Last week, President Trump addressed Naval Academy graduates and made a statement about our History and apologizing for America. About our History, he said: “They’ve forgotten that our ancestors trounced an empire, tamed a continent, and triumphed over the worst evils in history.”
“Our ancestors trounced an empire…” We didn’t gain our independence from the British Empire alone, nor did we do it in a vacuum. We did it with considerable assistance from other world powers, notably France and Spain. Furthermore, we did it within the context of a struggle between empires; Britain on one side and the Spanish and French on the other. In addition to fighting in the American Colonies, there was fighting in South America and Europe. If the British didn’t have to worry about the Spanish and French, and losing Gibraltar in particular, the American Revolution may not have been successful.
“…tamed a continent…” We didn’t so much as tame a continent as forcefully settle it and in some cases steal it. When the French, British, and Spanish began to colonize this continent, it wasn’t devoid of people; it was populated by Native Americans. Over the course of our Nation’s History, we treated Native Americans poorly and at time inhumanely. We forced them farther and farther west through the use of physical force and treaties, some of which were dishonest. The colonization of the east coast, the settling of the west, and Manifest Destiny weren’t always high points in our History.
“…triumphed over the worst evils in history.” Yes, we triumphed over evil, but we didn’t do that on our own and we also aligned ourselves with evil at times. World War II is an example. There is no doubt that Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan in World War II were evil, but we did not and could not have defeated them alone. We were latecomers to the war, with the British and Russians standing against Germany after the fall of France. In our History, the war for Western Europe dominates the story, but it was the Russians who bled Germany white on the Eastern Front. It’s also worth mentioning here that Stalin was just as evil as Hitler; both were responsible for the death of millions.
This is not to take away from our accomplishments or to say that our History is all negative. It’s not! We’ve done great things and hopefully we’ll continue to do great things. We just need to have a more realistic and pragmatic view of what we’ve done. We need to take a balanced look at our History, recognize what we did right, acknowledge our mistakes and wrongdoings, and let those lessons learned influence how we move forward.
He later stated “We are not going to apologize for America. We are going to stand up for America.” It’s important to recognize that America has done wrong and made mistakes. Just a few examples are our treatment of Native Americans, Slavery, the Internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, and the dictators/strongmen we chose to back during the Cold War. We should not only acknowledge when we’ve done wrong, we should own up to it and learn from it. The honorable thing to do is to apologize when we’ve done the wrong thing or made the wrong decision. We can’t expect others to do the same to us when we’re not willing to make amends. We must also accept that we’ve done wrong, take it to heart, and learn from it so that we don’t make the same mistake in the future. Apologizing for our wrongs and standing up for our country are not mutually exclusive.
Those statements summarize how President Trump and his supporters view our History and how they believe we should conduct ourselves in the world. Those are simplistic views which negatively impact our decision making as a country. We need to realize we needed help from others and recognize we will continue to need it in the future. We must realize that just as we have done great things, we have also done wrong. We must keep a balanced view of our History, maintaining pride in our accomplishments while acknowledging and learning from our wrongs and our mistakes. The Cambridge English Dictionary defines hubris as “an extreme and unreasonable feeling of pride and confidence in yourself.” That is exactly what President Trump’s view of our History is. Hubris is not a strength, it is a weakness. The hubris of Trump’s America could very well harmful to our future.