Commentary

Walt Amses: Republican zealots are twisting our history

This commentary is by Walt Amses, a writer and former educator who lives in Calais.

It’s not surprising a political party that has for decades made its bones encouraging constituents to fervently accept things that are simply not true would fight tooth and nail to defend their tenderly nurtured supporters from any contradictory ideas. 

So it’s not at all shocking that millions of Americans are now at a point that utter nonsense is embraced as factual and far-out “theories” rule the day. Although the Jersey Devil certainly helped blur the lines the past few years, the far right’s long, slow slide into misinformation plants conservatives firmly in 1984’s “Ministry of Truth.” 

Orwellian, in fact, doesn’t even come close to describing where the adherents of what was once the Republican Party’s philosophy find themselves in the early stages of the 21st century. We’ve always known that politicians of any stripe will try to bend the facts to their advantage or sometimes tell outright lies but — once challenged — would quickly claim they were misinterpreted, or clarify what they said, or completely walk back their remarks. Journalists might call them out as well, but it generally happened during a mutually respectful exchange and was often resolved amicably. 

In Red State America, such an interaction is pure fiction. The press has been anointed as the “enemy of the people” along with the Democratic Party, the LBGTQ community, women’s rights groups, gun control advocates, teachers, “socialists,” immigrants and on and on. Each of these enemies is furnished with a fictional backstory and enough hopefully lurid details to not only titillate, but also intoxicate the loyalists into a frenzy of delusion. 

We won’t attempt to address every category whose history has been either revised or eradicated from the record by overzealous, radical Republicans whose agenda requires a constituency so mired in ignorance that they’re willing to risk their lives for the cause without quite knowing what the cause is, or that their mindless adoration enlists them as foot soldiers in the GOP’s war against reality. 

We’ll skip the cannibalism and child murders committed by the Clintons; gloss over Barak Obama being the anti-Christ and the ninth-grade science curriculum dictated by satanists; avoid Democrats’ effort to impose Sharia Law on unsuspecting Americans; and certainly leave Joe Biden’s effort to impose socialism on the country unaddressed. 

Since Saturday is Juneteenth, let’s focus on a signal item in the far right’s arsenal of crazed historical revisions: the vehemence with which they doggedly defend their fictions regarding race in America. 

Although Juneteenth marks the Emancipation Proclamation, signed by Abraham Lincoln in 1863, it originated in Texas two years later when enslaved African Americans got word via Union soldiers arriving in Galveston that slavery had been abolished. Their immediate celebration began what has become an annual event across the country. Already a holiday in several states, the effort to declare Juneteenth a federal holiday has been complicated because, unfortunately, not everyone remembers slavery in the same way.

An inordinate number of Americans (not only in the South) have not only forgiven their slave-owning forebears but frequently downplayed slavery as not nearly as bad as liberals and African Americans make it sound. Conservatives have depicted the relationship between the enslaved and their “masters” as one of “mutual respect”; suggested the enslaved were “grateful” because their owners introduced them to Christianity; and done everything in their power to stifle teaching American history as it actually happened. 

Their latest targets have been the 1619 Project and critical race theory, each of which has been distorted beyond comprehension.

Months after Individual #1 campaigned on protecting “suburban housewives” from Cory Booker and teaching “patriotism” in schools rather than exploring systemic racism, which he equated with parents being shamed for their “whiteness,” the GOP is attempting to block any serious academic discussion of slavery or racism. 

Education Week, which grapples with controversial topics in the classroom, points out that critical race theory has been around for 40 years and “there are significant disagreements even among experts about its precise definition and how it should inform policy and practice. …  The core idea is that racism is a social construct, not merely a product of individual bias or prejudice, but embedded in legal systems and policies.” 

One example cited is when, in the 1930s, “officials literally drew lines around areas deemed poor financial risk, often explicitly due to the racial composition of the inhabitants. Banks subsequently refused to offer mortgages to Blacks in those areas.” Ironically, racial discrimination — redlining — began the Devious Previous’s real estate career when he was charged with violating the Fair Housing Act, eventually signing a consent decree with pages of stipulations to ensure desegregation at his properties. 

While it is difficult to deny institutional racism while simultaneously proposing voter suppression legislation directed largely at minorities, Republicans are doing precisely that. By denouncing the Pulitzer Prize-winning 1619 project, they are embarking on what the New Yorker termed “an effort to rescue Americans from an accurate account of their own history.”

When you consider the GOP’s prior attempts to undermine the teaching of evolution and its dismissal of science regarding climate change, it’s apparent that its quest is setting the historical record crooked, eventually yielding a nation of malleable dolts, far more susceptible to the party’s BS.

Earlier this week, even as the Senate finally voted (unanimously) to make Juneteenth a national holiday, Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott signed into law what one state representative described as an “idea to whitewash American history of any legacy of racism.” Aimed at removing discussions of racism or any current events that “may be contentious” from Texas curriculums, Abbott’s bill is a giant step toward eliminating any history from our history. Other states are expected to do the same.


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