In the Smithsonian Magazine’s excerpt of Narrative Tension, Inc.. From the forthcoming book Making History: The Storytellers Who Shaped the Past by Richard Cohen to be published by Simon & Schuster, Inc. Printed by permission, Richard Cohen writes this:
‘Around the same time, between 1934 and 1936, the Politburo, or policy-making body, of the Russian Communist Party focused on national history textbooks, and Stalin set scholars to writing a new standard history. The state became the nation’s only publisher. Orwell had it right in Nineteen Eighty-Four, where the Records Department is charged with rewriting the past to fit whomever Oceania is currently fighting. The ruling party of Big Brother “could thrust its hand into the past and say of this or that event, it never happened—that, surely, was more terrifying than mere torture and death.”’
He is writing about the old U.S.S.R., the Soviet Union, and how Putin’s Russia draws from the lessons learned from Lenin and Stalin about rewriting history to control the narrative.
I can’t help but think of the United States. GOP led legislatures in several states are fighting hard to rewrite history or ignore it, battling against teaching critical race theory, solidly misrepresenting it as they do. Alabama passed HB 312 earlier in 2022, 65 to 32. Pushed through by Republicans, the bill bans teachers from broaching subjects that Republicans find divisive, like ideas that the United States is now or was ever racist.
Ignoring facts or history that is painful or inconvenient has become the GOP standard. It’s been going on in Texas for over twenty years. The Texas textbook controversy erupted as Republicans attempt to color the United States in white, Republican, Christan hues. Trump leans hard on this idea of changing history to fit his needs, denying that he fairly lost the election in 2020, accusing everyone he can of voter fraud, lying, and cheating, without offering evidence. Officials and lawyers working on his behalf have had their cases and lawsuits rejected as lacking merit in courts across the United States. The most prominent cases of voter fraud involve Republican and Trump lackeys being caught while illegally voting or tampering with the process. Search the net for proof of this. Of course, deep Trumplicans hold that anyone saying or printing anything except their version of the truth is guilty of spreading false news.
This is all supported by ‘Evangelicals’, a group that holds the world is only six to ten thousand years old, depending upon which group you hear. They ignore all evidence and facts to the contrary. Listening to such would distort their reality.
This operating process of distorting reality and twisting and denying history is just like Russia and the old U.S.S.R. It’s sad but not surprising that several Republicans are admonishing the world for not embracing Russia’s excuses and lies as the truth for why they invaded Ukraine. Why, paraphrasing their thinking, Russia is only destroying Ukranian cities and killing Ukrainians to protect them. Doesn’t that sound like thinking right out of 1984?
And the one excusing Putin and Russia most of all? That would be the dear GOP leader, Donald J. Trump.
The GOP has become a shallow party, bereft of principles, and desperate to remain meaningful. The only way they can now make history is by pretending what has happened — and is happening, in the case of climate change, and LGBTQ rights and equality — didn’t happen. Deny, deny, deny.
It’s been a long, sickening fall to watch for the party begun by President Lincoln.