Too often we study history as an exercise in memory retention. Dates, battles, the achievements of royalty and presidents, and historical events are studied for final examinations. It is rare that any of us truly learn the lessons of history. This is unfortunate because many of today’s political events do have some symmetries in American history.
This month the Smithsonian magazine has an interesting article on the conservative, quasi religious, anti-immigrant movement that led to the “noble experiment” of Prohibition.
This movement had an enormous effect on the Progressive movement of using income taxes as a method of finance and also on the women’s suffrage movement. Our nation has a rich cultural, economic, and social history of movements outside partisan politics that cause our political parties to adjust, evolve, and sometimes for positive purposes to reform the inequities of our society.
It is unfortunate that our school systems do not teach the lessons of history. We all need to understand how the American public has forced American politicians, for both positive and negative causes, to listen to the public’s needs, fears, desires and how our nation has benefited from or been damaged by this populist fervor. We should all study the temperance movement, the economic theories of Bryan and Huey Long, the racist secret societies that have been powerful as well as the civil rights campaign, the organizing campaigns of labor, and the women’s suffrage campaign. Maybe and maybe only then can we understand the Tea Party activists.