Has Jeremiah Wright won? President Obama’s minister and mentor nearly scuttled his protégé’s presidential campaign when he ticked off America’s sins against the Indians, the Japanese interred during World War II, the slaves, and modern day African Americans, then concluded: “God damn America.” After railing against the bombing of Hiroshima, and American foreign policy in general, Wright invoked Malcolm X’s famous phrase and explained 9/11 as America’s chickens coming home to roost.
Seven years later, the best-selling book in the country is Between the World and Me, in which Ta-Nehisi Coates, remembering that a slave market once stood in lower Manhattan, looks on at the dying police and firemen of 9/11 with cold-hearted hatred, hurling “Damn it all” at the wave of patriotism that followed the attacks.
As usual, the obsession of the Democrat-dominated press with Republican turmoil obscures the actual driver of our politics. Republicans are up in arms about what they rightly perceive as the slow-motion disappearance of the country they know and love. They argue more about how to stand up to this “fundamental transformation” than over the goal itself.
Democrats, on the other hand, have increasingly broken with their own political traditions. The party where anti-communists like Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale, and Eugene McCarthy booted leftists out of their ranks, forcing Henry Wallace into a third party run, now welcomes open socialist Bernie Sanders. Today Sanders polls ahead of Hillary Clinton for the first time in New Hampshire.
Meanwhile, today’s New York Times reports that four state Democratic parties have renamed their Jefferson-Jackson dinners, with five other states considering the change. All the motions have passed with ease. The Times stresses the tension between the Democrats’ economic and identity-based wings, but isn’t the real news the extremism of both sides? The Democrats’ are now choosing between open socialism, on the one hand, and Reverend Wright style politics, on the other. Wright himself is a proud socialist, so factional reconciliation is anything but impossible.
Meanwhile, under pressure from conservatives—and the very real threat of competition—the College Board has adopted largely superficial revisions to an AP U.S. history curriculum created by professors whose seek to replace American identity with a sense of global citizenship. Although the College Board’s addition of the words “American exceptionalism” to the new curriculum was an entirely hollow gesture, the mere mention of the phrase has sent the left into a panic. To top it off, the College Board’s new AP European history framework is an anti-capitalist tract that largely buries the disasters of socialism.
Although a serious alternative to the College Board’s biased history could make a real difference, decades of high school Howard Zinn and other leftist textbooks have already done their damage. America is constantly compared to an imaginary perfect future instead of to the world as it was when men like Thomas Jefferson lived. Those men were imperfect because they were the first, because they were changing the fundamental conditions of their own existence, and because what they did was a deadly personal risk, rather than a facile pose.
There is desperation in the Democrats’ race to out-radical the rest of us—and each other—a desperation born of the knowledge that we can no longer so easily be Thomas Jefferson, or even Martin Luther King Jr. Their greatness has made ours more difficult to achieve, so we take revenge through a pretend superiority. To vote for the first African-American, the first woman, the first (openly) socialist president is to “make history,” or so it seems. Make history? The history of what? America? But what is that? I don’t think the Democrats any longer know. Their energy now comes from dismembering the carcass of the past, rather than understanding or advancing it.