History is the key to understanding

A Liberal Dose


Next week will mark one year that I have been writing this column. The first one appeared on Feb. 25, 2021 and was titled “History is the key to everything.” That is the template I have tried - and, I think, mostly succeeded - to follow: bringing a perspective from the left that is rooted in history. My political outlook is informed by two things: what I feel in my heart to be moral and right and beneficial and fair to the largest number of people and what I have learned from studying history. A clear, well-informed knowledge of history is an invaluable aid in understanding the world around you in the here and now. On the other hand, an unclear and misinformed understanding of history, or a lack or knowledge about it, is very dangerous. It can run an individual, and a society, off the rails.

A deep concern about many people’s lack of historical context is part of what led me to agree to write this left-of-center column. I saw a lot of Americans repeating the mistakes, and sometimes intentional cruelties, of the past and not recognizing patterns that should be objectively clear. A few years of politicians and their enablers re-working the very meaning of what “facts” and “science” are, in a sort of Orwellian doublespeak, had taken their toll. Six weeks before that first column, thousands of people (some from our little neck of the woods), convinced without any proof whatsoever that the election had been “fake,” stormed the Capitol in an effort to prevent the constitutional process of certifying a legal and fair election, injuring 140 police officers and actively seeking to murder the vice-president and several others. Most of us watched on TV with jaws dropped, because we had never expected to see such a thing in America - yet now some are claiming it never happened or was blown out of proportion.

If anything, things have gotten worse. Laws have been passed that are designed to make it harder for minorities to vote, because they might vote for Democrats. Books are being burned, books about the Holocaust are being banned, violent physical attacks on minorities have escalated. While some of my conservative friends ask why I am always complaining instead of trying harder to bring both sides together, I am seeing conservative columnists claiming that all Democrats are Satan-worshiping Marxists who hate America and must be stopped. I have to wonder if some former friend might attack or kill me because I said something they didn’t like or if some student’s parents might try to take away my job because I teach actual history. Politicians in our own state legislature want to tell educators what they can and can’t say about the things those educators have studied intensely for years - to muzzle people who are trying to teach our children the truth about history in order to avoid the dangerous consequences of ignorance. They are the same politicians who sing about small government and individual freedom and decry “cancel culture.” 

My wife and I often read the Bible together (I’m working on my sixth time through). Recently, we read Jeremiah, with whom I have felt a close affinity since I was a teenager. God would give him messages to take to the people, then warn him that no one would listen - in fact, they would beat him and try to kill him. Jeremiah was not a fan of this plan - but “His message becomes a fire burning in my heart,” and he is unable to hold it in even if he wanted to. I identify more than ever.

I will not teach lies, and I will not refrain from teaching the truth. Once upon a time, that was considered an American virtue, even by people who disagreed with the message. Now, they seek only to silence any message they do not like.

How American is that?

--Troy D. Smith, a White County native, is a novelist and a history professor at Tennessee Tech. His words do not necessarily represent TTU.        


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here