Whatever comforting story we tell ourselves, history does not have a “right side”. Progress is not guaranteed. The only way to ensure a better future is to create itby Darran Anderson / February 6, 2018 / Leave a comment
Being bombarded by information online, you start to witness language change. Phrases have always come and gone, arriving as fashion and departing into cliché. At what point, though, does overuse and insincerity render a phrase effectively meaningless—or even a sure sign of dishonesty?
Looking through the headlines of the past few weeks, one phrase appears ad nauseam: “the wrong side of history.” Kellyanne Conway accused Democrats of being thus, regarding the U.S. government shutdown. Theresa May risks being it, the Director of the Electoral Reform Society in Wales indicated, if she opposes votes for 16-year-olds. New Jersey Senator Cory Booker accused Jeff Sessions of it, in terms of the Attorney General interfering on states legalizing marijuana. Cryptocurrency naysayers; the Cleveland Indians baseball team; Winton Churchill; those in the Vatican opposed to a deal with China; the gallery that temporarily took down the painting “Hylas and the Nymphs”—they all join a long, frequently-contradictory list.
While we can certainly question the equivalence of all these issues, the sheer ubiquity of the phrase, from multiple points on the political spectrum, drains it of impact and meaning. Where it does still have some potency is in demonstrating the exact opposite of what it proclaims. Far from being settled or predictable, the volleys and ricochets of this term show that history is a perpetual shifting battlefield.
“The wrong side of history” is not a new phrase or idea but it has peaked in recent years, especially with the Obama administration. At that time, it came close to being a presidential catchphrase. It mirrored Obama’s fondness for a phrase of similar sentiment, shared by Martin Luther King, Jr in his powerful ‘Our God is Marching On!’ speech: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” The president had this quote join four others, from earlier presidents, on his Oval Office rug.
What was less frequently noted was that the Civil Rights leader was, in fact, paraphrasing the abolitionist minister Theodore Parker who’d preached, “I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see, I am sure it bends towards justice.”
The source of the quote and…