History for Americans

Americans, as a people, are not super interested in history, the past is old, tired, boring, we love updates, the latest, new and improved.  Because we pay so little attention to events of the past, and history is often so superficially taught, we live through familiar echoes of it all the time that many are unaware ever happened in the human experience.  The current rise of angry, armed, violence-threatening contrarians who shout “NO, Hell NO!” in unison, no matter what the underlying question is (if the question is posed by a perceived enemy) is regularly repeated, worldwide, throughout history.   If you hate Jews, and a Jewish epidemiologist urges you to take precautions against a highly infectious and deadly disease, this mob has a ready answer, a regional variation on “fuck you, Jew. How about a noose for the good doctor?  What say ye, fellas?”  The same goes for anybody who contradicts the “populist” leader’s message.

We have these Hallmark greeting card style themed history months here, a sad American attempt to provide an inkling of historical perspective, a nod towards correcting historical injustices.  February is now Black History Month, and even though it has largely been preempted this year by the racist shenanigans of Trump’s base, as the legal hot water gets hotter for the daring old man in the yellow hair, we get some programming and mass media coverage of overlooked Black achievements in American history, as well as infamous stories of long ago racist atrocities we have somehow never been told.   There is Women’s History Month, a month devoted to the progress of a crucial half of the human species.  You can add Immigrants History Month, LGBTQ History Month, Workers’ History Month, Corporate History Month (these vampires are people too, just like you and me, ask John Roberts), Billionaires’ History Month, etc.   Every interest group and demographic can get a slice of a month for the promotion of their history (though some, including Women and Blacks, have more of a right to it than most, very important struggles, stories and lessons that everyone should know).   

But here’s my idea: History Month.   Every day during that month another celebrity (from across the political spectrum, such as it is here) would go on prime time TV (repeated on demand and forever on the internet) and deliver a short, snappy factual account of some illuminating aspect of American or world history.  Teachers would discuss it the next day in class. It would increase interest in history, and awareness of its lessons, if done right.  Why not?   

Though there are radically different “historical” views of events (January 6th — riot or peaceful protest) there are not radically different facts, there is documentary evidence on which a more or less reliable story can be based.  You have Putin’s old KGB Firehose of Falsehood, employed by Sloppy Steve Bannon and the regular and “alt” right, which deliberately overwhelms a society with wild, distracting lies and crazy conspiracies — the only antidote to that high pressure hose of diarrhea is clarity, one subject at a time, laid out clearly and calmly. 

I see the objections, we are too divided, extremists have seized control of history, everything is weaponized, the firehouse is too powerful, propaganda is too sophisticated, even when it seems incredibly stupid.  These are all reasons we need a history month, the restoration of the Fairness Doctrine (abolished by Reagan in his pursuit of Morning in America and Making America Great Again) and a renewed focus on public discourse.  Many in their silos will tune out this attempt to agree on the basic cause and effect of history, but many others will learn and begin to consider things they never thought about.  When people know the actual choices they face in a democracy, based on what happened the last time these ideas were tried, things tend to be more intelligently decided.    My two cents, as someone with an abiding interest in the past — and the future.

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