Not long after celebrating Leif Erikson as the first European to “discover” America, the White House issued another proclamation marking the Columbus Day holiday with a dark message mixing effusive praise for the violent explorer with angry ranting about ideologues who are trying to destroy traditionally heroic historical narratives. The proclamation began on an odd note, praising Italian-Americans in stereotypical terms straight out of a 1950s Hollywood movie, writing of immigrants being inspired by Columbus to journey to the United States to bring to these shores their “rich Italian heritage,” “warmth and generosity,” and “love of family.” It was not Columbus that drove Italians to America, but the rampant poverty of southern Italy and the indifference of the Piedmont ruling class to the plight of the conquered peoples of the south they had recently added to the new Kingdom of Italy. But, sure, whatever. Then the proclamation got weird.
Sadly, in recent years, radical activists have sought to undermine Christopher Columbus’s legacy. These extremists seek to replace discussion of his vast contributions with talk of failings, his discoveries with atrocities, and his achievements with transgressions. Rather than learn from our history, this radical ideology and its adherents seek to revise it, deprive it of any splendor, and mark it as inherently sinister. They seek to squash any dissent from their orthodoxy. We must not give in to these tactics or consent to such a bleak view of our history. We must teach future generations about our storied heritage, starting with the protection of monuments to our intrepid heroes like Columbus.
What is there even to say? Rather than learn from history, Trump seeks to destroy it, deprive it of truth, and mark it as a tool of politics and propaganda. We must not give in to these tactics or consent to an incomplete, deceptive view of history. Very little in history is all good or all bad, and what benefited Europe had costs for Native Americans. Admitting as much is not bleak, but merely acknowledging reality.
The Trump proclamation then detoured into a lengthy list of grievances about statues and racial sensitivity training before delivering a 1950s lecture about pioneers and explorers who “settled a continent [and] tamed the wilderness.” Sure, it was totally empty. You know, after killing off or pushing out all the Native Americans. Trump ended by praising the “optimism” of Columbus, and there he got one thing right: There is nothing more like Trump than to blindly go sailing into the dark, ending up in the wrong place, acting like a cruel ass, and somehow lucking into success.
The proclamation came only hours after former America Unearthed host Scott F. Wolter gave a lengthy interview in which he, among other things, claimed that Panama has an ancient colony of blond-haired, blue-eyed Aryans who were still there in the 1920s.
Apparently, Wolter learned nothing. The famed “white” Indians of Darien, Panama, are not Caucasian at all. First reported in the 17th century, they became famous when eugenicists, American racists, and the Nazis declared them evidence of a lost Aryan race. The Association for the Advancement of Science even pressured Washington to demand Panama protect them as a special Aryan colony. But as science discovered, they were not Aryans but albinos, a special genetic case of incomplete albinism, as I discussed when Wolter first made the claim in 2013, in a review of his book that I know he read.
Wolter also endorsed a Victorian newspaper hoax about tens of thousands of dwarf human bodies being found in Tennessee, a claim so ridiculous even the Victorians laughed at it. Wolter believes the Smithsonian made all the bones disappear.
Trump and Wolter, completely opposed on every issue, nevertheless both manage to be upset about vast conspiracies seeking to destroy real history in favor of radical ideologies. Coming at the idea from opposite angles, and celebrating opposite historical narratives, they both somehow end up centering their imagined history on the glory of white guys. Go figure.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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