Canceled or acceptable?
Today, historical figures are deemed to be either good or bad, right or wrong. The study of history used to require a level of nuance but, over time, people have largely come to ignore it. And there is never another side to consider, either. Once a person is deemed unacceptable, you will rarely find any success in their redemption.
Sure, there are some objectively bad things that overwhelm the mind when you consider them. Adolf Hitler was, from start to finish, someone who clearly was evil and perpetrated horrors upon his fellow man. Likewise, Joseph Stalin was guilty of so many atrocities that it is impossible to separate any good he might have tried to do from what he actually did do.
But, those are just two examples of men whose entire legacy isn’t defined by one flaw, but by a multitude of bad actions that ruined not just their lives, but the lives of the people they were supposed to be leading.
In this day and age, though, we are being forced to confront and address more and more people with flaws that many would deem irredeemable, despite these figures’ life works that could be seen not only as redeeming but necessary to the growth and advancement of our country. Men like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, for example.
But to reduce either of those men to the fact that they owned slaves — despite Washington freeing his upon his death and Jefferson working tirelessly to end slavery in the early days of our nation — is to set the precedent that one flaw makes these men’s accomplishments worthless. That precedent will not stop with the distant past, instead feeding on the reputations and lives of people in the present and the future.
If one flaw, one mistake, in a person’s past makes them ineligible to be remembered or honored, then there isn’t a soul alive today or in the future who will be worthy to lead us. You may think that this is an extreme view, but up until last week, so was the idea that people might target George Washington as someone who should be cast out from the pantheon of American heroes.
Today, people are working hard to even destroy the futures of teenagers who say or do something stupid on the Internet (a place that more and more seems like it was created solely for people to act stupid in). It is an act of glorified cyberbullying, yet it is being pushed aggressively not by extreme activists but by our own American media.
If every child out there, or every adult whose childhood acts can be verified, can be pressured by society to go into hiding and never come back because of one stupid thing they have said or done, or even for a series of relatively minor though still hurtful things, then there is no one on the planet who can escape the tyranny of the cancel movement. Everyone has said or done something stupid. Everyone has had stupid or ignorant things they have said or believed. The distant past is not the only thing we should be judging people for, but their past and present as well.
We should be extending a level of mercy to those who have said or done offensive, racist, sexist, or other hurtful things in the past. If it is something that happened once, or was a belief that was once held, but that person has shown change and sincerity in that change, then they should be given another chance, shouldn’t they? Do we no longer believe in forgiveness? Or do we simply cancel and forget them, moving on?
Youthful indiscretions, uninformed mistakes, or whatever you want to call them do not discriminate by race or creed. They don’t happen solely among Republicans or Democrats. If you judge one person by a mistake, you are judging all people who make that mistake. If you cannot find it within you to forgive them (if they have shown they have grown and matured, learning from it), then it is you who are flawed, not them.
It should be unacceptable that we would choose to ignore history and ignore any redeeming qualities in historical figures — or even present ones — and focus solely on one thing that makes them worthy of being canceled. We should, as a country, be able to agree that some things do make a person worth considering as good, even if they took part in one bad thing. But, rather than doing that, activists across the country would rather take an out of sight and out of mind approach to statues, monuments, and any sort of historical recognition of people.
And the Democratic politicians who let them get away with it should be ashamed that they would so obviously pander for those votes, knowing full well that when they get into office they won’t address any of it.
I would say a pox on all their houses, but I for one hope they can find redemption instead of cancelation. It’s the least we can do.