American self-criticism has moved to a dangerous self-hatred
By Bill Connor
Fourth of July is fast approaching and with it should come a time of reflection over America’s past and future. For the past three years, Americans have experienced a barrage of national criticism reaching to a dangerous level. Around three years ago, The 1619 Project was published, fostering an outrageously revisionist and distorted assertion: that the true foundation of America began with the first slaves arriving in Virginia in 1619, with the American Revolution as only a way to protect the institution of slavery. The project further asserts that the wealth of America was based primarily on the backs of slaves and therefore stolen. Those assertions and others were quickly debunked by leading historians, and yet The 1619 Project is currently being used in schools throughout the nation to further this misguided national self-loathing.
Then, after the tragic death of George Floyd two years ago, the pervasive rhetoric from all corners of academia and media voiced America’s alleged “systematic racism.” With those cries came increasing allegations of the evils of America with regards to race and sex, and that the evil continuing even after the civil rights movement. Unlike the civil rights movement, which demanded equality regardless of race, the new demands by activists like Dr. Ibram X. Kendi went much further: “The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination.” This increasing self-hatred is unjustified and will implode the nation if not stopped. Let me explain.
First, it is historically undisputable that the West, including America, brought world-changing advances in areas including science, technology, medicine, law and democratic governance. Before recent decades, students were taught about issues like slavery and colonialism in a self-critical and objective manner. Those criticisms were in a proper perspective to the historic record. Slavery, for example, was a worldwide phenomenon, which was far more pervasive in many other parts of the world than Europe and then America. The United Kingdom ended the slave trade at tremendous cost, and certain American states began ending slavery shortly after the Declaration of Independence (justified by the values of the Declaration). As C. Bradley Thomas made clear in his book America’s Revolutionary Mind, “All men are created equal” in the Declaration meant all races. We can and do self-criticize the fact of not living up to it but still recognize the importance and good.
Since at least 1970, the United States has been the number one country immigrants seek (from throughout the world). America holds the highest standards of living, economic opportunity, and political liberty. Famed author and British historian Paul Johnson, like many other foreign authors, noted America as being exceptional among nations for the right reasons in his A History of the American People. The vast majority of the top 20 universities in the world are located in the U.S. The U.S. developed the COVID vaccine first and has made the greatest strides in technology throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. Our Constitution is the oldest (San Marino’s constitution is older but not codified) and most successful in the world. We have been the beacon of free peoples, defeating fascism and then communism.
As someone who lived in Europe for a number of years, traveled and was deployed as active military to multiple countries for lengthy periods, I can offer the perspective of comparison. No other country I have visited has done more to integrate different races and ethnicities than America. Other nations know this, and it’s why we are the top nation for non-white immigration. No other country, with the possible exception of Germany (due to the Holocaust), has done more in terms of self-criticism from past wrongs than America. Unfortunately, the self-loathing of America also has almost no counterparts among other countries. I can’t think of a country I have visited in which people claim to be “systematically racist” and in need of transformation. Continental Western European and Middle Eastern countries I have visited have serious past issues, including slavery and harsh colonialism, but never engage in self-hatred. The president of France has recently warned that American style “wokeness” and self-loathing is a cancer he doesn’t want destroying French culture. The French recognize their colonial and slaveholding past but won’t self-destruct with self-hatred. Many other countries have made similar statements about the cancer of American wokeness, particularly in the non-Western world.
Most people recognize humans are imperfect. From a Christian perspective, people are born in sin and only saved by the grace of God while still fighting sin in mortality. America is made up of sinners and not perfect, just as no nation is perfect. Still, it is exceptional and fundamentally good. We continue to strive imperfectly and with appropriate self-criticism, but the current woke self-hatred will only lead to our demise. On this Independence Day, let’s get back to loving this “one nation under God,” warts and all, but a place we cannot lose.
Bill Connor is a 1990 Citadel graduate, 30-year Army infantry colonel (ret.) and combat veteran. He is a writer and attorney and lives in the Charleston area.