What if America is not the total sum of its parts…. In a rhetorical sort of way where hindsight is the opposite of 20/20. For instance, pretend “1776 to 2016” is a painting of Noah’s Ark, with bears lumbering about, zebras and camels everywhere and a rainbow going over the whole thing. But if you’d asked George Washington he would have told you in 1776 everyone thought they were painting just a picture of a bear...or maybe bears vs zebras if you were Jefferson and Hamilton. Ahem.
With history you don’t always know who’s going to get the biggest paintbrush and the most say. Assuredly the founding fathers saw their posterity’s future quite differently...without things like a potato famine across the ocean changing everything...or an altruistic poet writing things like “...give me your poor, your huddled masses” which would end up carrying such emotional power as to add a few kangaroos, lions and monkeys to the painting.
Add Manifest Destiny, a few world wars and globalization and it’s like a historical game of children’s “Telephone” where “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” becomes “Ten pink elephants lit a gas car”.
Which is what it is. We are (for better or worse) what we are. But if the past in this case teaches anything, it’s that you can’t rely on the intrinsic correctness of whatever “picture” you think we have. Maybe the Noah’s Ark painting is actually Dick Van Dyke on a unicycle reading a children’s magazine…. And maybe that Dick Van Dyke picture is on a cereal box….floating in an ocean on the back of a mutant flamingo.