The Present Trumps History

I don’t think Trump’s working relationship with Putin in the 2016 election (and beyond) amounted to his literally being a Manchurian candidate, but there is at least one feature of his political and Presidential career that forcefully echoes that of Senator Iselin in the 1962 movie, namely, the way he casts accusations at his opponents that are (more) true of himself. In the movie it was Iselin calling other candidates communists. The one accusation by Trump that has become most salient for me (writing now the day before the 2020 election) is candidate-for-re-election Trump’s railing against the movement to pull down statues or otherwise modify memorials to famous figures in American history who were also slave-holders, from Columbus to Jefferson to Lee. He claims this is an erasure of our proud history and the very meaning of America. But to me it is his railing that is the true erasure of what it means to be an American. The present counts more than history.

            As shocking as it is may be to learn about the darker doings and beliefs of those American icons, none of that would obliterate the ideals expressed – however imperfectly and even ironically -- in our founding documents. And to me, being an American has always meant, not any ethnicity or religion or ancestry, but precisely the affirmation of those ideals. But affirm them is exactly what Trump fails to do when he rails against contemporary efforts to make them more of a reality. And it is also – this being the real shocker for me and millions of others like me in this regard, and not only other U.S. citizens but also people “yearning to breathe free” everywhere, in the U.S. and around the globe – what 40% of the American voting public fails to do by voting for him and a white, Christian America.

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