Is anyone really surprised by New York governor Andrew Cuomo saying, “We’re not going to make America great again. It was never that great.” The Left has been saying that, if not quite so bluntly, for decades. The only difference is that many more Americans now hold that view, including a disconcerting number of putative “conservatives.”
Dani Lever, a spokeswoman for Governor Cuomo, added that President Donald Trump’s Bull Moose patriotism “ignores the pain so many endured and that we suffered from slavery, discrimination, segregation, sexism and marginalized women’s contributions.”
Yes, we’ve heard that before too, but the crescendo of hysteria is reaching fever pitch. The Left now asserts that Robert E. Lee’s soldiers in gray were proto-Nazis; that Ulysses S. Grant’s soldiers in blue were genocidal Indian-killers; that America’s women still struggle against a colonial, patriarchal legacy of plantation owners in powdered wigs who kept their wives in comfortable confinement and their slaves as exploitable chattel; and that President Trump, far from being “a very stable genius,” which should be pretty obvious to everyone by now, is actually a moronic, unstable, but very clever agent of Vladimir Putin who quotes Mussolini in his sleep.
When it comes to American history (and sometimes Trump) how often have we seen putative “conservatives” falling over themselves to agree with the Left: furling Confederate flags and toppling Confederate statues as embarrassments; conceding that, yes, men like George Armstrong Custer were arrogant, bigoted, idiots from whose sins we should repent; and accepting a redefinition, never before known in human history, not just of marriage but of what it means to be a (now indefinable) man or a woman.
Such “conservatives” wish to conserve nothing save, maybe, capitalism.
But if you surrender your history, you surrender the future, and there is no reason why a nation founded in oppression, as the Left would have us believe America was, should survive, no reason why America’s constitution or its economic system should be respected, no reason why America should not be remade into something else through socialism.
In the 1970s, after the first eruption of the New Left’s historical revisionism and its cultural revolution, America’s retreat from Vietnam, and the malaise of stagflation, a narrative of inevitable American decline set in, accepted by the Left and mourned by the right. Writing in the 1970s, Robert Nisbet reflected that “it would be difficult to find a single decade in the history of Western culture when as much calculated onslaught against culture and convention passed into print, into music, into art, and onto the American screen” as during the decade of the 1960s.
The irony, speaking as one who grew up in the 1960s, is that those days seem like a wholesome paradise of Bonanza and Leave It to Beaver and the good-humored ribbing of celebrities by Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show compared to the hate-spewing, reeducation-camp propaganda of today’s entertainment-media complex that would have us believe that The Dukes of Hazard emerged from the pages of Der Stürmer, that The Honeymooners assisted in enforcing sexist, hetero-normative oppression, and that westerns featuring hardworking cowpokes like The Virginian “privileged” the stories of white, male rugged individualists against the need for an all-encompassing welfare state.
We are, obviously, in a much worse place today. The “silent majority” that saved us with the election of Ronald Reagan is now a minority, and Ronald Reagan’s restorative optimism seems out of place. Donald Trump’s belligerent reassertion of American nationalism against the commissars of political correctness who dominate nearly every institution in our society seems not only necessary but as heroic as Horatius at the Bridge.
As Churchill once called on his fellow Britons to fight the Nazi enemy “on the seas and oceans…in the air…on the landing grounds…in the fields and in the streets” so too do we need to fight for America’s heritage, its history, its heroic past in print, on the air, and on the screen—and this we have lamentably failed to do.
Immigrants who come to America today have no mystic chords of memory to bind them to our common culture. If we do not weave these imaginative chords, their view of America will be ideological—and dictated by the Left. If we do not weave them for young people, they will be severed from the past and willing to believe Leftist lies.
Our efforts don’t need to be—in fact, they should not be—po-faced. We need to recapture an unaffected, affectionate, generous understanding of our past—the sort of patriotism that used to be our common inheritance and the image we projected to the world.
Cuomo tweeted that Trump’s making America great again “would not be great at all. We will not go back to discrimination, segregation, sexism, isolationism, racism or the KKK.” But that’s not how the French thought of us in World War I. It’s not how Winston Churchill thought of Franklin Roosevelt and the United States in World War II. It’s not how the suppressed people of Eastern Europe thought of us during the Cold War. But it’s what the Left would have us think about ourselves.
If they succeed, and they are already well on their way, our future will not be that of a shining city upon a hill, but of a gulag where we are led in endless incantations of the words of Governor Cuomo.
Historian and novelist H. W. Crocker III’s most recent book is Armstrong, a comic novel of George Armstrong Custer surviving the Battle of the Little Big Horn to become an anonymous, gun-slinging do-gooder in the West. It has just been published by Regnery Publishing.