On Recent History
The American story is one that has existed for centuries, of persecuted people fleeing a tyrant empire, only to settle in a new land. Built off the backs of their labor and work ethic, these settlers raised a series of connected colonies, then cities, and finally states. They fought against the tyrant empire for their independence and then set out to conquer and discover the rest of their new land, forming it into the country we know and love today. They fought countless battles across the world, and even in their own country to maintain it, made mistakes and learned from it, and have constantly grown into a storied empire of its own.
Except it’s all bullshit. That story, the myth of America and exceptionalism, was carefully crafted over 200 some years. History conveniently and purposefully forgotten, terrible acts marked as mistakes and learning opportunities. This history eschews countless genocides and pograms against minority groups, as well as channels the systems of white supremacy that this country was built on into essential government foundations. (For more on this carefully curated myth, please check out American Rule by Jared Yates Sexton.) This myth tells us that our country is chosen by God. That we can’t fail. And if we do fail, it’s not our fault, but it is the fault of outside forces, be it enemy country, neoliberals that are secretly communists, socialists or anarchists, or even Satan himself.
The problem with this line of thinking is that we begin to believe we can do no wrong, and we begin to live in a false reality. This is the world that Donald Trump and his group lives in. The world of Fox News and OANN, the world that says that Black Lives Matter and large anti-fascist protests are secretly terrorist cabals, seeking to destroy America. This is the world where we see BIPOC folks killed by police and assume they must have had it coming, that they wouldn’t have been in that situation unless it was criminal, and that by saying Black Lives Matter, it means that white people are in danger of being rounded up and killed. Let me be blatently clear, this is all false. This is all cult-like behavior, sycophantic and virulent conspiracy.
Our largest issue that we face as a patriotic hive mind is an idea that we cannot fail. Let me be clear, we absolutely can fail as a nation. Our country is 244 years old this year. That seems like a long time. Now, I must give credit to @absurdistwords on Twitter for pointing out this line of thought I am about to explore. @Absurdistwords writes that in thinking of recent and “ancient history, it’s important to note that two overlying lifespans can range anywhere from 140 to 200 years, give or take. What this means is that two hundred years is how far a first-hand experience can exist passed from just one single person to another. 200 years ago, for practical purposes, should be considered recent history. Doing this would help us understand our society better.” It’s extremely important to understand that we, as a society, have not changed much from 200 years ago until now. Right now, we are two generations removed from slavery. Slavery ended 140 years ago. There are people alive who are the great-grandchildren of slaves. There are people alive that are the grandchildren of slaves. There are people alive who are the great-grandchildren and grandchildren of someone who fought in the civil war. 244 years ago was not that long ago.
What does this mean? Well, first, it means that we are a young nation. Secondly, it means that we can absolutely fail as a young nation. Furthermore, our nation has just started living up to the promises that were written in its Constitution. The concept of legal equality is just beginnging to become a reality. That means, as far as the entire citizenry is concerned, we are an even younger nation than that. We held race and gender requirements for participation in democracy until 1964 and 1920 respectively. So for the sake of discussion, let’s say it was 1964 when America started to become a meaningful, true democracy, even though bias on race/gender/orientation still very much exists. This experiment is 244 years in the making, but has only really maintained the equal participation for all experiment for 56 years. It is young. It is full to the brim with flaws, legally, societally, and monetarily.
I wrote previously on Arthur Toynbee’s theory of decay. Essentially, a society develops such expertise in solving problems, they become incapable of solving a new problem due to the overdeveloping of structures that had previously worked. Instead of a new solution for a problem, they try to make the old ones work until it breaks. Be it our issues with COVID-19, with racial, sexual, and gender equality, whatever, we keep trying to solve these problems through legislative reforms, which we know do not work. We try to solve economic crises by dropping money into a stock market that causes the instability to begin with. We are on the verge of a societal collapse, according to the theory of decay. All the markers are there. We are young, stupid, and prideful, which is the worst combination we could be. We see our country as invincible, taking it for granted that it will prevail. Nothing is certain. Time is the great equalizer.
So this week, as we witness the failings of an electoral college designed to strengthen the voting power of slave states, a President that believes himself to be above and outside the purview of the legal process, and a massive group of people who believe that a fraudulent real estate developer is the key to winning a spiritual battle for the Earth, remember that we are young. Remember that we are not guaranteed. Remember that we are on the verge of a free-fall drop into the annals of history.
Remember that we have existed in recent history as a country, and that the only way to survive this test is to creatively rethink every inch of this country’s government. Remember that no matter what, the citizens of this country hold the power, and we alone can choose what to do with it.