Looking back at the protests of the first 10 days of Trump’s presidency, I realize the fundamental miscalculation that he’s made. Cultural identity matters, and the core of the American identity is that, like Captain America, we fight tooth and nail against injustice. Obviously this is an ideal that we often fall short of, but in the American mythology, “we” sacrifice to fight injustice even at great personal cost:
- Grade schoolers learn that “we” revolted to protect our freedom from abstract tyranny.
- Ask any white American 12 year old north of the Mason-Dixon line why we fought a civil war, and they’ll tell you that “we” fought and died to free the slaves (horribly white-centric, but that just further underscores the myth of selfless sacrifice against injustice).
- The most mythologized version of the civil-rights history is one where Dr. King marched peacefully and convinced white America to invite blacks into the ranks of full citizenship.
- WWII, to many high school classes, is a story in which America chose to intervene, at great personal cost, and save the British and the French, while stopping the holocaust.
None of these stories are completely true, some of them are deeply wrong on the facts, all of them ignore the rich and complicated role of people other than white men, and many even get the underlying motivations dead wrong, but after a lifetime of indoctrination, we have generally come to believe the central moral–America doesn’t stand for injustice.
It seems that Trump missed that message, but millions of Americans did not, and are already pushing back against injustice, even when it doesn’t affect them, at varying degrees of personal cost. That is the core of the American identity, and it’s not going anywhere.