Opinions

History Is on the Ballot In Virginia


Alexandria, Va.

I’m seeing something I’ve never seen before in this liberal city: campaign yard signs for Republicans. Before this, all I’ve noticed were signs that sneer at conservatives and express solidarity with people my neighbors will never meet. But now the signs for Glenn Youngkin, the Republican nominee for governor, outnumber those for the Democrat,

Terry McAuliffe.

That’s not a prediction of who will win on Nov. 2, but much of this election has turned on Critical Race Theory, and the local signs suggest people are starting to get tired of it.

One irony is that the left’s assault on American history repeats a conservative, counterrevolutionary narrative about America’s founding propagated by a bunch of sore losers. It’s how I learned American history in Canada, before I moved to Virginia and became an American citizen.

Did the American Revolution originate in defending slavery? Not if it all began with a revolt in Lexington and Concord in 1775. But then the Revolution would likely have failed had Virginia not joined in, and its slave-owning planters had been angered by Lord Dunmore’s emancipation proclamation in the same year.

All this is true. But truth isn’t the only value. In 1882 the French author

Ernest Renan

defined a nation as a combination of remembrance of glorious events and amnesia about ignoble ones: “If the citizens of a nation have something in common, they have to have forgotten a good many things about their origins.”

That’s why the Canadian (or CRT) story about the American founding shouldn’t be permitted to crowd out a nationalist narrative about our country’s heroic beginnings: in the Second Continental Congress, the Declaration of Independence and in an army of patriots—which, against all odds, made a country of us.

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We’re permitted to take pride in how, by working out the logic of the Founders’ ideals, in time we corrected abuses that were ill-recognized in their day. Those ideals led to the 1848 Seneca Falls Declaration of women’s rights and the demand for racial equality that

Martin Luther King

presented in 1963.

Those ideals made America the country to which all others compared themselves. They copied our culture, even our self-hatred. If we have Black Lives Matter protests, so do the British. If we tear down our statues, so do the Canadians (although they have to satisfy themselves with toppling Prime Minister

John A. Macdonald

). But no one does it as well as us. We’re the best at everything, including anti-Americanism.

Older Americans can remember a literature of unashamed nationalism, stories like

Edward Everett Hale’s

1863 “The Man Without a Country.” Those stories taught us that America was a shining city on a hill, peopled by secret romantics. Our heroes weren’t kings or princes, but common folk—the knights-errant of the dusty trail and mean streets in search of their private grail. When surrounded by cynics they kept their integrity, like

John Wayne

in “Stagecoach” and

Humphrey Bogart

in “Casablanca.”

Such stories, and the Founders’ ideals, are what made Americans out of us. They drew us out of ourselves and fostered a sense of fraternity with our fellow citizens. They made us willing to defend others, to incur sacrifices, to feel distress when we saw them in need. Without fraternity, we’d care no more about other Americans than about needy Albanians.

We’ve had a whole year in which we’ve been told how nasty America is. The CRT message has gone mainstream, with a daily drumbeat about everything that might be discreditable about our country.

It hasn’t made anyone a better person. By any measure, including crime, suicides and loss of friendships, we’re worse off. We’ve been encouraged to revel in a sense of justified hatred that is corrosive of ordinary decent impulses. The alternative to nationalism isn’t a sense of identity with the whole world. It’s a retreat into selfishness and loneliness.

Truth is a prized value, but in telling your country’s history, the proper perspective isn’t the view from nowhere. And maybe voters will show that they remember this, when Virginia goes to the polls.

Mr. Buckley teaches at Scalia Law School. His most recent book is “Curiosity—and Its Twelve Rules for Life.”

Glenn Younkin is pressing Democrat Terry McAuliffe. Photo: AP

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