Rick Perlstein argues that it is a streak of optimism that is at the heart of the opposition to the new AP History guidelines. While his insight points to a significant driving force in the “history wars,” I think that it is misleading. Those who are optimistic look to the future and predict good things. By contrast those who oppose so-called “liberal” history are concerned with the controlling the past and see threats to their worldview lurking everywhere. It is about the identity of the U.S. and thereby their own. They equate perfection (as they define it) with exceptionalism. To admit mistakes or failures is to claim that America is not exceptional. And by association it is also a blow to their own self-esteem. This is why they react so viscerally to any challenge to their version of U.S. history. Anyone who dares challenge their “exceptional” version of history must be driven by malicious intent and is automatically un-American. What they fail to realize is that what makes the U.S. exceptional is the willingness to reflect on the past honestly so that we can become an even better America, one that is prosperous and just.
The Powerlessness of Positive Thinking – In These Times.