Four-hundred years of history, warts and all.

I have hardly made a dent in the New York Times’ massive journalistic-historical 1619 Project, an undertaking that purports to change the way we discuss and understand slavery in America; but if anyone ever insists to you that words do not have power, simply refer them to conservative America’s reaction to the project. They are apoplectic. Hair is on fire.


Speaking of which, it should be noted that for once Donald Trump is out of the equation—the chances that he will read even one sentence of it are nil: the best we can hope for is that the person who purees it into pablum and spoonfeeds it to him doesn’t annoy him too much.


But it doesn’t matter: before he understands it, he will assail it—like most other conservatives. It’s not that they can find anything false in the research, it’s just that they don’t like it.


Grievance-mongering? By that approach we should stop “whining” about the holocaust—or does that not count because, unlike slavery, it’s not an American abomination?


The 1619 Project is not grievance-mongering: it’s the history of the modern Republican party, tracing its development from John C. Calhoun, through William F. Buckley, Ronald Reagan, Newt Gingrich, and now Trump. (The Tea Party was never about fiscal responsibility—it was an attempt by white America to take its country back from the black president.) In accepting that sequence we must also accept that the current president is not merely an aberrant one-off in the history of the country, but is instead the logical result of four centuries of ingrained racism, and a half century of Republican nullification.


In 1957, amid congressional debate over the first Civil Rights Act, William F. Buckley Jr. said that the central question regarding the Civil Rights Act was “whether the white community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas which it does not predominate numerically? The sobering answer is yes — the white community is so entitled because, for the time being, it is the advanced race.”


This belief was not the musings of a kid: he was 32 years-old at the time and had already founded the National Review.


Buckley would later walk back some of the rhetoric and denounce race-baiting, but the belief that the minority can veto—can nullify—democracy when it sees fit remains a cornerstone of the modern Republican party: gerrymandering, Merritt Garland, repealing Affordable Care Act, thwarting gun control—it all fits: the majority opinion doesn’t matter.


There's more, but as I said, I've hardly made a dent in it, though I know what the fuss is about. The 1619 Project lays bare the Republican collaboration in the advocacy of slavery and paints a picture of America—with all its parties and stripes—that most of us would prefer not to see, especially since the ugliness of the picture is becoming more prevalent.


But don't read it to enjoy some superiority over conservative Republicans, for although they deserve much of the blame for today's divided and obstructed America, the racist culture that propelled America "forward" through and beyond the Civil War cannot simply be attributed to one party. The broader question must remain how the founding fathers were able to profess a belief in Christian ideals while at the same time allowing for, and even providing for, the abuse of hundreds of thousands of human beings.


That's a question not so easily dismissed.

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