Taking History Whole (feathers and all)

John Fea, who has (near as I can tell) coined the phrase “Court evangelical” to designate President Trump’s born-again defenders, thinks astute an observation that defenders of Confederate monuments “in Trump’s America” have a flawed understanding of the past.

It is a curious charge to make since if Fea is against “Court evangelicals,” historically speaking that makes him a “Country evangelical,” the party of English politics that most closely foreshadowed the Tea Party (and I don’t think John wants to go there):

Public debt first became a political issue in late seventeenth century Britain, when policymakers started borrowing money on a massive scale to fund expensive trading wars with France. For the first time, owners of capital became major players in the economy and in government. To help pay the debt back reliably, Parliament created a national bank and extended the tax system, which in turn created a class of bureaucrat administrators. This was a major shift for a society where political power had rested with prosperous merchants, farmers, and artisans, and where tax collection had been managed from the provinces by the landed nobility. These groups’ response was, predictably, inflamed. Rallied by the polemicist Henry St John, the first Viscount Bolingbroke, they became vociferous critics of the new arrangements, identifying themselves as the “Country Party,” in opposition to what they called the “Court Party” of London financiers and politicians, which seemed corrupt, unrepresentative, and in thrall to financial interests. The Country Party identified itself as nonpartisan, separate from the formal political organizations of the Tories and the Whigs, but tended to support the more conservative Tories.

The quotation he seems to affirm is this one:

As with much else in Trump’s version of America, the protesters who lined up to defend the monument wish to maintain an à-la-carte relationship with history. They have cloaked their defense of the monuments by presenting it as a recognition of the valor of the men who fought for the Confederate cause.

The thing is, this failure to do justice to history cuts so many ways, not only as in the case of the Court vs. Country parties of English politics, but also with those critics of Trump who might want to tar and feather him for threatening the liberal international order over which the United States has ruled for the last 65 years. Andrew Bacevich shows how history is as much Trump’s friend as his enemy:

In Foreign Policy, Colin Kahl and Hal Brands embellish the point: Trump’s strategic vision “diverges significantly from—and intentionally subverts— the bipartisan consensus underpinning U.S. foreign policy since World War II.” Failing to “subscribe to the long-held belief that ‘American exceptionalism’ and U.S. leadership are intertwined,” Trump is hostile to the “open, rule-based international economy” that his predecessors nurtured and sustained….

You get the drift. Liberalism, along with norms, rules, openness, and internationalism: these ostensibly define the postwar and post-Cold War tradition of American statecraft. Allow Trump to scrap that tradition and you can say farewell to what Stewart Patrick refers to as “the global
community under the rule of law” that the United States has upheld for decades. But what does this heartwarming perspective exclude? We can answer that question with a single word: history.

Or, somewhat more expansively, among the items failing to qualify for mention in the liberal-internationalist, rules-based version of past U.S. policy are the following: meddling in foreign elections; coups and assassination plots in Iran, Guatemala, the Congo, Cuba, South Vietnam, Chile, Nicaragua, and elsewhere; indiscriminate aerial bombing campaigns in North Korea and throughout Southeast Asia; a nuclear arms race bringing the world to the brink of Armageddon; support for corrupt, authoritarian regimes in Iran, Turkey, Greece, South Korea, South Vietnam, the Philippines,
Brazil, Egypt, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and elsewhere—many of them abandoned when deemed inconvenient; the shielding of illegal activities through the use of the Security Council veto; unlawful wars launched under false pretenses; “extraordinary rendition,” torture, and the indefinite imprisonment of persons without any semblance of due process. (The “Global Order” Myth, American Conservative, May/June 2017)

Odd the way that history comes back to bite and turns people from anti-establishmentarians into boosters of obscenely yuuuugggeee institutions that have little accountability to “the people.” The Trump Effect does not get old.