The Problem With “The Right Side Of History”

We often hear about “the Right Side of History” as though there’s this neat line dividing the good guys and the bad guys, and you’re either on the right side or the wrong side of it.

By Ellie Holt4 min read
The Problem With “The Right Side Of History”

There are a number of problems with this narrative. The first is that history is told by the winners, so the right side of history is arbitrary and subjective depending on who tells the story. If the Confederates had won the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln would presumably be on the "wrong side" of history (although in the land of the woke this is still true). If the Nazis had won World War II, the U.S. would be on the "wrong side" and the Nazis would be on the "right side."

The second problem, and perhaps the more troubling one, is that the narrative assumes one's politics grant them absolution. 

The idea of ending up on the wrong side of history is often used as a threat hurled at those on the other side of the political aisle. A warning. A cautionary tale to keep those who differ from you in check. It’s a political trump card that assumes a predetermined, unshakable outcome and the moral clarity of those granting the status of "right" and "wrong." In essence, it assumes that politics indicate virtue. 

The right side of history assumes that politics indicate virtue. 

Such is the case in San Francisco, where the city's woke elite made politically correct caricatures of themselves by insisting on a holier-than-thou cleaning spree of public school names. Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and Abraham Lincoln are among those whose names are being removed from San Francisco public schools. While arguably being on the "winning" side of history, they’re decidedly on the "wrong side" of history in this new revisionist landscape. The overarching theme is that the only thing that matters about one's historical contributions is whether your words and deeds align with today's woke ideology. Your politics are your atonement in the face of a woke judge and jury. 

And yet your politics aren't coming to save you, and they certainly can't grant you absolution. Whatever compassionate views you hold or think you might hold, aren't going to grant you a get-out-of-jail-free card.

The Problem with Seeing Your Political Opponents as “Evil”

A recent article in the LA Times perfectly encapsulates this mindset. Virginia Heffernan writes, "The Trumpites next door to our pandemic getaway, who seem as devoted to the ex-president as you can get without being Q fans, just plowed our driveway without being asked and did a great job. How am I going to resist demands for unity in the face of this act of aggressive niceness?" 

She goes on to say, "I also can’t give my neighbors absolution; it’s not mine to give. Free driveway work, as nice as it is, is just not the same currency as justice and truth. To pretend it is would be to lie, and they probably aren’t looking for absolution anyway." 

Heffernan's view towards her kindly neighbors is emblematic of how the establishment as a whole views anyone who doesn't toe the progressive line, like inhumane social pariahs undeserving of an absolution they didn't in fact ask for. 

The establishment views conservatives as inhumane social pariahs undeserving of absolution. 

She echoes many of her comrades in the media when she fails to view them as people, as countrymen, as humans she may have in fact misunderstood. No, she remains staunch in her own bias, unwavering from the poison the media has fueled for years. Those with whom she disagrees are Nazis, they can't be trusted, and we certainly can’t share a street with them, much less a country – even if they’re kind on the outside, it’s a façade for the black heart inside

In some ways, she seems to think that when it's all said and done politics are coming to save her. That a senator will come to plow her driveway and a House rep will bring her a casserole when she’s sick. That religious, messianic faith in politicians is a substitute for neighbors and community. 

Ironically, the hidden premise in what she says is that she’s seeking her own absolution in politics. That she herself is absolved by virtue of her political inclinations. 

Your Politics Aren’t Coming To Save You

The prevailing view seems to be that your politics say far more about your moral character than anything you actually do or say. Your fate in whether you end up on the right side of history can be boiled down to how you vote, not how you treat your neighbor or care for those in need. 

Not only is this wrong, but it’s also a dangerous myth that pushes us into tribalistic notions of morality. Morality, truth, and value are not finicky whims dictated by political convenience or lofty, high-minded ideas of one's own righteousness – to pretend as such is arrogance to the highest degree. If you think your "compassionate" view towards open borders absolves you from basic human decency towards your neighbors, your family, and your Facebook friends, chances are you might be the bigot. 

Morality, truth, and value are not finicky whims dictated by political convenience.

Whether you feed the homeless, give to charity, or treat others with respect regardless of race, class, or gender is irrelevant.  Your charity work is meaningless unless you support a $15 minimum wage and agree with the left's stance on abortion. No good deed can outperform your voting history. You're still a bigot, a white supremacist, or a domestic terrorist. And no amount of atonement can redeem you except obedience. 

Once this is understood, it becomes clear that it isn't about policy, it isn't about economics, and it certainly isn't about facts. It’s about obedience and how well you can perform the mental gymnastics necessary to parrot the evolving woke ideology. 

Unity and Healing?

And what a dangerous game this is.  You’re promised unity and healing, but for a price, and that price is total obedience. 

We’re told to come together, to meet in the middle, but the middle is actually the left, and actually, the establishment doesn't want to come together with you because they hate you. They want to cancel you. They want to remove you from polite society by any means necessary. 

You’re promised unity and healing, but for a price, and that price is total obedience. 

Brian Stelter wants cable companies to remove right-wing outlets, and Media Matters wants to remove sponsors of conservative news outlets. Disney fired an actress based on an inconsistent standard. Amazon wants to remove Parler based on political affiliations rather than a consistent standard. And we’re being convinced that this is healthy for democracy and a promotion of truth when in fact it’s influencing those on opposites of the political aisle to see one another as the "other." 

Closing Thoughts

Warnings about the "Right Side of History" are threats with which to cudgel you into submission and strip history of its nuanced complexity in favor of black and white retellings of heroes and villains – to paint history as though the outcome is already predetermined. 

It's a way to end conversations, diminish arguments, and vilify opponents without actually having to confront real facts. In fact, it’s emblematic of a larger narrative that subverts history as a rhetorical tool to shape the lens through which we view the present. 

This idea that Americans can be neatly divided into the anointed and the bigoted is rooted in narcissism, and it’s tearing our communities apart and weakening our social ties. Our politics aren't coming to save us, our most cherished beliefs can’t grant us absolution, and our voting history doesn't unburden us of personal accountability. 

The largest problem, pulling our communities apart, is the misguided and dangerous belief that it’s good to hate your neighbor if your hate is righteous in your eyes. If you convince yourself that you’re absolved of decency toward those who differ from you because you believe yourself to be on the right side of history, that isn't a road to righteousness or freedom or retribution — that's a road to slavery. If anything, that's the wrong side of history.