What Rage Against the Machine and Donald Trump have in common
I did not vote for Donald Trump in the 2016 election, and as of today, I am undecided on who will win my vote in the 2020 election. Though it’s a heresy to say anything positive about the guy — at one point even saying his name seemed to draw disdain from those that heard you — we need to start normalizing adult conversations about the President. We also need to highlight the things he gets right that the general public doesn’t hear about. We’ll start with his Fourth of July speech at Mount Rushmore.
To preface, remember these lyrics from Rage Against the Machine’s song “Testify?”
“Who controls the past now, controls the future
Who controls the present now, controls the past
Who controls the past now, controls the future
Who controls the present now?”
One of the national debates right now is over our nation’s history, statues, and the naming of our monuments and landmarks (or, our presentation of history). There are different opinions about how fundamental slavery was to the founding of this country and to what degree it’s affects are still lingering. Both of these are topics I’d like to discuss and write about, but for today I’ll stick with our presentation of history.
There’s an important conversation as to what degree we should display Confederate era monuments and flags, and where they should be displayed — if at all. Recently, we’ve seen the removal of the flag and monuments. This includes flag removal from Nascar and the state of Mississippi. Today my focus isn’t on Confederate memorabilia, but that of the Union and its allies. What’s concerning is the defacing and toppling we’ve seen of monuments for champions of civil rights and Union leaders. This includes Frederick Douglas and Ulysses S. Grant.
As the Rage Against the Machine lyrics imply, controlling the past is a means to control the future. The lyrics are an observation that the narratives and stories we tell ourselves about our history will have repercussions on how we view ourselves in the future, the ways we behave, and the actions we choose to take.
For those reasons, the erasing of our positive history is especially alarming. It’s equally unnerving when it comes alongside a cancel culture that’s starting to find Robespierres among people who in the past would have been viewed as their allies, cancelling prominent liberals for diverting in the orthodox opinions of the cancelers. This is even the case when thinkers have reasoned, sound, and nuanced information about their arguments and ideas. The latest attempts at silencing happened to Stephen Pinker and J.K. Rowling.
Of course, what does all of this have to do with Donald Trump? On the 4th of July during his address at Mount Rushmore, he spoke of cancel culture and the erasure of important American landmarks.
Now, criticize him all you please — many criticisms I’d likely agree with — and give credit for this address to his speechwriters, but read the words and see if they have any resonance during our current climate.
“Our founders launched not only a revolution in government, but a revolution in the pursuit of justice, equality, liberty, and prosperity. No nation has done more to advance the human condition than the United States of America and no people have done more to promote human progress than the citizens of our great nation. It was all made possible by the courage of 56 patriots who gathered in Philadelphia 244 years ago and signed the Declaration of Independence. They enshrined a divine truth that changed the world forever when they said, “All men are created equal.” These immortal words set in motion the unstoppable march of freedom. Our founders boldly declared that we are all endowed with the same divine rights, given us by our Creator in Heaven, and that which God has given us, we will allow no one ever to take away ever.
1776 represented the culmination of thousands of years of Western civilization and the triumph of not only spirit, but of wisdom, philosophy, and reason. And yet, as we meet here tonight, there is a growing danger that threatens every blessing our ancestors fought so hard for, struggled, they bled to secure. Our nation is witnessing a merciless campaign to wipe out our history, defame our heroes, erase our values, and indoctrinate our children. Angry mobs are trying to tear down statues of our founders, deface our most sacred memorials, and unleash a wave of violent crime in our cities. Many of these people have no idea why they’re doing this, but some know what they are doing. They think the American people are weak and soft and submissive, but no, the American people are strong and proud and they will not allow our country and all of its values, history, and culture to be taken from them.
One of their political weapons is cancel culture, driving people from their jobs, shaming dissenters, and demanding total submission from anyone who disagrees. This is the very definition of totalitarianism, and it is completely alien to our culture and to our values and it has absolutely no place in the United States of America.
This attack on our liberty, our magnificent liberty must be stopped and it will be stopped very quickly. We will expose this dangerous movement, protect our nation’s children from this radical assault, and preserve our beloved American way of life. In our schools, our newsrooms, even our corporate boardrooms, there is a new far-left fascism that demands absolute allegiance. If you do not speak its language, perform its rituals, recite its mantras, and follow its commandments, then you will be censored, banished, blacklisted, persecuted, and punished. It’s not going to happen to us.
Make no mistake. This left-wing cultural revolution is designed to overthrow the American Revolution. In so doing they would destroy the very civilization that rescued billions from poverty, disease, violence, and hunger, and that lifted humanity to new heights of achievement, discovery, and progress. To make this possible, they are determined to tear down every statue, symbol, and memory of our national heritage.”
It should also be said why some of the Civil War landmarks exist. As historian and classicist Victor Davis Hanson notes about military bases in this National Review article, one of the causes was to promote healing.
“Yet, the bases were named not so much to glorify overt racists as for a variety of more mundane, insidious reasons in the late 19th and early 20th centuries — from concessions to local southerners where many of these bases were to be located, to obtain bipartisan congressional support for their funding, and to address the need in the decades-long and bitter aftermath of the Civil War to promote “healing” between the still hostile former opponents.”
We have to remember that many of our World War 1 and 2 soldiers were Civil War descendants that were still bitter about the loss of the Civil War. Many of these soldiers were not slave owners — because not all southerners owned slaves — but defenders of their land and property. They weren’t all pulled into the war because they supported the ideological fight of the day. As a country, after the war, we had to mend relationships with them and dissuade them from any future insurrections.
I by no means ask that anyone wakes up tomorrow and likes or supports Donald Trump, or that we don’t make sound decisions about what we do with Confederate memorabilia. All criticisms and solutions are fair game, and I’m an equal opportunity critic when it comes to history and politics. I only ask that we begin to have adult conversations about these very nuanced, contextual, and difficult topics.
I ask you to question whether or not the conversations we’re having about American history are accurate or fair to the preservation of the values that we do cherish. Like the Rage Against Machine lyrics remind us, those who control our history will control the direction of our future. If prominent liberals and conservatives are being silenced, and we’re removing history that aligns with our values in the name of this future, I can’t say that it’s a future I’d like to go to.
The only real way to solve our problems is if we can seek truth by being dispassionate and judicious. We have to be willing to question what we thought to be true, and acknowledge that there’s incentive for both sides to distort reality toward their political goals. It is an election year after all.