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Monday, 17 September 2018 08:02

Why History Matters in the "Land of the Free"

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History 0917wrp(Photo: Mark Colliton / Flickr)


My oldest daughter frequently asks me why history matters.

Among other things, I've been a serious academic student of history. I earned a Bachelor's and Master's in History. When my then-wife and I decided to have our first child, we also decided I would take an offer to return to practicing law in order to provide for us rather than hope I could finish a bogged-down dissertation to earn a PhD in US History and then hope I could land a professor's job that would pay.

My history studies are always closer to the surface of my thinking than my daily business of lawyering, where I deal mostly in real estate transactions. But at this moment we have a nexus where understanding history and law have converged in a national political moment which runs so much deeper than the mere decision about to be made by the Senate regarding the Supreme Court, and American voters, in November.

My answer to my daughter is two-fold. First, history matters because it informs us where we've been and how we as humans have moved forward in time in all its innumerably complex interactions. Secondly, and as I've aged, I think more importantly, history informs us of the experience of every other kind of person in every other kind of situation in ways that no one could possibly experience themselves in any other way. History at its best enriches our capacity for empathy. For simply caring enough about other people to recognize that, at a minimum -- a minimum -- that they were as true and real as ourselves now. And then by extension, so is everyone else. Now.

I've never been a fan of psychobabble or really of jargon of any sort. A big one for me has always been "validation." But upon reflection, when I've encountered that word, it's always been in situations when I thought the person seeking validation shouldn't give a damn what anyone else thought of them.

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Current events have opened my eyes, because what's happening now is so dangerous. My studies of history have shown me time and again the consequences of one segment of people deciding to invalidate the humanity of another segment of people. My study of history has shown me how "normal" such invalidation, such dehumanizing has been a central part of the very existence of the United States, this "Land of the Free." Through our history until only the current generation, as an absolute matter of law, you were a "less-than" person if you were Black, Brown, a woman, gay, poor, old, infirm, indigenous, etc. Even my use of etc. is reflective of that ongoing list of "lesser-than" legal categories established under law in this "Land of the Free."

Among other things, when Progressives in politics are talking about expanding freedoms, or even simply recognizing the principle of freedom for all, they are talking about assuring that the most basic right of being a full human under law become a starting point. A starting point such that if anyone should violate another's basic humanity, they could be penalized for in turn violating the deepest idea in a nation that considers itself the "Land of the Free."

Between the current debate over a lifetime Supreme Court nomination and an election to follow mere weeks away, we are truly on the verge of deciding about the legal invalidation of entire segments of our fellow citizens. The legal dehumanizing of them. We are on the precipice of an edge that will drop us back into a world where people are "less-than" by virtue of inherent characteristics that have absolutely nothing to do with their quality as fellow humans.

Whether a man with black skin sitting home quietly can have the police enter that home without warning or cause and kill him.

Whether a woman can do what she wants with her own body even after she's been brutally assaulted.

Whether two men or two women can remain married with the same rights that we legally attach to that union of love as any man and woman can without any hint of challenge.

Whether a person from elsewhere with brown skin can escape brutality and seek a safe haven in this "Land of the Free" to raise their children in a place that is only interested in how hard they will work to learn and improve themselves by virtue of their own strength of character; yet will still continue to lend a hand no matter how sick or old they become or how they may falter along the way.

Politics is no mere abstraction. It's not something that happens somewhere else to other people. There are no other people. In the US, there is only We the People. We have an obligation to the principles we claim to stand for to stand up for ourselves and for all with regard for nothing more than that someone else is as good as us simply by virtue of being alive on this Earth.

So I tell my daughter that when we study history, we can simply learn what happened in the past and leave it in the past. Or we can take the lessons of the past to better understand the experiences of real people, applying them to how we as free people can decide to be, individually and together, and recognize the most basic aspects of all among us as a shared fellow humanity. To treat them as we would expect to be treated by them: That simplest and most Golden of all rules.


Bryan Adeline is the father of two teen daughters, a lover, a musician, a practicing Florida real estate attorney, and is educated beyond the capacity to be of much use to anyone (a BA in History from Tulane, a JD from University of Miami, an MA in History from Florida Atlantic University, and since he never finished his dissertation, he doesn’t have a Ph.D. in US History from Florida State because he decided that Great Work was secondary to the much Greater Work of raising his children). He also digs long sentences. Under the truly awesome pseudonym Gravitar Profundus, bestowed upon him by fellow travelers, he owns the currently inactive blog The Mighty Liberal, and has appeared on Progressive Blend Radio and Trumpled Underfoot. A new podcast is in the planning stages for later this year. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.