August 21, 2019 | 72° F

MEHTA: Conservatives mistake flawed past as tradition


Opinion Column: Grass Roots


My best friend and I were in a heated conversation regarding baseball, as we both take our baseball as seriously as we take our politics. We were discussing a blown strike-three call we had seen on television that day and, in the midst of this discussion, I suggested that perhaps using digital technology to call balls and strikes may be better. My best friend rebuked me, “No! Having human home plate umpires is a tradition, whether or not they’re wrong! It’s tradition!” 

It is in that moment, despite the myriad of political conversations I had with him, that I saw conservative ideals truly come to light — conservatives mistake flawed history for tradition. 

Our history books have taught us that when Christopher Columbus arrived in what is now the United States in 1492, he mistook this country for India. It is under these pretenses that Columbus referred to Native Americans as “Indians.” In 1492, the flaw was understandable. But, after 523 years, we still see the reference to Native Americans as “Indians.” Was this used so that it was ethically easier for the government to relocate them by not identifying them as the owners of the land it was stealing?

But, this is not even the biggest issue we are presented with here — we celebrate Columbus Day. In the eyes of many Native Americans, Columbus was a murderer, a monster. As President Donald J. Trump has said of Mexican immigrants, Native Americans could say, about the Europeans at the time, “they didn’t send their best ... some, I assume, were good people.” 

The next example of this is in the continued flying of Confederate flags, coupled with the fact that statues of the Confederacy still stand. These are monuments to oppression, to oppressors. These are reminders of a time where the nation was divided, where the South allowed people to die solely for the purpose of being able to keep slaves — this, under the guise of state’s rights. 

To those who fly these flags, this is a preservation of history, a tradition. To those who take pride in a statue of Robert E. Lee, this perpetuates a disgustingly distorted idea of tradition, but truthfully it is nothing but pain for those whose ancestors were brought here in chains. The irony of those who detest participation trophies but continue to fly them does not escape me, yet the fact that they consider it a proud tradition to fly it does. 

I, unfortunately, can counter my own argument in some ways. This is because we can argue that conservatives do not mistake flawed history for tradition, they intentionally conflate the two. 

The historic election of our first Black president was met with riots, protests and nooses around giant effigies of him being set on fire. Why was this? Was it because we had paradoxically elected a dictator? Was it because he had murdered someone? No, it is because 50 years earlier, he would not have been allowed to sit at the same table as them. Now, he was leading them. 

Lastly, we can look at any Democrat’s favorite line to hear from conservatives in rebuttal to any questioning about Trump being a racist: “The Democrats created the KKK.” This alone should be able to fortify the argument. The parties switched platforms — which we can only hope conservatives are aware of. Either way, the “Democrats” may have started the KKK, but the Republicans are the only reason it is still around to this day. 

Now, I might be met with an argument along the lines of, “The history is only flawed in your eyes, but to us it is a reminder of what our ancestors fought for.” I have been brought up to recognize that not everyone shares my perspective and that others’ views are shaped by the circumstances through which they lived and grew. Despite this, and my admiration for loyalty, just because someone was fighting for an ideal, does not make that fight honorable. It is the ideal for which they fight that makes it honorable. 

Those who fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War did so to perpetuate slavery and those who blame immigrants for their problems without realizing this country was founded by immigrants are not on the right side of history, regardless of perspective.  

I conclude simply: conservatives mistake, or voluntarily conflate, flawed history for tradition. But, in an increasingly progressive society, we have a chance to create a history which should be tradition: a history of equality, a history of fairness, a history we will want to look back on. 

Rishi Mehta is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in political science and English. His column, "Grass Roots," runs on alternate Mondays.

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Rishi Mehta

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