Notwithstanding Hillary Clinton’s ultimate loss, the Democratic Convention was very successful. One of its most heartening and effective aspects was its embrace of the country, the flag, and our progress as a people. As envious Republican commentators noted, President Obama’s speech and the audience reaction had the optimism previously associated with Reagan.
Since the election, too many active in progressive politics denigrate American history and America more broadly. This has always been a trope of the extreme Left but it is in danger of becoming far more widespread. When one reads these posts, it sounds like America has never done right, never can do right, and never will do right.
Like many countries, America has deeply unpleasant aspects of its history. Europeans arrived not just fleeing persecution but also as part of a colonial enterprise that exterminated almost all Native Americans. Slavery was the original sin at the country’s founding and the maintenance of Jim Crow after its end continued it. One could also mention the Chinese exclusion acts and the internment of Japanese Americans.
But fear of the future as “American carnage” is Trump’s market. Democrats won’t win by hectoring the country on its sins. Few will vote for someone who comes across as thinking that the only proper way to observe Thanksgiving is a vegan apology dinner. Yes, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were slaveholders and (gasp) white men but they also played critical roles in crafting the country’s democratic institutions and the ideals that many have invoked so effectively to bend the arc of history.
No immigrant comes to America because they hate the country—they usually have reason to be grateful for the opportunities and freedom it offers—so the negative approach also has little appeal to the rising Latino and Asian American electorate.
We should acknowledge the past but the emphasis needs to be more squarely on our progress and celebrating the great wonder that is America. No need to celebrate historical figures whose essential contribution was primarily negative, like John Calhoun or George Wallace. We want to move to the future to continue our amazing progress, which allows us to acknowledge darker moments in our past but as part of a tapestry in which we continue to move forward hopefully and confidently by holding on to our best ideals.