“History will not be kind…” - “History will judge…” - “History will…” Stop.

What “history” will have to say about today’s Republican Party depends to a large degree on what happens here, now. “History” is not coming to the rescue of American democracy. That’s up to us.
I know why people keep saying this: “History will be our judge.” As a rhetorical device, it lends more weight to the message. And I understand the longing for some form of higher justice and the hope that “history” might be able to deliver it.
But that’s not how it works. What we refer to as “history” is a never-ending struggle, an always-raging debate on the past, informed, shaped, and fueled by ever-changing sensibilities and conflicts in the present.
A certain narrative about the past may gain the upper hand for a while, and certain people will hopefully get the criticism they deserve. But that’s not at all guaranteed. Don’t look to “history” to provide some form of eternal moral truth.
The “history” that emerges victorious might just be a version of the past that best serves the interests of those on power. Until very recently, “history” - at least as it was remembered by a broader public - judged Robert E. Lee as a noble man and a valiant defender of his home.
Oh yes, things have begun to change, and eventually many people - “history,” perhaps - have come to judge Lee differently, as a traitor who chose to betray his country in order to defend the right to enslave human beings.
But it took about 150 years for that to happen, and historical “justice,” if we want to call it that, didn’t come naturally - it was the result of a long and arduous struggle, the result of which was never preordained and might not last.
Whatever “history” will have to say about the present won’t be the result of some higher power making a moral judgement. There is always a chance that the “history” future generations will teach might differ significantly from the judgment we desire.
There is a version of the future in which “history” presents Ashli Babbitt as a martyr. If the ongoing authoritarian assault on American democracy succeeds, the insurrectionists of January 6 will absolutely become heroes and role models.
You think that sounds far-fetched? I don’t think it does. We live in a country that just celebrated “Columbus Day,” after all - a country in which white nationalists in position of political power demand we revere Columbus as an “American hero.”
So, no: Don’t count on history to “judge,” and certainly don’t wait for it to deliver justice. That’s on us, now. No one is coming to our rescue, certainly not “history.” Once democracy is gone, it’s gone. It is up to us to protect and preserve it. Right here, right now.

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More from @tzimmer_history

15 Oct
This week, @MaxBoot came out as a single-issue voter – his issue being the fate of democracy. That’s an important statement, because the key question in America today is whether or not enough people are as committed to preserving democracy as Republicans are to abolishing it. 1/
I think the position @MaxBoot lays out is the one that all small-d democrats should adopt – because we need to acknowledge that most people on the Right already are single-issue voters, their issue being the fate of “real” (read: white Christian patriarchal) America. 2/
Focusing on the fate of democracy above all else is, analytically, the right response to the authoritarian threat precisely because democracy is, of course, not really a “single issue,” but an overarching concern that transcends and permeates nearly all areas of public policy. 3/
Read 15 tweets
11 Oct
This is a good example of the pervasive myth of white innocence that has been so foundational throughout the West’s history: economic anxiety, anti-elite backlash, or just liberals being mean – whatever animates their extremism, white people cannot be blamed for their actions.
This is an article about the Far Right in Australia, but countless versions of this piece have been written about rightwing extremism in Germany, in the UK, and of course in the U.S., where this particular genre of apologist tale has been a staple throughout the nation’s history.
The dogma of white innocence holds that we have to go look for innocent explanations, explanations that portray white people as fundamentally decent, leave their innate goodness intact, and depict them as ultimately blameless for their actions and the very outcomes they pushed.
Read 5 tweets
11 Oct
Important thread by @perrybaconjr. Too many people accept the idea that #polarization is the root of all evil that plagues America - when what we should really be doing is to reflect on the limits and pitfalls of using polarization as the governing paradigm of our time.
I’m writing a book about how Americans have tried to make sense of political, social, and cultural divisions since the 1960s, and how the idea of #polarization has come to occupy such a prominent place in the nation’s imaginary, how it has shaped the broader political discourse.
One particularly problematic element of the #polarization discourse is that it often comes with a pronounced nostalgia for “consensus” - ignoring that in many ways, polarization is the price U.S. society has had to pay for real progress towards multiracial, pluralistic democracy.
Read 6 tweets
7 Oct
It simply cannot be stressed enough: This truly multiracial, pluralistic democracy that @drvolts is talking about? It has never been achieved anywhere – it would be a world-historic first. That’s what gives the current struggle in the U.S. its global significance.
There certainly have been - and there are - several stable liberal democracies. But either they have been culturally and ethnically homogeneous to begin with (like the Scandinavian societies); or there has always been a pretty clearly defined ruling group, or “herrenvolk.”
A truly multiracial, pluralistic democracy in which an individual’s status was not determined to a significant degree by race, gender, or religion? I don’t think that’s ever been achieved anywhere.
Read 7 tweets
7 Oct
Completely agree. The #fascism debate quickly reaches an impasse when the term is merely used as a slur, basically just indicating maximal condemnation. We shouldn’t reduce the question to “Is Trump / Trumpism / the American Right *bad enough* to be called fascist?”
The fact that something is really, really bad (read: authoritarian, racist, anti-democratic, etc) does not automatically make it “fascist,” and saying something is not fascist does not mean it’s not bad. It might be equally bad, or even worse – just different.
For instance, calling the Confederacy a “fascist regime” wouldn’t make much sense to me analytically, and I’d say that’s a-historical (legitimate debates over proto-fascism notwithstanding). But that’s certainly not because the Confederacy wasn’t “bad enough” - it absolutely was!
Read 7 tweets
6 Oct
I think this is basically right. At the very least, we need to acknowledge that historically, “lowering the temperature” has almost always meant putting the breaks on - or even reversing - social and racial progress in an attempt to appease reactionary demands and sensibilities.
In that way, “lowering the temperature” has almost always come at the expense of traditionally marginalized groups and their demands for equality and respect.
Conversely, times of accelerated racial and social progress - or, more precisely: phases that were widely perceived as such by the white majority - have always been characterized by heightened political conflict and “polarization.”
Read 6 tweets

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