Behold, Fake History
Behold, America: A History of America First and the American Dream, Sarah Churchwell, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2018, £20, 356 pp., h.b., reviewed by Leslie Jones
According to Sarah Churchwell, Professor of American Literature in the School of Advanced Studies of the University of London, the American dream once denoted the principles of liberty, justice and economic equality, of curbing unbridled capitalism, as in the Progressive Era and the New Deal. It was about idealism v materialism, “about how to stop bad multimillionaires, not how to become one”.[i] These dubious contentions, an implicit criticism of President Trump, recur like a broken record throughout Behold, America. According to Churchwell, a naïve, self-styled social democrat, the concept was subsequently hollowed out and it now means rags to riches, the so-called “Alger ethic’. Needless to say, she fails to explain how liberty can be reconciled with equality without resorting to tyranny.
Historian Richard Hofstadter’s Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (1963) bears some resemblance to Behold, America, although Churchwell does not cite it in her selected bibliography. But, like Hofstadter, she perceives links between American nativism, isolationism, economic protectionism and racism. She depicts Donald Trump as a latter day W R Hearst or Citizen Kane. Continue reading