The United States is engaged in a debate — some say a battle — over the meaning and import of its history. D.C.’s recent foray into that standoff both illuminates its contours and demonstrates why so many Americans are up in arms.
D.C.’s clarifying contribution comes from a committee formed by Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), which this week recommended removing, renaming or contextualizing dozens of schools, parks, monuments and other facilities bearing the names of historical figures. The names spanned a huge range of famous figures from U.S. history, including Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and the inventor of the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell. The committee even addressed the Washington Monument and the statue to Christopher Columbus in front of Union Station, both of which are on federal territory and beyond the D.C. government’s jurisdiction.
This report shows how little many on the left think about U.S. history. It’s true that many of our nation’s most eminent Founders held racial prejudice. It’s also true that there was no country at that time free from prejudice and bigotry. By the context of its time, the United States was the most progressive country in the world, establishing freedom of religion and proclaiming an ideal of universal human rights when essentially every other nation was either a monarchy, tribal tyranny or theocracy. This is why most Americans are proud of their history, not ashamed of it.
Henry Olsen is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.