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A Tale of Two America's

“We cannot escape our history” a quote from none other than Abraham

Lincoln. Putting aside the oft overlooked fact that the Great Emancipator

didn’t actually believe in the equality of the races despite his freeing of the

slaves, Lincoln’s words on American history were accurate and prophetic. No

other advanced Western country finds itself with a sizeable minority of its

population that clings to the norms and ideals of the late eighteenth century,

such as the US does. While the majority of Americans yearn for progressive

change and view politics through the optic of the twenty-first century, millions

simply do not. If the US was on the psychiatrist’s couch, schizophrenia would

undoubtedly be the diagnosis.

American history feels stuck in an endless merry-go-round of the same

problems coming up time after time. Race is, unbelievably, still a huge,

unresolved issue in the US, despite a civil war, civil rights struggle and more.

Here’s the thing though. It’s not just Lincoln that had the cognitive dissonance

of freeing the slaves on the one hand and believing in racial inequality on the

other. That split American personality runs way deeper than that. The

Founding Fathers, iconic heroes of the right, forged a new Republic with racism

at its very heart. A subsequent bloody civil war led to not racial resolution, but

Jim Crow. American troops that fought in World War Two to defeat fascism,

were segregated by color. Franklin Roosevelt, held up by so many as a

champion of liberal progressivism, oversaw the internment of Japanese-

Americans during that same conflict. Against that historical backdrop, it makes

Democrat Governor Ralph Northam’s “blacking up” all that more jaw-

droppingly understandable.

It has taken over 150 years for Juneteenth to finally be recognized as a federal

holiday. Yet just over a year ago, Derek Chauvin executed George Floyd in the

streets of twenty-first century Minneapolis, in full view of the world. A country

that put boots on the moon still takes Constitutional inspiration from aged

white men of centuries ago who thought the musket to be the pinnacle of

modern weaponry. The rugged frontier individualism of the American

“freedom to” (own guns, push racist propaganda unchecked and generally

exploit any weakness that you can find) as opposed to the European social-

democratic ethos of “freedom from” (poverty, ignorance and sickness) has

never been more of a stark contrast than it is now.

Calls from more than half of the country for universal, single-payer healthcare

are drowned out in a cacophony of cries of “socialism” from an angry right-

wing minority, taking their schizophrenic cue from an abstract concept of

“freedom”. The same right-wing that absolutely venerate, near worship, the

forces of law and order and the military. Somehow, those massively publicly-

funded institutions, there for the benefit of all, are given a free pass from the

accusation of socialism. The US military is the world’s largest socialist

undertaking by expenditure (just under a trillion dollars a year). It’s publicly

funded and, for the benefit of all. If you can have socialized tanks, stealth

bombers and aircraft carriers, is it too much to ask the same for keeping your

fellow citizens in good health?

Still, the schizophrenia allows millions to bask in if not overt racism, certainly

white privilege. A yearning for an unspecified time when America was

supposedly “great” grants a pass for any number of absurdities and outrages –

think Trump, Boebert, Taylor-Greene and so on. Unsurprisingly, some of the

January 6 th insurrectionists vocalized their eighteenth-century historical

schizophrenia by chanting “1776” as they tried to trash democracy and

attacked Capitol police. The allure of the prejudiced past is burned into the

DNA of the American right-wing.

So, with this Jekyll and Hyde like country sitting on a perpetual

powder-keg of racial and socio-economic discord, what then for the future? Well, true

progressives need to keep up the fight against the forces of reactionary,

bigoted America – aka the poor relations of the Republic. The US was founded

on an ideal that it has spectacularly failed to uphold ever since. It is not what it

claims to be and never has been. However, we must keep hold of the belief

that one day it will become what it actually wants to be. Progressive hot-spots,

such as New York City and Portland, continue to keep the flame of genuine

social justice and progress alive. Its evil twin will never win.


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