It’s 2086. This Is What American History Could Look Like

tags: totalitarianism, predictions, futurism, January 6

Dr. Grinspan and Dr. Manseau are curators at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

This article is part of a collection on the events of Jan. 6, one year later. Read more in a note from Times Opinion’s politics editor Ezekiel Kweku in our Opinion Today newsletter.

The year is 2086. At an unveiling ceremony in the United States Capitol’s Statuary Hall, visitors listen to august speeches about a dark day, long ago, when patriots fought to defend democracy. The crowd breaks into applause as the cloth covering the new statue falls away. Marble megaphone aloft, headdress and horns gleaming, the QAnon shaman of Jan. 6, 2021, takes his place among the heroes of American history.

If it seems far-fetched that a notorious insurgent could be given such a place of honor, the past begs to differ. When the Confederate president, Jefferson Davis, was imprisoned after the Civil War (rumored to be dressed at the time of his arrest in his own outlandish costume), he was more reviled and mocked than any Capitol rioter, and his crimes far more serious. His statue joined George Washington’s in the Capitol 65 years later.

As curators at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, we are regularly confronted by hard physical evidence of just how slippery the past can be. Materials brought in by curators long ago take on unanticipated meanings. Objects that we’ve collected, which seem almost to speak for themselves when we catalog them, may find totally different use behind glass decades from now.

It is chilling, but not impossible, to envision the signs screaming “Stop the steal!” picked up on the garbage-strewn National Mall on Jan. 7, 2021, treated one day as patriotic treasures, displayed alongside the writing desk Thomas Jefferson used to draft the Declaration of Independence or the inkwell Abraham Lincoln dipped into to compose the Emancipation Proclamation.

When the mob first breached the halls of Congress, the bewilderment on their faces indicated that many had not planned to storm into history. And yet, as their allies have worked over the past year to minimize the assault, many of us have looked toward the future, hoping for some clarity on our chaotic era. When all is finally known, we tell ourselves, there will be no disputing who was responsible for this singular attack on the workings of our democracy. Their names will live in infamy. History, we want to believe, will judge them harshly.

History, however, may have other plans. Contrary to the mantra, it has no right or wrong side. A generation after secession, the renowned historian James Ford Rhodes declared “the judgment of posterity is made up: It was an unrighteous cause which the South defended by arms,” at the very moment that statues of Confederate generals were being placed on pedestals throughout the nation. Rhodes was wrong not in his reading of the Confederacy but in his faith in “the judgment of posterity.”

Read entire article at New York Times

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