Progressive causes, by nature, eventually cannibalize their own. There is a constant rotation of dispossessed groups gaining numbers and political sway. Progressivism’s fickle nature means that it is impossible for a civilization to have any enduring symbols of national unity or heroes. The latest example is the one some of us are celebrating today.
Police are guarding a statue of Christopher Columbus around the clock in New York, and Indigenous Peoples’ Day has replaced Columbus Day in cities ranging from Portland, Maine, to Los Angeles, California. Not since Apollo Creed wanted to “get it on with one of his descendants” has the Italian explorer been so under attack.
The truth is, this threat of vandalism isn’t really about Columbus, who I’m sure was (like all of us) a deeply flawed individual. It is not a personal attack on Columbus so much as it is an attack on what his discovery of the New World wrought. The resulting colonialism and genocide led to the subjugation of natives, who (of course) were all perfect, peace-loving, and noble savages, in the tradition of Rousseau. It is also an attack on every other flourishing sin you could possibly attribute to this immigration (the patriarchy, greed, capitalism, white privilege, etc.).
So what explains this war on Columbus?
First, it’s pretty clear that increasing numbers of people in this nation simply don’t like Western Civilization or America’s history. A yawning chasm exists between those who believe that America, for all her mistakes (and name me any nation that hasn’t committed some horrible sins), has contributed more peace and prosperity (and science and medicine) to more people than any other nation on the planet on the one hand and those who see America as a net negative for humanity on the other. What would the world look like without the United States? Would we all be speaking German? Too many moderns are so obsessed with its faults that they never get around to giving this country credit.
For these people, the desire to take down the Columbus holiday is consistent with the stated desire to remove statues of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Some people simply don’t like this nation or its history. They believe that it is impossible to build a good society on a rotten foundation. So rather than attempting to reform this country and improve it, they want to tear it down—one dead white guy’s statue at a time.
Again, I’m not here to argue that Columbus was a great man, because, frankly, this isn’t even about him. This is a surrogate battle to take down yet another symbol of American identity. Many things that were almost universally accepted in the past are today viewed as backward and barbaric. This is because our values have evolved over time.
The trick, though, for those hoping to take down yesterday’s heroes is to retroactively impose today’s values on yesterday’s men—and judge them solely on their worst attributes, not their great accomplishments. This game ensures that we can have no honorable heroes. Most flesh and blood humans have made mistakes. Case in point: Martin Luther King, Jr. Serial philanderer. Should that negate his amazing contributions? I don’t think so.
Eventually, we all lose in this game. It’s entirely possible that a lot of things we view as normal today might look absurd in a generation or two. What if we’re wrong? I look forward to the day when nobody who is pro-choice—regardless of the other contributions they’ve made—can be celebrated because future Americans are stunned by their treatment of the unborn.
It is also ironic that the Columbus Day holiday (celebrated as Día de la Raza in Latin America) was originally seen as a victory for a minority group. Italian Catholics, who had been discriminated against, achieved their goal—despite the fact that there was a movement to celebrate Leif Erikson (instead of Columbus) as the first European to reach America.
That’s right. There was a time when the most progressive and liberal person who wanted to celebrate diversity would be an activist for (you guessed it) Columbus Day. Before the left sought to end Columbus Day for revisionist history purposes, white nativists fought against it for fear it would popularize Catholicism (see the Knights of Columbus) in the nation.
A civilization needs common heroes, history, and heritage. Some things should be sacred. But it’s hard to imagine a world where Americans can be united about anything if we can’t get agree on Christopher Columbus and George Washington. We live at a time when things are hyper-political and people are hypersensitive. Does everything have to be part of the culture war?