The core challenge is to take responsibility for our history. Our world is mostly predetermined by the decisions and events preceding this moment, most of which were made before any of us were born. If we remain ignorant of this history and how forcefully it shapes the present, we remain powerless to overcome the past’s strong tendency to determine the decisions and events of the future. There is much that was great in our past, but there is more that was prejudice, tyranny, ignorance, and short-sightedness. Consider the war on drugs or the carving up of the Middle East after World War One. Consider the Second Amendment and the electoral college.
Consider the white nationalism propelling the candidacy of Donald Trump. If Clinton wins, the election will be touted as the death throes of white male domination in American politics. But remember 2008, when Obama became the first black president and Democrats won control of both houses of Congress thanks to the electoral strength of minorities and women — only to be crippled by the Tea Party backlash and the conservative Supreme Court appointees of past presidents. Even if Trump loses the election, he will almost certainly win a majority of both whites and males, who despite 150 years of national struggle for the equal dignity of African Americans cling to the mentality of racial superiority and inferiority that gave us slavery, segregation, mass incarceration, and their ongoing economic and social legacies. Clinton will still need to reckon with this powerful constituency and she will be limited by it.
We remain hostages to the past.