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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 10/22/21

U.S. History: A Trail of Big Lies --- of Which the Last Two are Different

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"Either this nation shall kill racism, or racism shall kill this nation." (S. Jonas, August, 2018)

Jefferson Memorial from across the Tidal Basin. For the man who wrote the Declaration of Independence, but only for White People.
Jefferson Memorial from across the Tidal Basin. For the man who wrote the Declaration of Independence, but only for White People.
(Image by SchuminWeb)
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The history of the United States, and the English and Spanish colonies that preceded its formation, can be told from many perspectives. The one with which I am dealing in this column is that it can be seen as following a Trail of Big Lies. The most recent is the current Trumpist one about "The Stolen Election --- Trump is Really Still the President." Some see this one as a unique occurrence in Colonial/U.S. history. But except for one particular characteristic of a lie, with which we shall deal at the end of this column, it is not. In fact, what became and then continued on in history as the United States of America can indeed be seen in that fashion: a progression of Big Lies --- many related to each other --- which I shall attempt to illustrate in this column (which subject, as it happens, I have treated in a different context in the past).

At the beginning it is instructive to note that most of them are based on the concepts of race and racism, matters which indeed have dominated the history of this country and its forebears. The products of racism and what it will eventually do to this nation are encapsulated in the header that I have used for my columns since August, 2018: "Either this nation shall kill racism, or racism shall kill this nation."

The first Big Lie was that human beings who were captured in Africa and turned into slaves --- that is human beings who had no rights over or control of their own lives and livelihoods and were treated as property --- were, at first because of the color of their skin, artificially defined as inferior to their captors and then owners. That these people were in fact humans and different from their captors only on the basis of skin color led to the development of the artificial doctrine of "White Supremacy." It was used from the beginning to justify the ownership and control of one group of persons who were obviously human to any objective observer by another group. Otherwise, for certain of the early European-origin slave owners and traders such an arrangement would be prohibited by certain passages of the Christian bible (although not by others).

The first slave-traders in the Western Hemisphere were Portuguese who sold their captives as slaves in Brazil, in the 16th century. And early versions of the Doctrine of White Supremacy were developed there. Whether or not the English and Dutch slave traders of the 17th century knew of the Portuguese version, they developed their own, as slavery was expanded thought the European colonies all along the Eastern Seaboard of the "New World." The institution of slavery quickly became very important in the development of the economies in the New World along the Eastern Seaboard. The inconvenient fact for the slave-owners and the slave economy was of course that the African-origin slaves were as much human beings as they were, differing only in the amount of melanin they had in their skin. And so, the First Big Lie was developed, and in certain quarters of the U.S. population it persists down to this very day, in the societal institution commonly called "racism."

The next Big Lie on which the U.S. was built can be found in the words of the Declaration of Independence, written by a strong believer in liberty, but of course limited liberty, because he also obviously happened to believe in the Doctrine of White Supremacy. So, for Thomas Jefferson, and his colleagues who signed the Declaration, obviously its words did not apply to the slaves who were ubiquitous throughout the 13 British colonies. The well-known words with which that document begins are:

"When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

Obviously, their words and concepts did not apply to the human slaves that were held throughout the colonies and indeed personally by many of the signers of the Declaration. Which made the words highlighted above, the next Big Lie. That is, it was not thought that all men were created equal but only certain, "white" ones. (And of course the skin tone of the "whites" is hardly white, but more sort of a pale peach. Another Big Lie.)

The next Big Lie comes in the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States (you know, the one that is so full of meaning and so consistently ignored). For it says: We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America." BUT, only certain people are included in the term "people," and many others are actually owned as property by many of those who developed the Constitution. And then there are all of the provisions of the Constitution that are built on the same Big Lie. like, for example, the "3/5s of a person" rule, and the non-applicability of the Bill of Rights to "non-whites" that are very well-known, and we need not go into further detail here.

The next Big Lie concerns the U.S. conquest of the Mexican territories in the South and West as a result of the Mexican War, 1846-48. As was illustrated by a young (one-term) Congressman from Illinois named Abraham Lincoln in what he called the "Spot Resolutions" the war began not with an attack by Mexican troops on Texan/U.S. forces on Texan soil but rather with an attack by U.S. forces on Mexican troops on Mexican soil, advertised in the U.S. as the former. President Polk took the desired war --- desired in part to expand the reach of slavery --- off from there.

There were many Big Lies, based on racism, associated with the Civil War and occurrences that preceded it. One of course was the Big Lie of the Dred Scott decision, in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the person, Dred Scott, even though he was living in a free state, had been previously owned (that ownership of course based on the Doctrine of White Supremacy), and thus was actually not a person but property. As the first Vice-President of the Confederate States of America, Alexander Stephens, put it:

"Many governments have been founded upon the principle of the subordination and serfdom of certain classes of the same race. Such were, and are in violation of the laws of nature. Our system commits no such violation of nature's law. With us, all of the white race, however high or low, rich or poor, are equal in the eye of the law. Not so with the Negro. Subordination is his place. He, by nature, or by the curse against Cain, is fitted for that condition which he occupies in our system. Our new government is founded on the opposite idea of the equality of the races. Its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests upon the great truth, that the Negro is not equal to the White man; that slavery --- subordination to the superior race --- is his natural condition."

There it is again, the Big Lie of the Doctrine of White Supremacy, used as the authority and the power to wipe out everything else in the justification of a "new government." And in the Civil War that followed, as well as the Destruction of Reconstruction that followed it, the Doctrine was rampant.

The next Big Lie was the Doctrine of Manifest Destiny, used to justify the post-Civil War Drive to the West which led to the genocide of the Plains Indians, facilitated in part by the destruction of the food supply of many of the tribes, the plains bison. "Manifest Destiny," that actually dated back to Jefferson's Louisiana Purchase and the Monroe Doctrine, stated that there was "something special" about (white) U.S. that gave them the power and authority to wipe out everything in their way to taking over the whole of the North American Continent (south of Canada and north of what was left of Mexico after the conquest of 1846-48). Of course, this Doctrine, based in part on the Doctrine of White Supremacy, was made up out of whole cloth. Another Big Lie that was very significant in U.S. history.

And then there is the next Big Lie, used both as justification for the South's opposition in the Civil War and as the basis for the "Lost Cause" doctrine developed in the 1890s to "clean up" the history of the Old South, the Confederacy, and the Rebellion (and still used by pro-Confederacy forces down to this very day) that the Civil War was about "States' Rights," not about slavery.

Well, in a sense it was about "states' rights." At the time it was the principal argument used to enforce the claim that states themselves could maintain legal slavery as an institution without any interference from the Federal government. Further, a major objective of the Slave states before the Civil War was the unlimited expansion of slavery into the developing Western Territories. That doctrine was opposed by the Northern Whigs, which eventually led to the dissolution of the Whig Party and the formation of the Republican one. But again, the Southern justification for the unlimited expansion of slavery Westward, was based in part on the Big Lie of the Doctrine of White Supremacy. After all, slaves were not people and thus should not even come into the discussion. Again, a major factor at the beginning of the Civil War.

Moving on (and speeding up) the Big-Lie-based-on-White-Supremacy was used (for example, and certainly not all of the possible ones) to justify the institution of the massive policy of racist discrimination/subordination known as "Jim Crow" in the South, the rise of the "Lost Cause Doctrine" in the South in the 1890s, used in part to justify Jim Crow, the re-institution of segregation in the Federal Services by the racist Woodrow Wilson beginning in 1913, the re-rise of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s, the spread of lynching in the South in the 20th century, a primary tool for the enforcement of the Doctrine of White Supremacy: "these aren't people, so we can hang 'em whenever we please."

Further, the walk-out from the Democratic Party in 1948 by Strom Thurmond and his "States' Rights Party," separating from the Democratic Party was over civil rights issues. Again, using "states' rights," based on the Big Lie Doctrine of White Supremacy to justify Jim Crow and segregation. And so on and so forth down to the present day with the current Republican Party using "states' rights" (as noted many times above, originally based on the Big Lie of the Doctrine of White Supremacy) to justify their policies on everything from the denial of the right-to-vote to the conscious spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Which brings us down to two of Big Lies of the 21st century which, as it has happened, were/are entirely different from their predecessors, down through the centuries, neither of which is based on the Doctrine of White Supremacy. The Doctrine, as it happens, is based on something real. There are indeed a variety of differences between and among the various ethnic groups that occupy our nation: skin color, primary language, cultural and religious differences, and etc. They are real. The Big Lie is that those differences make one group Supreme and the others Subordinate. But they are real, measurable, tangible. The fantasy/lie was/is that those real differences make the "whites" supreme over all the others.

In contrast, the Two Big (U.S.) Lies of the 21st century were/are based completely in fantasy. There were/are no facts of any kind in play. When Colin Powell made his famous "speech to the UN" in 2003 it was already known to the UN's chief weapons inspector Hans Blix (who offered publicly at the time to share his findings with the CIA) that Saddam Hussein has no "weapons of mass destruction." It was later revealed that the CIA and the White House knew that too. And so, big, but based on nothing, not on any distortion of reality. And then there is the Trumpublican Big Lie that the "election was stolen." As is well-known, it wasn't. So, this is the Second Big Lie used in U.S. political history that is based on total falsehoods, not total distortions of reality.

Of course the Big Lie based on the Doctrine of White Supremacy is still with us and very much used by the U.S. Right, led now by the Trumpublican Party. But it is a different kind of lie when compared with the two 21st century ones. How significant this finding is historically and for the future of the nation, who knows? But I must admit, I did have fun writing this one.

(Article changed on Oct 23, 2021 at 9:35 AM EDT)

(Article changed on Oct 23, 2021 at 5:46 PM EDT)

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Steven Jonas, MD, MPH, MS is a Professor Emeritus of Preventive Medicine at StonyBrookMedicine (NY) and author/co-author/editor/co-editor of over 35 books. In addition to his position on OpEdNews as a ├ éČ┼"Trusted Author,├ éČ Ł he is a Senior (more...)
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