You can read this series from the beginning here.
"I can’t believe I’m saying this," I told the interns, "but it’s true. We have to push back on the Crusades."
I looked across the room at twenty-five confused and baffled faces, belonging to twenty-five confused and baffled interns. "The what again?" one of them asked.
"The Crusades. I know. I’d never heard of them before last week, myself." This was not my fault. I did have a class in "History of Medieval Europe" scheduled for my sophomore year at Amherst. Then my mother talked to my academic advisor and I ended up dropping that class and substituting a course on Stalinism. Then she found out that the professor wasn’t pro-Stalinist enough for her, and I ended up in this weird poverty colloquy thing. It’s a wonder I even graduated, if you think about it.
I could see my audience whipping out their phones. "Wikipedia says that The Crusades was a 1935 movie by someone named Cecil B. DeMille," Stanton said. "Seriously? Why the hell would we need to push back on something that happened in 1935?"
"It’s not from 1935, you idiot," Emma said. "It’s the Crusades from a thousand years ago."
"That makes even less sense," Stanton said. "Who is doing what about this again?"
I stood patiently with my hands on the new podium I had bought on Etsy last week. I had told the designer I wanted a podium that looked less phallic and more vaginal, and he definitely delivered on that, maybe a little too well, but at least I was able to stand behind it and be a credible feminist alley.
"The Republicans," Emma said. "Fox News. Pay attention."
"How many of you heard President Obama’s speech at the National Prayer Breakfast earlier this month?" I asked. No hands went up. "Some of you must have," I said. "Come on. Obama isn’t that unpopular."
"I am a staunch Establishment Clause absolutist," Monique said, and I saw heads around the room not in agreement. "The President has no business attending a religious gathering in his official capacity."
"The President shouldn’t pander to delusional nutcases by pretending that their sky-fairies are real, much less pray to them," another intern said.
"I understand where you’re coming from, but even if he’s at a religious event, we can’t tune out the President," I said. "Not all the way, and certainly not yet. Anyway, at the prayer breakfast, he said something important. And don’t think I didn’t hear you hiss when I said ‘prayer,’ you guys. This is a no-hiss zone, if you don’t mind."
"I am still not clear on what this has to do with Cecil B. DeMille," another intern said.
"What the President said," I explained, "is that people in America and Europe should not get up on their moral high horses and criticize the Islamic State for, you know, cutting people’s heads off and stuff. And the reason for that is the Crusades, which was a time in the history of medieval Europe, a thousand years ago, when a group of white males seeking to export their Christian religion into the Middle East invaded Palestine and fought in battles and, not to put too fine a point on it, cut off people’s heads themselves and did other terrorist acts."
"But that’s stupid," Emma said. "Nothing that was done in the Crusades, a thousand years ago, justifies the murder of hostages by ISIS today."
"It wasn’t just the Crusades," I said. "He also talked about the Spanish Inquisition. And Jim Crow."
"I get multiculturalism, Justin," Emma said. "I get that these ISIS maniacs have a different culture, and a different religion, and that the West doesn’t have a perfect historical record. Stipulated. But that doesn’t mean that a modern, progressive, civilized individual can’t point to what ISIS is actually doing and say that it’s wrong."
"Especially a modern, progressive, civilized individual with command of his own fleet of drones, armed with Hellfire missiles," Monique pointed out.
"Okay okay okay okay okay," I said. "The important thing here is not whether or not the President’s point regarding the relative moral superiority or inferiority of the West vis a vis the Islamic State was directly on point or not. The important thing is that the Republicans are trying to push the narrative that the Crusades were not that bad. What we need to do is to push back and point out what really happened at the Crusades."
"What really happened at the Crusades?" Stanton said.
"Well, bad things," I said.
"Like what?"
"Well, they were basically a project of the Catholic Church. So if you’re opposed to organized religion, there’s that. And even if you’re not, the idea of a leader of a religion dedicated to loving your enemy and turning the other cheek being responsible for sending an invading force into a foreign land has irony value. Plus, you know, bad things happen in war. People get killed and stuff."
"What are the Republicans saying about the Crusades, then?" Stanton asked.
"They’re trying to say that the Crusades were launched to help Christians in the Middle East who were being persecuted by the Muslims. Which, I mean, kind of in a way is still happening, but still. And that the medieval Muslims committed war crimes, too, which I guess is still happening now. But that’s not the point. The point is that the Crusades were aggressive religious wars fought by white men against brown men."
"Just like Iraq," Monique said.
"Exactly," I said. "We can’t concede that the Crusades may have had their good side, because that means that we’re conceding that maybe the war in Iraq might have had its good side. Just like we can’t say American Sniper is a good movie because it doesn’t say anything about how wrong the decision to go into Iraq was. I said this was a no-hissing zone, people."
"But didn’t the former Secretary support the war in Iraq?" Monique asked. "I mean, that’s why Obama is President now."
"I know," I said. "And believe me, we can spend the rest of this campaign re-litigating history. We can’t let the Republicans push their view of revisionist history on us. We need to be aggressive and push the accepted historical interpretation right back in their faces."
"This is all so stupid," said Emma. "Obama was wrong. We’re progressives. We can get up on our moral high horse any time we want to. If we can’t denounce cruelty and murder, even if it’s by the Islamic State, then when can we denounce anything? Moral equivalence can go hang, if you ask me."
"It was a bipartisan prayer breakfast," I said. "He was telling the Republicans that they couldn’t get up on their high horses. Our high horses are just fine. We can lecture Republicans all we want about the Crusades, or the Inquisition, or Jim Crow."
"Jim Crow was actually instituted by Democrats," Stanton said.
"Reactionary white racist Southerners, who are all now Republicans," I said. "Try to keep up."
"Still, maybe Obama’s right," Stanton said. "Maybe none of us should get up on their high horses."
"Or their high podiums," Monique said. "Especially if they’re up there mansplaining when there’s work to be done."
"Okay, then," I said. "Meeting’s adjourned. Go out there and make a difference."
I was in my cubicle, putting together a meme that morphed Richard I and Dick Cheney, when Emma walked in.
"We have got to get a smarter set of interns," she said.
"I wouldn’t say that they weren’t smart. It’s just that… maybe their commitment level trumps their political experience. That’s pretty much the definition of being an intern anyway."
"The former Secretary is engaging in a campaign that will determine the course of American history for the next century," Emma said. "We can’t afford to have dumb interns, and we can’t afford to spend our time on dumb arguments with even dumber Republicans about what is literally ancient history."
"So what do we do?" I asked.
"I don’t know," Emma said. "I’m not sure. I’ll think about it. There has to be something we can do."
Emma didn’t elaborate further on this. Her eyes got a little misty, and she wandered away from my cubicle, towards the break room. I hoped she would be able to come up with some good ideas, but my best guess was that she just needed a Snickers bar and a diet Coke. You can’t make a difference with low blood sugar, you know.
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