The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party's Revolution and the Battle over American History (The Public Square)
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Americans have always put the past to political ends. The Union laid claim to the Revolution--so did the Confederacy. Civil rights leaders said they were the true sons of liberty--so did Southern segregationists. This book tells the story of the centuries-long struggle over the meaning of the nation's founding, including the battle waged by the Tea Party, Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, and evangelical Christians to "take back America."
Jill Lepore, Harvard historian and New Yorker staff writer, offers a careful and concerned look at American history according to the far right, from the "rant heard round the world," which launched the Tea Party, to the Texas School Board's adoption of a social-studies curriculum that teaches that the United States was established as a Christian nation. Along the way, she provides rare insight into the eighteenth-century struggle for independence--a history of the Revolution, from the archives. Lepore traces the roots of the far right's reactionary history to the bicentennial in the 1970s, when no one could agree on what story a divided nation should tell about its unruly beginnings. Behind the Tea Party's Revolution, she argues, lies a nostalgic and even heartbreaking yearning for an imagined past--a time less troubled by ambiguity, strife, and uncertainty--a yearning for an America that never was.
The Whites of Their Eyes reveals that the far right has embraced a narrative about America's founding that is not only a fable but is also, finally, a variety of fundamentalism--anti-intellectual, antihistorical, and dangerously antipluralist.
In a new afterword, Lepore addresses both the recent shift in Tea Party rhetoric from the Revolution to the Constitution and the diminished role of scholars as political commentators over the last half century of public debate.
Beloved Daughter Polly Mecom.” In her grief, she despaired: The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away oh may I never be so Rebelious as to Refuse Acquesing & & saying from my hart Blessed be the Name of the Lord. And then she put down her pen. Those were the last words she ever wrote in her Book of Ages. God knows, there were more deaths, but she left them unchronicled.26 Bostonians set about boycotting British imports and spurning luxury of every sort just when Jane Mecom, who had also taken
you know, well,” she said. “All of them.”61 There was, though, something heartbreaking in all this. Behind the Tea Party’s Revolution lay nostalgia for an imagined time—the 1950s, maybe, or the 1940s—less riven by strife, less troubled by conflict, less riddled with ambiguity, less divided by race. In that nostalgia was the remembrance of childhood, a yearning for a common past, bulwark against a divided present, comfort against an uncertain future. “History is not a dry academic subject for
past that’s a foreign country. It’s the present. “These are the times that try men’s souls,” Thomas Paine wrote in December 1776, by the light of a campfire during Washington’s desperate retreat across New Jersey. Paine donated his share of the profits from Common Sense to buy supplies for the Continental army, in which he also served, but his chief contribution to the war was a series of essays known as the American Crisis. Making ready to cross the frozen Delaware River—at night, in a
Lincoln-Douglas Debates: The First Complete, Unexpurgated Text, ed. Harold Holzer (New York: HarperCollins, 1993), 54, 252. 46 James Ayres, “Busing Foes Take Their Protest to Replay of Boston Massacre,” Boston Globe, March 6, 1975; Lukas, Common Ground, 315–17. 47 “Text of President Ford’s Address in Old North Church,” and Nina McCain, “Historian Hits Buildup of Presidential Power,” Boston Globe, April 19, 1975. 48 Gary McMillan, “ ‘Peoples’ Rally Jams Concord,” and John B. Wood and Curtis
history.33 My point in telling three stories at once is not to ignore the passage of time but rather to dwell on it, to see what’s remembered and what’s forgotten, what’s kept and what’s lost. Standing on the Beaver watching sea-weedy waves slap the ship’s hull, I thought about how sailors on ocean-faring vessels once measured depth. They would drop a rope weighted with lead into the water and let it plummet till it reached bottom. I like to sink lines, too, to get to the bottom of things. This