He himself is perfectly capable of unmaking our regime.
The Right Side of History
Joe Biden and the dangers of posterity.
At a speech in Georgia yesterday, President Biden charged all U.S. Senators with deciding “where they stand, not just for the moment, but for the ages.” The Senate filibuster, which Biden defended passionately in 2005 and again last year, is now apparently a neo-segregationist atrocity because it stands in the way of the president’s legislative agenda.
Biden wants federal power to veto election laws in certain states, because he is on the right side of history. Of course this means if you oppose him, you are on the wrong side. “At consequential moments in history, they present a choice,” he said. “Do you want to be on the side of Dr. King or George Wallace? Do you want to be on the side of John Lewis or Bull Connor? Do you want to be on the side of Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis?”
George Wallace, an actual segregationist, is like the filibuster: Biden used to love him. Now, not so much. In 1987 the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Biden “bragged of an award he received from George Wallace in 1973.” In 1975, then-Senator Biden added: “I think the Democratic Party could stand a liberal George Wallace—someone who’s not afraid to stand up and offend people.”
Here we have a president who constantly needs to distance himself from views and relationships which have come to seem morally toxic in the span of just one lifetime. You would think that experience might make him more circumspect about declaring what future generations will think of today’s political debates. Not so.
In fact, it is singular that as progressives become more drastically revisionist about America’s history, they also become more passionately confident about who will be viewed favorably in the future. The New York Times’s 1619 Project, which Biden’s Administration has cited as an inspiration for its own educational initiatives, is an effort to “reframe the country’s history” by casting once-cherished founding figures as racist scoundrels. “Anti-black racism runs in the very DNA of this country,” wrote Nikole Hannah-Jones in the Project’s flagship essay. In fact, “the framers” of the Constitution “carefully constructed a document that preserved and protected slavery.”
Given that this is not at all how the founders saw themselves or their ambitions, Hannah-Jones and Biden both might reflect on how drastically opinions can change in the span of a few hundred years. The Constitution itself announces its authors’ intention to “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” Progressives now argue that this was either a half-truth or an exercise in self-deception.
How amazing that the people who call our forebears liars, who teach us to regard our ancestors with contempt, presume in the same breath to express concern about our legacy and their own. That ship has sailed: you can’t upend centuries of received wisdom and then promise your followers an unassailable future reputation. If the founders are not safe from condemnation by their descendants, no one is.
Were I to guess how future generations will really evaluate today’s America, I would suspect they will struggle to see far past the blinding horror of the unborn dead whom we dispatched in the millions. But I digress: all generations everywhere must pray for grace from their descendants as well as gratitude, because no one knows what unseen sins will be uncovered in retrospect. “Count no man truly blessed until he dies,” said Solon of Athens—and maybe not even then (Herodotus, Histories 1:32).
In reality, as distinct from progressive fantasy, America’s founders understood these truths better than most. “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just,” wrote Thomas Jefferson in his Notes on the State of Virginia. Jefferson knew a day would come when his own life would be judged according to standards which he himself helped enshrine. That kind of humility in the face of a grand endeavor is what made him and his colleagues great men.
And Biden’s self-righteousness is what makes him a pathetic fool. There is no real care for posterity in the president’s threats, only moral posturing and emotional blackmail. He will have to hope that future generations are more generous to his abysmal legacy than he is to his own past self.
The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.
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