After the British defeat at Yorktown (1781), their marching band played an old favorite, “The World Turned Upside Down,” signifying the loss of the American colonies, a “first” in British history. There are signs in the modern American culture indicating that history has come “full circle,” it’s now our time.
Backward is Forward
Having studied and taught history for over fifty years, I remain astonished, bewildered, and confused (“abc”) by the rush of events that have occurred over the past several years. President Trump has become the focus of this cultural clash, but no single man, even the President, can be fully responsible for the behavior of 330 million. Out front is seemingly the whole social “orchestra,” the media outlets, politicians, entertainers, pundits, not to mention the multiplicity of races, nationalities, religions, and locales that comprise the whole?
America, the “melting pot,” seems about to explode.
In 1858, Lincoln famously said that “a house divided against itself cannot stand,” and many compare our current “red-blue” divide similar to civil war. But the comparison doesn’t even matter. Any country totally preoccupied with intrinsic, self-identity issues, “me too,” “black lives,” “white supremacy,” “people of color,” racism, sexism, gender, diversity, inequality etc., etc. cannot possibly stay together long enough to even know what it is. When half the electorate is committed to removing the Chief Executive and the other half committed to keeping him, we can no longer even discuss the word “one.” Our numbers won’t even begin until at least we can overcome the first ten domestic divides.
As in the Civil War itself, the only existential threat to America’s future is within itself. Any expressions of national unity will be decades gone before the first Chinese soldier crosses the Rockies. In the meantime, we fool ourselves that English will keep the pretense, as historic symbols, patriotic fashions, place-names and even the language itself, including pronouns and designations, are completely erased from the national memory.
Any society that does not like what it was cannot defend what it is.
Such an “Orwellian” culture (after George Orwell, British novelist), of course, has roots far deeper than “The Donald.” The Trump “MAGA” movement has little in common with “Code Pink” or the “mainstream” media, any more than Thomas Jefferson has with Rachel Maddow.
Yet, the “movement” coincides with Donald Trump. Is this coincidental or deliberate? Searching for causations, one can reach as far back as Karl Marx himself, to “cultural Marxists” of the Frankfurt (Germany) school of “critical thought,” to protests against the Vietnam War or to the socialist/progressive shift in American educational “institutions.” It can also be identified with the “millennial” generation who has both time and ambition to reform humanity their way, no longer bothered with such incidentals as economic depression or war.
Should President Trump actually be removed, and can we expect a decline or increase in all this? An increase is more likely, particularly with the momentum that will undoubtedly fill the political vacuum. Any administration that advances the new agendas will, in effect, sanction them into law, as surely as Roosevelt’s New Deal has been inherited from the Great Depression.
Against such a social “tsunami,” one either rides the “wave” or resists. The phrase “resistance is futile” is often associated with the “Star Trek” series, but it has a long pedigree meaning that to combat is pointless, with the outcome irreversible. Ideologues, Nazis, and Communists, often applied the expression against any opposition to either the Gulag or the gas chamber.
Is America’s “culture war” over, with the country transfixed to a “new beginning” based upon the new ideologies, in league against a series of “isms” that are identified with the “old order”? The past, progressives insist, has been based on such “deplorable” human cultures as “racism,” “sexism,” and “white nationalism” (adjective required). Some have referred to this as the “Cold Civil War,” meaning that the stakes are no less existential, minus Grant and Lee (but especially Lincoln).
What is there left to hold onto against new and bold ideas that, seemingly, will lift humanity out of its centuries-old slumber? We have been down that road before.
“Workers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains” inspired world Communism, but nothing even remotely close has ever happened. There were many “Leninist” revolutions, not a single Marxist one.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” “similarly,” defined the Declaration of Independence, a proposition so idealistic in conception that it remains exactly opposite from “self-evident.” (Jefferson was referring to under God and Law.)
Despite the metaphysical property of each slogan, together they have inspired more human beings to do more both for and against each other than any other expressions in the history of life. In short, they symbolize mankind’s eternal quest for both equality and liberty, drives that have been at the core of human existence since time began.
In the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson’s next sentence is the clincher. Expressing these ideas in logical order, he wrote that there are “certain unalienable rights, among them, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Thus, for all mankind and for all time, the Declaration of Independence expresses life’s priorities in perfect harmony and sequence. First, life itself, the creation. Second, liberty, the indispensable virtue. Third, a “pursuit,” not a result. “Happiness” is undefined, appropriately, since accomplishment is individual and not determined.
The British band at Yorktown thought that the world went “upside down.” Britain went on to cover the globe with history’s greatest navy. They enlisted America in two world wars and won them both. At Gettysburg, 1863, the Confederates came within hours of going on to Washington and winning independence. The Great Depression eventually ended, and the U.S. had the greatest standard of living in history. After years of bitter war and protest, the U.S. evacuated South Vietnam to the Communists. A few years afterward, we formally recognized Vietnam and became the world’s “sole remaining superpower.”
During the German air “blitz,” including 76 consecutive days of intense bombing, Churchill told the people to “keep calm and carry on.”
Inspired by the wisdom of America’s founding document and by Churchill’s fortitude, Americans should know that things are never “upside down” forever. Sooner or later, we find this out.
The British marching band has since played to a “different tune.”