I’ve been reading a little more conservative thought recently, to try to understand the mindset of those who would support Donald Trump. One of the things that seems to put the noses out of joint of those I’m reading is any admission that America is less than perfect.
An example of this thinking is this post on the Old Virginia Blog, whose author, Richard Williams, seems generally more balanced than other conservative I’ve read. Beginning with a quotation from Gordon S. Wood, he reads the focus of some modern historians on the dispossessed (women, Native Americans, African slaves) as the “incessant denouncing of America,” which he reads as leading people to thoughts like the Twitter hashtag #AmericaWasNeverGreat. (The Newsroom episode from which the hashtag derives must raise his blood pressure through the roof.)
I think, to realistically assess where we are with America in our 240th year, you need to look at history with clear eyes, which has to mean acknowledging the histories of those we’ve dispossessed, no matter how uncomfortable that makes us. This is after all the “Great American Experiment,” as De Tocqueville famously observed, and that means a willingness to observe undesirable outcomes and learn from them, not simply ignore them.
But I also think it’s a mistake to not acknowledge the great things the experiment has produced. I can be proud of my country while still acknowledging the many, many people for whom it hasn’t worked—because I think we can work to make it better.