Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke a few months ago claimed, “This country was founded on white supremacy.” In 2017, Minnesota Democratic congresswoman Ilhan Omar asserted, “We must confront that our nation was founded by genocide.” These comments reflect a broader historical narrative common on the Left that views American history as defined primarily by racism, sexism, and oppression.
This narrative is beyond ironic. O’Rourke’s ancestors were Irish Catholics—two adjectives that were synonymous with persecuted minority status in an earlier period of American history. Omar is a black, female, first-generation Somali American, an emblem of “intersectionality.” Yet both frequently make nationalheadlines. They are widely respected (within their party) and widely quoted (if only for their gaffes!). Neither will ever have to worry about having enough money in their bank accounts to provide for themselves and their families. As the old Brooks & Dunn song goes, “Only in America.”
Land of Hope: An Invitation to the Great American Story, by University of Oklahoma professor of history Wilfred M. McClay, a new textbook of American history, presents an even more fundamental, wide-reaching rebuttal to this cynical, Zinnian perspective. One theme consistent throughout McClay’s story is what is classically understood as the idea of the tragic hero. Such an individual invests tremendous, laudable energies in seeking the good. He or she is courageous, intelligent, and virtuous—yet imperfect. Indeed, the flaws that haunt the hero may be so dangerous that they not only restrain but even undermine his or her goals and legacy. Nevertheless, this person deserves our sympathy and even honor.