I love studying history, but I hate telling strangers that. When I meet new people, I always brace myself when the topic comes up. Invariably, other history lovers will reveal themselves. They will then gush over the latest best seller about John Adams/George Washington/Teddy Roosevelt or some other great American leader. Or, a review of their favorite visits to various historical sites, complete with superlative descriptions, spills forth inevitably. Perhaps they made a trek to the Capital and must wax poetic about the memorials they saw there — although interestingly enough, they never have visited the monument I think is most important. I appreciate their enthusiasm. I wish Americans had more of a historical orientation, and these individuals clearly care.
Still, I never know how to respond. Invariably, the history they love is that traditional founder-worshipping kind of propaganda I despise — and probably not coincidentally, the people I’m talking about here are usually men. Seriously, do you guys take a class or something where you learn to venerate the founders? Is it genetic? I don’t get it, and I don’t know what to say. I probably couldn’t care less about how impressed you were by the Washington Monument. I’m actually disappointed that you would rather go there or to the Jefferson Memorial or the World War II one than the Lincoln, which invites substantive reflection on race relations and political schism. I kind of assume this means you aren’t interested in serious thought about our history — that you just want the celebratory booster crap. To be honest, that leaves me empty. I am not the least bit interested and I don’t want to be a buzzkill by dropping that in a conversation with someone I just met. But, I’m not going to be chatty about your interest either. I’m going to smile and nod my head while you talk. Inwardly, I am rolling my eyes and wishing it were over already, but there you go.
It would be lovely if ever I was pleasantly surprised to have a stranger go on a crazy anti-Hamilton rant or critique of the Progressives after first meeting them and learning of our mutual affection for history. What wonderful astonishment that would bring. It would be especially awesome if it were an old lady that appeared mainstream and respectable — an outspoken lefty grandma all blue hair and bluster. I guess I will just have to be the change I want to see in the world.