July 2019 commenced a several-months’-long commemoration of the founding of Virginia’s Jamestown 400 years ago as “the first permanent English settlement in America,” according to website material (www.historicjamestowne.org). At the same time, the event intends to celebrate self-governance and democracy. However, it has kicked off a political brouhaha among Democrats due to the possibility that the President may attend, at the invitation of the organizers. In fact, as the actual history of Jamestown and early Virginia is accurately recited, the festivities could hardly be more inviting for this President.
Since President Trump has established a clear ignorance or avoidance of history, material published by the event organizers will not faze him. Among some of that material, we are told that Jamestown is the site where
. . . Native Americans, Europeans, and Africans came together to lay the foundation of modern American society, and the first Africans arrived because of the transatlantic slave trade.
Isn’t that nice? A jolly good coming together via transatlantic transportation. In 1620, the Virginia Company of London, owner of the Virginia plantation, recruited and sent 90 women to the colony to “make wives for the planters.” More to the point, the most notable Native American woman was none other than Pocahontas, a stark target in contemporary politics of the President’s bilious tweets.
Nor is it likely that the President is familiar with Virginia Dare, the first white child born in the New World, albeit in Roanoke Colony in 1587. Today, Dare is a symbol shanghaied by white supremacists to highlight the dangers of immigration. So many jingo tropes and memes for jaundiced comment! Irresistible as long as the words on the teleprompter are followed.
Clearly, the Commonwealth does not have a perfect or idyllic history, and the Jamestown opening ceremony presents an all-too-tempting opportunity to throw shade on political opponents as that possibility may have contributed to the inclination of some top Virginia Democratic leaders to stay away. Most interestingly, however, Justin Fairfax, the state’s African-American lieutenant governor, has indicated his intention to attend.
Does attending validate the often distorted history of Virginia’s founding? Perhaps. At the same time, attendance could signal homage to the ideals of democracy that are also celebrated in the Commonwealth’s founding. Emphasis on that aspect of the commemoration affords an opportunity to reflect upon the responsibility of succeeding generations to correct and make amends for past injustices and moral lapses. The non-normative language employed to describe the colony’s early history is continuing evidence of unease with the state’s origins and the more distasteful aspects of its history.
Nonetheless, the moral compass expected of every leader includes the courage to stand firm against jingoism and jaundiced commentary about fellow citizens. This would be expected whether or not the President appears in Jamestown. This is our house, with all its warts and imperfections.