Trumping Columbus

Yesterday the White House issued a proclamation on Columbus Day, purportedly from the *president.

First of all, let’s be honest: The Thermonuclear Bowel Evacuation Currently Disgracing the Oval Office had virtually nothing to do with this proclamation.

  1. Columbus Day is not even on his radar, because it makes him no money.
  2. It’s full of vocabulary that is only taught after the third grade, which means there’s no way the Orange Screechweasel could have penned it. It was doubtless written by one of his sycophantic staff, and it wouldn’t surprise me if it had been penned by Stephen Miller, it’s so full of jingoistic, nationalist rhetoric.

One paragraph is especially egregious:

Sadly, in recent years, radical activists have sought to undermine Christopher Columbus’s legacy.  These extremists seek to replace discussion of his vast contributions with talk of failings, his discoveries with atrocities, and his achievements with transgressions.  Rather than learn from our history, this radical ideology and its adherents seek to revise it, deprive it of any splendor, and mark it as inherently sinister.  They seek to squash any dissent from their orthodoxy.  We must not give in to these tactics or consent to such a bleak view of our history.  We must teach future generations about our storied heritage, starting with the protection of monuments to our intrepid heroes like Columbus.

Instead of providing inspiring national leadership, 45’s *administration can never resist an opportunity to demonize his political opponents in particular and liberals in general. Fortunately, there are people like Justin P. Cowan, Associate Chair of the Department of Theatre Arts at Western Connecticut State University. He took the “red pen of rational thought” to this paragraph and crafted something far more reasonable.

The edited version is a much more satisfying read:

“Thankfully, in recent years, thoughtful citizens have sought to contextualize Christopher Columbus’s legacy. These mindful people seek to broaden discussion of his vast contributions by recognizing his failings, evaluating his discoveries alongside his atrocities, and acknowledging his achievements while not overlooking his transgressions. Rather than ignore our history, this centrist ideology and its adherents seek to engage with it, recognize its splendor, while not overlooking its sinister acts. They seek to cultivate a generation of thinkers and intellectuals. We must celebrate these tactics and consent to a more well-rounded, representative, and factual view of our history. We must teach future generations about our storied heritage, starting with the relocation of monuments to our problematic heroes like Columbus to museums where both their achievements and inherent flaws can be equally evaluated.”

I appreciated Dr. Cowan’s re-imagining of what a proclamation from a normal, human president might look like. It admits of Columbus’s significant contributions while at the same time refusing to whitewash the severe consequences of his journeys. Although Dr. Cowan is not a historian by profession, Dr. Heather Cox Richardson is, and in her “Letters from an American” she states,

For all of Trump’s attention to patriotic education, his proclamation is quite bad history. Aside from its whitewashing of the effects of Columbus’s voyage of “discovery,” the proclamation misrepresents the original point of Columbus Day, which had a lot more to do with putting down white supremacy than celebrating the “enduring significance” of Columbus in opening “a new chapter in world history.”

Her complete essay about the proclamation and other events of the day is definitely worth a read.

Don’t get the idea that I’m jumping on the “Hate Columbus” bandwagon with these thoughts. Half of my blood comes from Italy, and I respect and love that heritage. Columbus is part of the reason that I get to live under the Constitution of this nation, for which I am immensely grateful. But as Dr. Richardson went on to explain,

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt officially instituted Columbus Day in 1934, but the idea for the holiday rose in the 1920s, when the Knights of Columbus tried to undercut the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan by emphasizing the role minorities had played in America. In the early 1920s, the organization published three books in a “Knights of Columbus Racial Contributions” series, including The Gift of Black Folk, by W. E. B. Du Bois. They celebrated the contributions of immigrants, especially Catholic immigrants, to America with parades honoring Christopher Columbus. The Knights of Columbus were determined to reinforce the idea that America must not be a land of white Protestant supremacy.

As an aside, these are things I never knew; I certainly wasn’t taught these facts in school. History must of necessity take all factors into account if it is to be a valid basis for national introspection and growth. We can’t look just at the good, or just at the bad.

I’m grateful for the positive results of the voyages of Cristoforo Colombo, but I’m mindful of the atrocities that were perpetrated along the way. The best thing humanity can do to atone for the destruction of the Taino and Carib populations is to take a good hard look at the realities of the Spanish conquest of the Americas and vow to treat all people with equality, dignity, and respect in the future. As a race of people, we’ll never make it to the stars if we can’t stop rolling in the mud.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

3 responses to “Trumping Columbus

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