As American as denial

America can't handle the truth

By | Phil Santos

Donald Trump was a champion of feminism and a hero of civil rights. It’s not hard to imagine that printed in history books 10 years from now. American society has woven plenty of lies into its mythology, so why wouldn’t they enshrine Donald? From complete falsifications to “unintended” misrepresentations, American history comes in many flavors and most of them are built upon an astounding foundation of denial.

Denial is a primitive and childish defense mechanism that eases things in the short term. But it doesn’t bode well over time, so a country in denial is in trouble if it plans on being around for long. Denial is as American as apple pie and genocide. Whether it be the past, present or future, America has a problem accepting what was, what is and what will be.

Recently, most of us celebrated Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is a perfect embodiment of the historic denial which plagues the American memory. You probably grew up thinking that the pilgrims sat down and had a jolly feast with the Wampanoag to celebrate their merry coexistence. This is a lie which denies the genocidal founding of America. Thanksgiving draws its roots from a feast which celebrates the massacre of hundreds of Pequots. If this is the first time you’ve heard that then behold – this is the power of American denial.

One could say that history has been accurately recognized because there have been several occasions when the government has apologized for historical events. But most of these apologies were insincere – one (addressed to Indigenous nations of the lower 48) was tucked into the 67th page of a congressional spending bill which was signed, but never spoken by former president Obama. The reluctance to apologize is just another symptom of denying what actually happened.

The problem with denying the past is that it makes it easier to deny the present. You can’t know where you are if you don’t know where you came from. If you turn to various news outlets, you’ll find debates about whether or not racism is systemic. There is no debate. The genocide against Indigenous nations in North America was justified by the Doctorine of Discovery which considered Indigenous Peoples as less than human. The “founding fathers” participated in this genocide and crafted the Constitution which all U.S. law is derived from. So law itself is contaminated by racist sentiments which were originally meant to privilege white settlers. This is the law that governs contemporary society – denial of history is the only way anyone can argue that structural racism doesn’t exist with us today.

America also has trouble recognizing what’s happening globally as well. Climate denialists reject the insurmountable evidence that the future is grim if climate change isn’t addressed. This is on a public and governmental level, which is astounding. To deny hard science in such a fashion delves into the realm of the psychologically impaired.

Denial in the fashion I’ve outlined is never a healthy thing. I think that the present chaos which plagues America is the result of two hundred years of it. Denying our genocidal history, denying rampant racism, denying climate change – they all add up to a world wrought with conflict where common ground is sparse. If we were to have reconciliation, we first need truth. But truth and denial are exclusive – the choice is clear.


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