None of this is new, it just feels new because we’ve suppressed our history.
Except we know about the Indians, and how we slaughtered them, and broke treaties where we swore to protect them, and made Westerns glorifying marauding and murderous cavalry and ranchers. They were the good guys. Indians, whose land we stole out from under them, were the bad guys for resisting our theft.
And that still goes on, at this very moment, in the Dakotas.
In the late 19th and early to mid-20th century, labor unions were denied the right to strike, or even organize. Strikes were broken up by police and National Guard, workers shot down or beaten bloody, and it was legal to do so. Other workers, when they reacted with their own acts of violence, gave the government in the 1920s the excuse to seize foreign laborers and deport them and their families by the thousands, intern others in concentration camps. There was no national debate on this. Aliens, as we called them, were a threat to our sacred institutions, and good, hard-working Americans had the right, the duty, to defend ourselves against these outsiders, who were genetically inferior — science said so! — had smaller brains, were criminally inclined, carried communicable diseases that would infect and bring down the white race.
And then, all through the early 20th century, Negroes were lynched down South, and sometimes in the Midwest. No one was brought to trial, and in the few cases where Klansmen were tried, they went free.
The vindictiveness and rage that brings us Trumpism is as old as the Constitution — even older. But what makes us special as a people, and unique among nations, is that a minority, then a true constituency, and then thousands, and then millions put themselves on the line to fight for change. To encourage the dream that we were actually better than we often behaved, and miracle of miracles, slowly, with endless effort and countless defeats, we saw change.
And we, some of us, thought the fight was won, we had learned from our mistakes. Our history proved it.
But the truth, now and always, is that history has no learning curve, and old lessons, once learned, are forgotten, or become twisted and rejected. And so we must start from scratch, all over again.That’s the secret of America. We fight the same fights over and over and over again, without many of us knowing that today’s fight is a retread of previous fights going back decades, or centuries.
So Trump was elected President.
Time again to fight.
Jules Feiffer, a cartoonist and playwright, has three daughters, two of whom are Vineyarders.
This letter was inspired by a phone call from Halley, his middle daughter, on her way to perform in a Broadway matinee the day after Election Day, wondering how she could possibly go on.