The war that began at Lexington and Concord 14 months before the Declaration of Independence was America’s first civil war. And it had all the messiness and nastiness that always accompany protracted fratricide.
.. The war caused “proportionately more” deaths — from battle, captivity and disease — than any war other than that of 1861-1865. The perhaps 37,000 deaths were about five times more per capita than America lost in World War II. Sixty thousand loyalists became refugees.
.. Taylor’s “American Revolutions ” (2016) hammers home the war’s human costs. A Connecticut critic of the Continental Congress was tarred, carried to a sty and covered with hog’s dung, some of which was forced down his throat. Connecticut loyalists were imprisoned in a copper mine, in darkness 120 feet underground. Georgia patriots knocked a loyalist unconscious, “tied him to a tree, tarred his legs, and set them on fire” and then partially scalped him. Some courts ordered loyalists “branded on the face or cut off their ears” to make them recognizable.
The paradox of Trump’s insisting on his own niceness even while engaging in distinctly nasty conduct (political and otherwise) has a long history in the United States.
Trump epitomizes the conventional version of American niceness, which assumes that Americans are fundamentally decent and benevolent people with the best of intentions, whose acts of aggression are reluctant and defensive necessities designed to protect us.
.. This is the kind of amiability that obscures the shadowy side of American life.
.. Americans have also historically attempted to transform our niceness into a national attitude rooted in justice and mutual respect by acknowledging American cruelty and using it as an impetus to live up to an ideal of moral integrity based on the courage to tell the truth.
.. Since the 19th century, Americans’ belief in our own niceness has never wavered. Yet even then, American niceness obscured a tendency to refuse accountability for aggression and offense — and even unspeakable cruelty.
.. In 1814, Gen. Andrew Jackson supervised the mutilation of the corpses of more than 800 Creek Native Americans killed at Horseshoe Bend in Alabama during the Creek War. The desecration of the bodies involved cutting off the tip of each Indian’s nose to count the number of victims, and taking long strips of skin from the dead to use as bridle reins.
.. Thus the mistreatment of Indians wasn’t only a political problem but a profound failure on white Americans’ part to live up to their Christian reputation for courtesy, respect and kindness.
.. This same conflict could be seen in the issue of slavery.
.. If kindness were the rule in the master-slave relationship, Douglass argued, then Southern newspapers would not be filled with runaway-slave notices describing branding with irons and scarring from whips.
.. One is based on historical forgetting, on empty gestures and cliches, on refusing to own up to American errors; the other connects niceness with ethics and justice by recognizing Americans’ failures to be the kind people we imagine ourselves to be