility that the government itself might become the enemy of freedom, sending troops into American cities, like Hitler did in Germany. It was an emotionally powerful argument making gun regulation proposals impossible to enact. Tea party Second Amendment enthusiasts were certain communists, socialists, left wingers, or at least liberal Democrats were out for their guns and their freedom.

I thought it a far fetched scare tactic featuring an unimaginable federal government. Who could believe a democratically elected American government dedicated to the preservation of rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution would do such a thing? I was wrong. It’s happening. It’s happening in Portland with Trumpian promises other cities are next.

But where are the gun rights advocates who swore to stand as a defensive line against a tyrannical government? As it turns out, the threat to constitutional freedoms isn’t coming from the left, but from an autocratic president appealing to the libertarian right. Could it be gun toting tea partiers meant they would defend their own rights and freedoms as they defined them for themselves, but have little interest in what happens to others? Especially if the others could be described by the government as out of control rioters and violence prone gangbangers? You know, like Hitler described his brown shirts as simply restoring order threatened by violent communists and criminal Jewish cabals?

Trump is gifted at political misdirection moving public attention from important issues that threaten his self interests to other matters he often manufactures out of odds and ends he can cadge together into a headline. His fixation with “dominating” cities he claims are violently out of control (headed by Democratic mayors) by imposing federal law enforcement on them, is having its trial run in Portland, Oregon. To be sure, Portland can be a rowdy city. It’s “Keep Portland Weird” tag line, and the popular Portlandia t.v. series play off it. Considered a left wing town, it has a well documented right wing history, and both are present. They like to protest, and do it often, mostly on social justice issues. Gatherings are emotional, loud, filled with self righteousness, and provide a venue for a few juvenile twits to cause property damage. It would be a stretch to call it rioting, and, for the most part, daily life goes on without interruption. But conservatives don’t like it. Disgusted by disorderly, unseemly behavior that violates good middle class standards, they are the target audience for Trump’s law and order show of force.

Conservatives desire an orderly civic life that doesn’t challenge the status quo. It’s essential to preserving their idea of the American way of life. Protests, especially extended protests, challenge that, raising anxiety about what is to come next. Right wingers take it a step farther. Paraphrasing one verifiable source:

If the left leaning leadership of these communities maintained law and order, the federal government would not be needed to restore it. I fully support our government intervening where citizens and property are threatened by law breakers. If rules are not universally applied, there is no civility.

It appears that Trump’s handlers have intentionally engineered photogenic Portland scenes to fire up the base by giving the appearance of out of control violence, with federal agents as the cavalry. It may backfire on them. Other scenes show hundreds of “mothers” linking arms to protect protesters from federal agents; locals testify to the mostly peaceful nature of the protests; protesters themselves intervene to stop destructive acts; and , as obnoxious as it is, graffiti is pretty tame stuff. In short, there is nothing going on in Portland that local authorities can’t handle.

That’s not how some self proclaimed conservatives see it. Consider the words of another right wing source who wrote:

Liberals question the whereabouts of Second Amendment supporters. The feds went to Portland after 50 days of lawlessness! 50 days! They didn’t jump in on the first night, the first week or even the first month! 50 days! The governor and mayor of Portland allowed the violence, anarchy, destruction and overall lawlessness to continue for how long? 50 days! They were told get it under control or we will. The protesters, demonstrators, rioters have poked the bear for how long? 50 damn days! Now they don’t like the fact the bear got tired of being poked for 50 days! They are now out classed, trained and equipped. They want the gun toting conservatives to come save them. Most of the gun toting conservatives I know, myself included are not going to see this as a overreach of the federal government. They see it as a reasonable response and possibly a late response to 50 days of bullshit! Gun toting conservatives despise the radical left and anarchist who are destroying their cities. If local police, county sheriff, state patrol or federal law enforcement call for armed patriots as reinforcements to take back our cities, my kit is ready, rifle is zeroed, mags are loaded.

Upset as he may be about fifty days protesting unresolved issues of social justice that have gone unresolved for centuries, it is not a long time. Social systems and mores don’t change easily or quickly. The civil rights movement of the 1960s did not give up after fifty days, and these protests are its progeny. They desire neither anarchy nor lawlessness, but the fulfillment of the American promise of rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in a democratic society of just laws fairly administered.

Perhaps the metaphor of a poked bear is more apt than the conservative commentator had in mind. The bear of complacency, satisfied with conditions of gross injustice that don’t disturb the American way of life, has been hibernating too long. America’s conditions of systemic injustices have been tolerated for too long. It’s time for it to be poked, awakened, and moved to a better place.

In the meantime, Trump’s anti democratic, authoritarian imposition of federal law enforcement on unwilling cities under the pretense of restoring law and order, is an urgent threat to our constitutional democracy. It is the very act of anti democratic tyranny conservatives have feared and liberals thought impossible. It is, in a word, a one man secession from the union, with the intent to engineer a coup that would install something that looks a lot like fascism to me. Not the WWII kind. Something more like Pinochet’s Chile. Let’s hope it fails.

Wheat, Weeds & Discipleship

(Submitted without editor’s approval)

Those who worship in liturgical churches this coming Sunday will hear another parable from Matthew’s gospel. This one about a field of ripening wheat in which “an enemy”had sown weeds to mess things up. What should be done? Wade into the field to rip them out one by one, or wait to separate them from the good grain at harvest time? Jesus ended the parable saying that both would be gathered at harvest, the good saved and the weeds burned in the trash pile.

It’s a parable that parallels an earlier one about a sower who threw seeds onto good soil and bad. The good soil produced bumper crops while the bad did not. Both are often interpreted to mean God will save good, obedient believers, but others will be cast aside. It may not be so. Perhaps they illuminate truths about each of our lives in which there is good soil and bad. Our lives, lived out in the soils we inherited, and the soils we created, produce harvests of wheat and weeds. No two are alike, and each of us at the harvest will have produced uniques yield of good wheat and weeds.

God, the master gardener, has offered to improve our soils, nourish the seeds of good wheat, and do a little weeding, but it depends. It depends on one’s willingness to be helped, and on the people in each life who help, hinder, or stand idly by. It brings up some questions. Do we, as individuals, and together as society, help, hinder, or stand idly by? Do we care for the soil our lives are built on? Do we sow weeds among the wheat that is the harvest of our lives? What effect do we have on the lives of others? Do we nourish their weeds or wheat? What defines a weed, and what is wheat? History is filled with stories of cruelty and injustice sold as wheat, and other stories condemning the godly righteous as weeds, Jesus included.

Whatever the life long yield from soils we’ve used and abused, the good grain is preserved and the weeds thrown into the fire where they cease to exist. We are made worthy to stand before God. It is not our doing. Grace, it’s about grace, unearned grace. Is that the only goal? Relying on God’s grace to get from this life into heaven? It doesn’t matter how this life is lived because God will take care of it? Some have said so.

St. Paul’s response to the question was, “What, are you nuts? Of course not.” Of course I’m paraphrasing what he wrote in proper King James English, but let us not digress. Life on earth is not a waiting room for heaven. Jesus didn’t come to straighten the magazines and refresh the coffee machine. This life, and the earth on which it is lived, are both holy. We are given stewardship of them so that others might prosper now, and future generations have greater opportunity for better life. We are commanded to help make life on earth an introduction to the more full life that lies yet ahead. While we are on this earth, our island home, we are to tend it as best we can to produce wheat, good wheat, in abundance, to avoid sowing weeds, and teach others to do the same. Having embraced God’s saving grace through Christ Jesus, we take on accountability as agents of God’s love that demands justice for the poor and oppressed, and the responsible use of God’s creation.

Replacing Political Polarization With Negotiated Workable Solutions

(Note: My editor is engaged in a three day workshop and unavailable. Reader beware)

I’ve been struggling with ways to get away from political polarization that makes it all but impossible to move the country forward on issues most agree are of national importance. It begins, I suppose, with recognition that recalcitrants, primarily but not exclusively on the GOP side, will not be moved. They entered the political arena to shut it down, and have no interest in negotiating. There are only two ways around them: defeat at the polls, and modest rule changes prohibiting small groups of members from stopping the entire legislative process.

It’s a sad starting point. They represent a portion of the voting public that believes government is, ipso facto, the enemy of their individual right to live as they please in their own self interest. It’s a curious ideology. On the one hand, it depends on government to define the rights they claim as their own. On the other hand, our particular from of republican (representative) democracy is designed to secure rights within the context of the greater good of the community as a whole. The greater good is achieved through collective policies to which each citizen is required to subscribe if they want to continue being citizens. It is only within a community dedicated to the greater good that extreme individualism can exist. Without community organized for the greater good, extreme individualism is mere savage brutality. Its relationship with community is more parasitic than symbiotic, but trying to explain that to right wing libertarians is next to impossible.

So let us lay them aside and go on. The goal is to move away from political polarization toward what? Toward agreement on reasonable ways to address problems that are agreed to be problems requiring some form of federal response. Among the more obvious are infrastructure, health care, and restoration of cooperative international relations.

Infrastructure is more complex than it sounds, and includes restoration of the Interstate and U.S. highway systems, rural broadband, electrical grid security, the Post Office, high speed rail, and the government’s own computer systems. It will require decades of work, billions of dollars, and negotiated public-private partnerships. It will also generate a new demand for skilled labor in high paying jobs.

The need for a national health care system has been well known since the mid twentieth century. Nostalgia for old time family doctors and fear of socialized medicine has hobbled progress, as has lobbying from insurance companies that make enormous profits off health care. The need has often been debated. Obama Care was a small step forward, but hotly opposed even as the public took to it with enthusiasm. However, the COVID pandemic has made the urgency of a national system more obvious, even to conservatives. The public is increasingly aware that the patchwork we now have is no system at all. Private insurance is expensive and covers as little as it can get away with. Better, more affordable insurance linked to employment is available to some, but benefits are unpredictable from one employer to another, and coverage ceases when employment ceases. Some union and public employment coverage is excellent, but unevenly available. Many are left stranded with Medicaid taken by only some providers, or hospital financed welfare that may or may not be available. Rural health care may not be available at all, is always limited, and sometimes rationed. Many are saddled with enormous health care debt they can never repay. Hospital billings are grossly inflated, and some patients are charged more than others. In short, it’s a costly mess, the most costly among all industrialized nations. It remains to be seen whether expansion of the Affordable Care Act or some sort of Medicare-for-All is the answer, but there needs to be an answer, and soon. Every person living in the United States needs quality, affordable health care if our economic future is to be secured.

Globalization is not going away, but it is rapidly changing. It’s more clear that fragile global supply chains can be easily broken by diplomatic estrangement, corporate misfeasance, military posturing, disease, and corruption of the internet. National security has taken on new dimensions that move toward higher levels of strategic self sufficiency while relying on robust export markets. Cooperative international relationships are essential to making it work, but America’s credibility in the community of nations has been shredded. Allies of long standing can no longer trust us, and have no respect for our national leadership. Dictators of nations at odds with American interests are delighted with their new found favor, while ridiculing the president who fawns over them. It’s one thing to be disrespected and distrusted, it’s another thing to be ridiculed and pitied. Unified congressional leadership supporting a new administration can, I think, restore solid international working relationships, and fashion legislation necessary to securing our best trading interests with cooperative foreign partners. It will benefit domestic manufacturing, agricultural exports, and consumer choices.

Negotiated progress on these three fronts by congressional leadership willing to agree they are problems in need of workable solutions can bring together liberals and conservatives who are not entrenched in tactics that don’t allow flexibility. Workable solutions are never perfect, never end the need for yet more to be done, and are never fully satisfying to any party. But they work, and are improvements over the status quo. Political leaders can still go before the public to perform their self serving fulminations, but the nation will know that life has been made better, and there is hope for better yet to come.

Founding Fathers & Worthy Ideas

The founding fathers have been getting a lot of heat lately. Some for being slave owners, others for their obsession with property rights, and all for having the ethos of 18th century colonial Americans rather than that of our more enlightened 21st century. Even the wildly successful play Hamilton is criticized for being a play, and not a peer reviewed historical text. I think we might give them a break. A case in point is The Federalist Papers promoting the benefits of a constitutionally governed United States. Yes, they were written by white men of property who had limited visions about who could or should be citizens. White men 21 and older who owned property was their limit. Within that small universe, they defined how a just and representative government could provide for the greater good of the nation. Stripping away the boundaries they set for themselves, their ideas remain applicable to a nation of universal suffrage, and are filled with wisdom not yet surpassed. They set standards for the American ideal we have yet to meet. What they offered remains worthy.

Not to be forgotten, they were opposed by others who preferred a weak federal government of limited powers that would not interfere with state and local ways of doing things, inhibit westward expansion of a slave based plantation economy, impose onerous taxes (any tax being onerous) or limit what a small land owner could do with ‘his’ property. They were especially suspicious of a federal government with control over banking, and financial and trade policies that would hurt cotton and tobacco exports. With some modification, they’re the same fears expressed by modern tea partiers who would rather be dominated by today’s giant corporation version of a plantation economy than surrender their imaginary independence to a democratic government designed to protect their rights.

The Magic of Moving Mountains and Cursing Figs

Magical thinking has troubled Christians for two thousand years. It’s the idea that if one knows the right words and says them in the right way God, like Aladdin’s genie, will serve up answers to wishes. It shouldn’t be a surprise. We love magic. We love magicians and magic shows, we love Harry Potter, Bewitched, and Merlin. We love the idea that with just a little effort we too could make things happen for the good, always for the good.

Scripture itself tempts people in that direction. For instance, Jesus told Peter that, if he had enough faith and no doubt in his heart, he could make a mountain jump into the sea (Mk.11). Paul, in his letter to the Romans, said “all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Rom 8). It’s led some to make faith, the right kind of faith in the right amount, the key to unlocking godly magic in all things, especially things like healing and prosperity.

There are times I wish Jesus, or possibly Mark, had been less disposed to use hyperbole when making a point. Too many of us don’t get it, and take it literally. I imagine Jesus offering a wry smirk as he tried to help Peter understand he would never move mountains, and the little faith he had would be enough. As Mark tells it, the faith talk occurred the same day he drove vendors out of the temple and cursed an innocent fig tree. It was also a few days before he would be crucified, so he may not have been in the best of moods. As an aside, I think the fig tree incident was an object lesson for the disciples about the power or prayer for good and ill, so be careful. Jesus was hungry and wanted a fig from the tree, but it wasn’t the season for figs, so he cursed it and it died. Don’t be so cavalier about damning any person or thing. It has consequences. It’s as much a prayer as one seeking a blessing. But I digress.

In John’s gospel, Jesus said that he would do whatever is asked in his name (John 14). It’s been interpreted to mean that one only has to ask, provided it’s with enough faith and in the right words, and Jesus will deliver what is good for us. And we’re pretty sure we know what good is: a new car, a job, a place to live, romantic love, a good parking spot: it’s all magical thinking. God knows we need the things of life, but seek first the kingdom of God (Matt 6). Yes, but didn’t Pauls say, “all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose”? If you just let it be known how much you love God, and how you are among the called, why not go for it?

Paul would be confused about how misunderstood he could become. For him, there was a lot of nuance in “all things work for good” having to do with good as that which gives meaning, weight, and value to something. All things working for good, as Paul understood it, had to do with God’s purposes being worked out through disciples proclaiming the good news. Like others, he suffered hardship, disease, and an ignoble death, and it was good. Putting Paul’s intention into contemporary English, he might have said: “God’s purposes are being worked out through those who love God and do the work God has given them to do.” In like manner, I imagine Jesus saying something like: “You have no idea how powerful prayer can be when it’s in communion with God’s purposes, and don’t worry so much about getting it right, just a little bit of faith is adequate.”

Understanding it that way removes the magic, and opens the way for intentional participation with God for God’s purposes. It creates opportunity to experience the breathtaking power of prayer in the lives of those who pray, and in the lives of those for whom prayers are said.

July 4th Will Be Different This Year: Perhaps For The Better

July 4th is going to be different this year. COVID-19 has canceled the city’s community wide celebration in Pioneer Park and its Main Street parade – real life versions of a Norman Rockwell painting in this picturesque small city. The park would have been filled with bands, dance groups representing anglo and hispanic heritage, scores of food and craft vendors circling the bandstand, displays for every political party, interest group and government agency. The Main Street parade would have been everything expected of a small city parade. Neighborhood parades would have featured trikes and bikes decorated in red, white and blue. Dusk would have brought the fireworks, official and unofficial, legal and illegal. We’ll still have the fireworks, at least the illegal ones.

July 4th has celebrated the best of America’s past, both the real and the mythological. It’s been joyfully patriotic, proud of America’s history of equality for all, and the unalienable right to pursue life, liberty and happiness. It’s also been blithely unaware of realities that have prevented the full measure of rights and equality from being shared by all.

George Floyd’s murder changed all that. I don’t know why it was the catalyst when so many others had preceded it without the same effect. It may be due to nearly real time sharing of videos recording the entire incident. Eight minutes and forty-seven seconds is a long time to watch the life being squeezed out of a person by an officer sworn to protect and serve. Perhaps even that wouldn’t have been enough but for four years of Trump’s record of inciting racial violence, criminal acts, lying, ignorance, incompetency, and aggrandizement of executive authority approaching autocracy. He gave urgency to public remembrance of cruel injustices that have accompanied the American dream throughout its history; memories conveniently overlooked when it’s summer time and the living is easy.

This July 4th, the paper will feature the usual reprints of the Declaration of Independence. There will be some talk of the Constitution, explaining once more to an ill informed public that the two are not the same. A few writers will throw in references to speeches by Washington, Lincoln and Eisenhower. But this July 4th will also feature a stronger voice for black lives, demands that the story of America’s slave economy be made an important part of our history, recognition of women’s rights, awareness of genocidal suppression of Indigenous peoples, and more. They are not voices and stories well received by those who believe they betray the mythology of America’s melting pot exceptionalism. They inspire anxiety that something of importance is being taken away. What and from whom?

What is threatened to be taken away is comfortable satisfaction that the United States lives up to and into the fullness of equal rights and equal opportunity for all. To take that comfortable satisfaction away is somehow seen as disrespectful of sacrifices made to protect rights and opportunities. There is a sense that it takes away from those who have enjoyed the fullness of them, giving it to those who haven’t worked for it. It’s not the dreaded redistribution of wealth, but the more dreaded fear that redistribution of rights and privileges for some to get more, means others must get less. In a more subtle way, there’s a realization that it means surrendering power and status, something few of us want to do.

Is all of this a racial thing? Perhaps not exclusively, but for the most part yes it is, and it demands of white Americans that they recognize it as part of what is called systemic racism. It’s humiliating to admit that so much of what one has celebrated as true about America has been mythologized, and that reality paints a much different picture. No one likes being humiliated; no one likes being accused of misdeeds committed by previous generations; no one likes discovering they’ve believed in too many fairy tales. It’s understandable that there’s resistance.

The American ideals celebrated on July 4th are not less worthy for it. They remain ideals to guide us, and to be lived into. An American story more solidly grounded in reality provides a place from which real progress can be made. It’s a good thing. It makes room for resolution of caustic divisiveness, and creates opportunities for new ways that remove long lived barriers to equality for all to enjoy the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness as each is able.

Cherished American ideals celebrated on the July 4th are worthy of remembrance. They deserve celebration with renewed commitment to live into them. In the words of Lincoln’s second inaugural: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for ‘him’ who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

Why The Study of Old White Man European History Is Important For Today

Letters to the editor of the local paper continue to rage against a police officer’s tattoo that has an SS symbol embedded in it, something he got while serving in the Army as a Sniper Scout. It is an abominable symbol, and many letters have wondered where he was when the history surrounding it was taught. Therein lies a problem. It’s a history not taught in any depth, neither in high school, nor as a requirement in college. Twentieth century world history from an American perspective may touch on major events, the incidents that started and ended wars, on cultural touchstones such as prohibition, the Great Depression, and the early civil rights movements. What about the holocaust? Mentioned, to be sure, but not probed in depth. What most Americans of young to late middle age know about WWII has been learned from movies made for the drama of it, not the understanding of it.

Some adults, well after their formal education, may ask of how an entire nation could be seduced by the evils of Naziism, but they seldom answer it. Why? The sources of anti semitism that led to the holocaust are the same sources that led to a fascist police state of SS and Gestapo troops. It’s a story deeply rooted in European political history, it has undercurrents running through the Enlightenment, and it was most fully lived out in America’s slave economy. It helped educate Hitler, and contributed to the popularity of our own fascist movement, America First. That’s not something taught as a part in K-12 education. I’m not sure it could be. What about college? For the last decade or so, in depth study of European and American history has been devalued as the dated ramblings of old white men.

Traditional education has shortchanged Asian, African, black, indigenous, and women’s history. Making all a part of essential study is important, but diminishing the deeper study of European and American history avoids discovery of how we have come to this place.