One reason Americans sometimes lack perspective is: a) they don’t know their history as should; and b) often they’re fed perspective-lite fare from news outlets. The former is Americans’ fault for not demanding more from educators. The latter is partly a human inclination to believe that things happening now are just bigger, badder, greater, more controversial, etc., than anything that preceded them.
Case in point: Five paragraphs into an article on a new Civil War exhibit at the National Archives in Washington, a writer for The Washington Post felt the war needed modern contextualizing: “150 years later, the anniversary of the war that tore the nation apart finds a country that remains racially divided, politically fractured and historically split — even over the causes and legacy of America’s most wrenching conflict.”
Uh, no. Yes, America is fairly polarized at present and, yes, race remains a difficult subject. But there’s no comparison between 1860s America and its 2010 great-great-great-great grandchild. There just isn’t. Slavery was a reality in antebellum America. Race relations weren’t a problem; they didn’t exist. Almost all white Americans, North and South, didn’t consider blacks their equal in any sense that mattered. Texas Gov. Rick Perry talked once about secession, but that was just balderdash. Lincoln was elected president in November 1860, and by June 1861 a total of 11 states had left the Union. America fractured and split right now? Not like that. Not even close.