It was none other than “Silent” Cal Coolidge who broke his silence long enough to instruct us wisely that any act of truth-telling is an act of patriotism, because our system of government is based on a true understanding of human relationships. Therefore Americans should never fear to learn the true story of the founding of America. We just must make certain that it is the TRUE story.
“Searching self-criticism” is good thing, Cal submitted — among individuals and among nations — especially the American nation, given our worldwide influence.
There is a great deal of “searching self-criticism” going on now in the American nation, especially over the issue of race relations.
And the truth is that our Founders worked to organize a system of ordered liberty out of pretty raw material. For instance, they did not “found” or create slavery, thought it was everywhere being practices in the new nation (and, by the way, is still practiced today in obscure parts of the globe.) But it can truthfully be said, I believe, as did Abraham Lincoln, that the founders laid out a structure of “self-evident” truths that would ultimately make the practice of any kind of human bondage self-contradictory.
We mortals can, out of disordered self-interest, be slow to realize truths, no matter how “self-evident” , or to adapt them into our common lives. I personally believe this will become the story of our gradual future national consensus on the truth about abortion, growing out of the emerging scientific and medical knowledge of pre-natal life and recognition of the psychological and emotional impact of abortion on women — and men. And then this consensus will find its way into law as we uphold the principle of “liberty for all” — born and unborn.
Lincoln understood the meaning of “liberty to all” but even he, battling contemporary political and sectional realities, only gradually led the movement to legislate it into existence for Americans who were manifestly NOT free, i,e. African-born slaves whom we’d yet to regard as fully human, much less as fellow citizens. Writing after the 1860 election, Lincoln stated that “no oppressed people will fight and endure as our fathers did (during the American Revolution) without a promise of something better than a mere change of masters,” referring to how the Founders threw off their British masters in hope of a better life. Lincoln saw a united America as “the last best hope of earth.” And, I believe, it remains so.
It frightens me, therefore, to see our union and our common sense of hope in jeopardy, as, indeed, it is at this moment in our history.
Stephen Tootle, to name just one academic on one relatively obscure American campus ( The College of the Sequoias, a public two-year college in Visalia, California in the San Joaquin Valley) stated not long ago that his students “are mostly poor, and most of them have brown skin. But they are not stupid and they are not lazy. They have been told for most of their lives — by people claiming to help them — that the system is rigged, that the past is nothing but a record of oppression, that they should not want to participate in our sick society, that racism is the answer to racism, and that freedom exists only to crush the weak. Yet something inside them has always led them to believe that those ideas are wrong.”
Tootle wrote this exactly one year ago — in marginally better times — in a review of University of Oklahoma Professor Wilfred M. McClay’s newly published book called Land of Hope: An Invitation to the Great American Story. It sounds like a text book.
Any new account of the American founding comes, as I noted, at a time when our union is being severely tested by division, disease, disorder and new cries of racism.
From the sounds of it, McClay’s book could be an antidote to the late Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States, a revisionist Sixties-era version of American events widely celebrated by the left when it was published so long ago and embraced, sadly, by such contemporary great Americans — to name just one — as Bruce Springsteen (at least Bruce states his debt to Zinn at, for me, a dispiriting point in his otherwise mostly heartening memoir Born to Run. I like Bruce; I hate it that he, in singing of America, might believe Zinn’s take on our national history — that it is essentially a story of oppression of the have-nots by the haves.
I have not read McClay’s book but, from the reviews, gather that it does not paint a jingoistic, simplistic story of America as some might fear based on my description of it — that it is full of complex ideas that might shed new light — if you accept McClay’s version of events — on many of the story lines about our founding that we have accepted for generations as American gospel. I suppose such an unsettling of old assumptions is what those on the left celebrated about Zinn’s history. So be prepared to have your understanding adjusted once again by Professor McClay as we continue on the American journey of self-understanding.
For instance, McClay apparently does NOT assert that the free market or the stock-market crash of 1929 caused the Great Depression or that FDR and the New Deal brought about an economic recovery or that isolationist in the U.S. caused Hitler to come to power in Europe.
I will be very interested to read how McClay handles the whole story of slavery in the United States as we continue to strive to tell the truth to one another about the true nature of human relations. Remember what “Silent Cal” told us: to do so in an act of patriotism.