“Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.” – George Orwell, 1984
This is where we are in the course of public debate – there is none. There is only rage. There is violence against personal property and invective for those who disagree. Take a can of spray paint to a building or a statue and pump a clenched fist in the air – while clicking a selfie. Draw an obscenity on a police car or paint a phallus on a storefront with an all inclusive obscenity. Dare the owners or officials to clean it up and come back again. When that is over, make demands to overrule convention by undemocratic means or more magic will appear in the streets.
Then we see the predictable reaction from people who should know better. They genuflect, literally, at the feet of those who take liberties with other people’s property and freedoms. As Thomas Jefferson once said, they are trying to “hold a wolf by the ears,” hoping it will all go away. But it won’t. We are now mired in a dance of tyranny and chaos and acting as if these actions have no consequences. The legitimate debate over race has been used by some to unilaterally highjack free speech and the rule of law. As the mob searches for evil doers, it’s gaze falls on easy targets.
The most recent victim of their outrage is Christopher Columbus. Cristoforo had quite a run until recently. Since the early party of the 20thcentury, he was glorified by those of Italian ancestry and others for his accomplishments – an explorer who risked everything and endured several trips across the ocean blue ushering in the dawn of the New World.
As Italians emigrated in large numbers during the turn and early part of the 20thCentury, fraternal organization cobbled small donations to erect statues, mostly along the east coast, to his memory. A small group of Irish businessmen and a Irish priest adopted his name in New Haven in the late 19thcentury to build one of the largest charitable organizations in the world – the Knights of Columbus. That priest – Father Michael J. McGivney, is slated for sainthood. But these facts are for those who live in the past.
Columbus has come full circle based on some historical revelations that showed him to be a slaveholder and aggressive conqueror. And one could probably apply that to most western explorers of that era. These facts have been used to put the finger on the historical scale to diminish Columbus other historic accomplishments. This is an appropriate as we have learned more about those who we were taught in school to revere. The difference are the methods now being used to weaponize history to score political points and to demonize those who don’t agree completely with the angry shouting.
There has been no public discussion, meeting or vote on whether Columbus was suitable for public display in the center of downtown New London. Instead, the leaders of New London bowed to lawlessness, to threats of further vandalism or triggered victims.
For several days and nights vandals repeatedly spray painted and defaced Columbus’ pedestal.
It seems no dialog is required in New London when your politics are in order and historical perspective is dismissed out of hand. All that has come before must be repudiated and washed clean from our memories.
And now this virus of moral superiority and wokeness is rearing its head everywhere.
Rather than denouncing these acts, there was the usual handwringing and apologizing from the political and media classes – for allowing the statue to be there in the first place. Once the mayor had the statue lifted away and place it in protective custody, did the mob cheer. And why not? They had won by using a can of spray paint.
Once New London showed the way, others followed in breathless succession because no one wants to be left behind and face their radical base and its litany of purity tests. New Haven, Middletown and Hartford, removed or plan to remove their Columbus edifices and each offered a patronizing explanation to those of Italian descent.
To summarize, Italians were lectured that they may have chosen Christopher Columbus with the best of intentions but new information compels the self-appointed cultural czars to act. You can all be hear them say: “find another Italian and get back to us. We will let you know if he or she measures up to our standards of decency.”
History is now seen through the moral equivalency of the present who deem it so.
The new generation of Thought Police will never be placated. Once they have a taste of blood in their mouths, they will look for other parts of our history to erase, to defile, to rewrite based on political expediency rather than historical perspective or scholarship much less an open discussion and vote. You can see where this is going.
In a June 16 Hartford Courant article, Matt Warshauer, a professor of history at Central Connecticut State University, captured the moment. “Do we want to write Columbus out of the history books in terms of the grit and determination and courage it took to decide to sail west.”
“This literally was the era of conquest. Unless we’re going to completely rewrite history, how do we not recognize that? How do you not look at it in the context it existed? That’s the key.”
We live in an era where there is no context, no sifting through facts and certainly no appreciation for those who made history by opening a new world to exploration, civilization and the long, slow march to freedom for all.
Orwell put it best in his masterpiece “1984”:
“Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book has been rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And that process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except the endless present in which the party is always right.”
Christopher Healy was Chairman of the Republican Party in Connecticut from 2007 to 2011.