So, how does one begin to tackle the political and cultural implications of the recent announcement that Harriet Tubman may, at some point, appear on the $20 bill? Unfortunately, it seems that this particular issue has departed (if it ever resided in) the land of reason, and has landed, with great fanfare, behind the walls of an ever-growing fortress of political correctness and sanctioned victim-hood. Sorry, folks, someone has to say it, and it’s not going to be the media, or public schools. This is going to have to come from parents, and nowhere else. I, if you haven’t noticed, am one of those parents. 🙂
As I continue to read through the avalanche of responses in the mainstream media, I am deeply disappointed that nobody (whom I have found, anyway) seems to be talking about this issue as something to be discussed or evaluated any further. It is simply nothing less than a universal victory for mankind, and a righteous blow to a false narrative of American greatness. There are lots of references to slavery, slave-owning, reparations, persecution of American Indians (I reference the official name of our national museum, by the way) and “enhanced” stories about Tubman’s exploits, which were already gallant and righteous, by the way, without any embellishment. The NYT actually had to correct its original claim, that she personally guided “thousands” of fleeing slaves to freedom, to “hundreds”, which is still untrue. The real, non-legend figure is closer to 60-70. Still damn impressive.
From everything else I’ve read about her, I would certainly want her in a fight, as would many of my warrior brethren, I suspect. However, I noticed a near complete dearth of mention, in the “news”, that she traveled armed. Apparently, there are many images of her carrying weapons, and several folks have already floated the idea that she should appear on the bill with a weapon. What a great idea! Think it will happen? No chance in hell, of course. You’re talking about a bureaucracy that would just assume air-brush FDR’s cigarettes out of photographic history. Read a bit about the weapon angle at the below link.
In the “news”, I also noted references to the opinions of pivotal figures in U.S. history such as Ellen Degeneres and Katie Couric. I did not, however, see a single iota of significant information about Jackson, his accomplishments, his presidency, his life, or any opposing/diverse opinions about his move to the other side of the bill or, for that matter, why he landed on the bill in the first place. Certainly nobody mentioned that he ranked #66 in Time Magazine’s 2013 report “The 100 Most Significant Figures in History.” Right in front of Constantine the Great, and two above Socrates. Saint Peter beat him out by one, at #65. Meanwhile, every single person who now appears on U.S. paper currency also made the list. Lincoln, Washington, and Jefferson were in the top ten (5, 6, 10). Grant, Franklin, and Hamilton were 28, 35, and 45 respectively. Who topped the list? Jesus, Napoleon, Muhammad, Shakespeare. Keep in mind, this is the history of the WORLD. Harriet didn’t quite break the top 100. If you see any coverage about this, please send me the link.
According to U.S. media, Jackson is simply a guy who owned slaves, and killed a bunch of Indians. That’s all we need to know. He was a bad man (and, ultimately, the easiest target for activists to kick off paper money). Supporters seem to see this as a strike at the heart of the hateful, racist history of the U.S. that has been, for all-too-long, advanced by those wrong-headed, straight, white, male neanderthals who still have the gall to think that a bunch of “dead white guys” could, perhaps, have had a lot to do with creating the most prosperous, courageous, liberty-loving nation in the history of the human race. Of course, that’s preposterous!
Then again, if anyone thinks that this has anything remotely to do with a serious measure of U.S. history, he is sorely mistaken. If there were an exact opposite of that ideal, it would look a lot like what’s going on right now. Any person or organization who raises his head in this particular battle-space will, no doubt, quickly draw withering fire from race, gender, and culture warriors who have already calibrated their sites. That’s exactly what all those small-minded, hateful, sexist, racists deserve, right? Also, the fact that the announcement was made during the run-up to a presidential election is not lost on astute observers. The pressure, of course, has now been placed squarely on any future (read that Republican) “elected officials” who may want to tamper with the big plan (the $5 and $10, and all to follow). The Secretary of the Treasury has already opined that, “I don’t think somebody’s going to probably want to do that — to take the image of Harriet Tubman off of our money? To take the image of the suffragists off?” Well, none of it is actually ON any money yet, and it’s a long way from being there. Let’s see how long it takes (maybe it’s already happened) for someone to ask Ted Cruz to “commit to not changing the currency plan.” You mean the plan that doesn’t really exist yet, from an office that he doesn’t even hold? See how this works? If ever there were a good example of where Buckley may have chosen to stand athwart history, this may be a good spot. Among many, of course.
So, what will I be telling my kids about all this? Am I against putting a woman on U.S. paper currency? Nope. Do I think that Harriet Tubman was a great and courageous woman? Yup. Do I think that she deserves to be on U.S. currency? Nope. Well, at least not in front of about 10 others I can list off the top of my head. Do I think that Andrew Jackson should still be respected as a significant figure in U.S. and world history? Yup. Do I think that slavery is an unforgivable sin that deserves to permeate the rest of American history? Nope.
I will also be telling them that this is a bad process, hijacked by people who have no interest beyond the arena of identity politics and racial/gender/minority “justice”, whatever that means. Their vision expands only as far as their anger at the U.S. can allow them to see, to include all of their perceived injustices at her hands, and very little, if any, of her greatness. It’s a shame that they have to be so angry, while living in a nation-state that may very well represent, in and of itself, the very apex of human achievement in all of history. The fact that we exist as we do, as a society, is nothing short of miraculous, and they simply don’t want to hear it, never mind shut up and live it.
I will also teach them that, as educated, critical-thinking Americans, they should never feel like they cannot ask reasonable questions, or engage in genuine fact-driven dialog with (allegedly) level-headed people, about controversial things, without fear of retribution simply for making the attempt. If they are afraid to speak, then they should know that something is very wrong. When it comes to societal affairs, if you find yourself afraid to speak, then you absolutely need to be speaking (in other words, they are going to be the most politically incorrect kids in town). Thank goodness we home school. The public schools, I am certain, simply will not even attempt to teach children to value (or practice…or maybe even recognize) the great traditions of academic and intellectual debate that should always accompany “big ideas” like the ones proposed above. Never mind teaching the greatness of America. Never mind the tenets of physical and moral courage (like Tubman had!). Never mind self-reliance, independence, and mental toughness. Never mind speaking an unpopular truth to those who would not hear it. They’re going to have to get all of that at home, and through their extended families, and that’s just fine with me. Bring it!
Go love your kids!