• Lucy Bell

The Double Legacy of American History

With his slogan ‘Make America Great Again!’ Trump has invited us to look back at our history. Is he asking us to celebrate — for instance — slavery and Jim Crow, or to deny that they ever existed? He certainly doesn’t seem interested in celebrating the enlightened principles of egalitarianism and liberty that our founding fathers, for all their flaws, so daringly enunciated; he certainly hasn’t embraced the system they so carefully devised of governmental checks and balances.

The fact is, that we, as Americans, have inherited a mixed tradition: a tradition of high-mindedness on the one hand, and greed on the other, of both tolerance and bigotry, of both generosity and cruelty.

Let’s take George Washington. We know that he was a wealthy slave-holder who pursued one of his fugitive slaves relentlessly. We also know that he wrote eloquently about freedom of religion and against the mistreatment of prisoners of war. Which George Washington should we celebrate? And what risks do we run if we fail to talk about either?

Meet John Dough suggests that we need to reconfirm our national commitment to egalitarianism and liberty — and we need to reconfirm it as a defining and essential part of our history. Only then can we effectively combat the cruelty and racism that has also been a part of our history from the very beginning. 

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