A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to be included in a group meeting with a former adviser to President Trump. At one point, this former adviser asked me what I thought conservatives needed to do to win over younger Americans. I replied that the most important step conservatives could take was to make sure that younger Americans were introduced to history.
The left, I said, has made sure that a sense of pervasive oppression is all most young Americans know about the past. The young would not necessarily view history the way we do, but in knowing it better, they would realize that present arrangements were not inevitable or even necessarily desirable. Above all they should know that history is political. George Orwell was right: “Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.”
In recent decades the left has used its growing cultural power to paint the darkest possible picture of the history of our country and our civilization. This became apparent as the protests, triggered by the horrific, filmed death of George Floyd, devolved first into riots and then into an incipient Maoist-style cultural revolution. In place after place, rioters targeted statues, monuments, and other commemorations of American and Western history. Statues of Christopher Columbus were toppled or vandalized in several cities, as were statues of Confederate leaders.
Most politicians were all too eager to see such statues go. Virginia’s Democratic governor pledged to remove the magnificent statue of Robert E. Lee on Monument Avenue in Richmond, Minnesota’s Democratic governor allowed a group of demonstrators to tear down a statue of Columbus at the State Capitol, and California’s Democratic governor ordered a statue of the intrepid explorer removed from the once-Golden State’s Capitol.
Although Confederate leaders and Columbus were perhaps the preferred targets of the vandals, no statue of any white was safe. Other defaced statues included a World War I doughboy, Polish national hero Tadeusz Kościuszko, Winston Churchill in London, Scottish King Robert the Bruce in Bannockburn, St. Junípero Serra in California, and assorted abolitionists, American presidents, and Union soldiers in cities across America.
There are of course non-whites in the mobs intent on defacing the statue of any “dead white male” within reach, but the most striking thing was that the majority of the anti-white vandals seemed to be white themselves. These self-hating products of America’s schools have come to believe that people who look like they do have caused all the world’s problems. They have no pride in their country, in their ancestors, or in themselves.
What these people seek is nothing less than the abolition of America. After all, the rioters insist that the alleged “systemic racism” of police departments requires their disbanding. How can they want any less for all other facets of Western civilization supposedly stained by the same racism?
Of course, what the rioters believe is nonsense. The West has been the world’s most creative and benevolent civilization by far. America not only made enormous contributions to that creativity, but also was the first nation to enable large numbers of ordinary people to achieve a decent standard of living. It was the first nation to think the welfare of average people—the middle class—was important. There are dark chapters in the history of America and the West, but these have counterparts in the history of every other people and civilization. By contrast, its far more numerous bright chapters simply have no equal.
This crisis may be a terminal one. When countries come to hate their past, they have no future. But the tools of recovery are readily at hand, if we have the wit and nerve to pick them up. We need to once again insist on the superiority of the West and the goodness of America.
We need to remind those who attack the European presence in the New World by tearing down statues of Columbus that this is the civilization that provided them with electricity and modern medicine. We need to challenge those so fixated on white racism to name any other place on the planet where those of African descent have fared better. This is the country whose people celebrated Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Joe Louis, and Jesse Owens even before its courts became deeply committed to racial equality. This is a people who made Barack Obama their president, Oprah Winfrey one of their richest women, and black athletes and entertainers too numerous to mention their most popular citizens.
We need to ask those who demonize whites to explain how they propose to live without their contributions in the future, given that the present would be unbearable without all the contributions made by whites in the past.
In short, we white Americans need to insist on the truth, stand up for ourselves, get off our knees, and stop apologizing.
Thomas Piatak is a contributing editor to Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He writes from Cleveland, Ohio.