My wife watched the Democratic town hall meeting last night — she’s becoming a fierce Sanders supporter. I mostly ignored it, so I missed this comment by Clinton, on Abraham Lincoln:
You know, he was willing to reconcile and forgive. And I don’t know what our country might have been like had he not been murdered, but I bet that it might have been a little less rancorous, a little more forgiving and tolerant, that might possibly have brought people back together more quickly.
But instead, you know, we had Reconstruction, we had the re-instigation of segregation and Jim Crow. We had people in the South feeling totally discouraged and defiant. So, I really do believe he could have very well put us on a different path.
Ta-Nehisi Coates noticed it, though. And I learned something: this version of American history has a name.
Sometimes going under the handle of “The Dunning School,” and other times going under the “Lost Cause” label, the basic idea is that Reconstruction was a mistake brought about by vengeful Northern radicals.
He goes on to explain what was offensive about Clinton’s casual remark.
Yet until relatively recently, this self-serving version of history was dominant. It is almost certainly the version fed to Hillary Clinton during her school years, and possibly even as a college student. Hillary Clinton is no longer a college student. And the fact that a presidential candidate would imply that Jim Crow and Reconstruction were equal, that the era of lynching and white supremacist violence would have been prevented had that same violence not killed Lincoln, and that the violence was simply the result of rancor, the absence of a forgiving spirit, and an understandably “discouraged” South is chilling.
I have spent the past two years somewhat concerned about the effects of national amnesia, largely because I believe that a problem can not be effectively treated without being effectively diagnosed. I don’t know how you diagnose the problem of racism in America without understanding the actual history. In the Democratic Party, there is, on the one hand, a candidate who seems comfortable doling out the kind of myths that undergirded racist violence. And on the other is a candidate who seems uncomfortable asking whether the history of racist violence, in and of itself, is worthy of confrontation.
That other candidate is Bernie Sanders. I don’t think Coates is thrilled with any of the choices in this next presidential election.