Museum of America in the Pandemic Year, 2020

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Jun 18: WHO announces it will stop testing hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19. The data from multiple trials show the drug did not reduce mortality. According to WHO, patients who were previously administered the drug would finish their course or stop based on a supervisor’s discretion. The Supreme Court rules that the Trump administration cannot immediately carry out its plan to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which provides protection against deportation for about 649,000 so-called DREAMers who immigrated to the U.S. as children. Facebook  removes ads from President Trump’s campaign because they feature an upside-down red triangle that closely resembles a symbol Nazis used to identify political prisoners in World War II concentration camps. Mary Elizabeth Taylor, the assistant secretary of state for legislative affairs, submits her resignation to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, citing disagreement with President Trump’s response to racial injustice. Taylor, 30, was the youngest person and the first black woman to hold the job.*

From the cutting room floor...

We build our worlds from tiny moments and experiences: a parent moving through the kitchen in the morning, a teacher smiling or scowling, the smell of brand new Air Jordans, the drum fill in that summer radio hit that was always on, a red Aunt Jemima pancake box, Young MC in a Pepsi commercial, orange juice after toothpaste, Princess Diana in the tabloids at the check-out line, Walter Cronkite on a grainy Zenith, and on and on. We each arrive at this now with cobbled together memories and imagined histories.

Perhaps we are in this crisis first and foremost because we cannot agree on History.

Take, for instance, the news today that the Supreme Court has ruled to protect the DACA program from the administration’s attempts to kill it.[1] It is a reprieve for nearly 650,000 undocumented people who were brought into the United States as children. While the court’s decision today was largely made on a technicality (DHS didn’t offer a credible explanation for rescinding the law), the fight over DACA, or the “dreamers,” as they are called, is unquestionably one about American History. Depending on the past that you conjure for yourself and your nation, DACA is either a great manifestation of American identity or a symbol of its decay.

“The Dream Act will only encourage more illegal immigration. One only needs to look at history to see how amnesty has played out in the past. The 1986 amnesty legislation legalized about three million illegal immigrants. But rather than put an end to illegal immigration, the amnesty only encouraged more.”[2]

“Nativism” in the United States is as old as the United States itself. Everyone but the aboriginal peoples already in America is an immigrant. Yet the desire to restrict new populations from gaining access to the nation’s resources remains incredibly powerful. What imagined history is required in order to believe that allowing others into the country will directly hurt you or your constituents?

The argument against DACA is rooted in a particular belief about American History: a belief that the United States is a nation ruled by laws based not only on English Common Law but on the Bible. Amnesty to DACA recipients (even if they were children who entered before they had power to do otherwise) excuses an illegal act, goes the argument. What’s more, in order to remain here, illegal immigrants must continue to break the law by forging identity documents and I-9 employment forms. This understanding of DACA recipients is founded on a historical view of the United States as a place that is held together by rules and norms, where every person is held equally accountable before the law; a nation that will collapse if those rules and norms are overlooked. President Obama broke laws or norms when his administration created the program.[3]

In this version of history, America is a delicately balanced ‘Exception’ in world history that must be protected from those who would seek to overrun it by a kind but firm police and border force. This America has many great cities and natural resources and wild places, but too few jobs or land for newcomers who don’t speak English. This America obeyed its founding principles by trusting the Puritan’s God. That those God-fearing Americans also killed off some of God’s children who were already here and enslaved other of God’s children just means that they were products of their time, ordinary sinners—they still merit statues raised in their honor. This America still produces many heroes and good leaders today, but a bureaucracy built by corrupt leaders, mostly Democrats, drags them down. This America solved its slavery problem in the 1860s, its robber baron problem in the 1900s, its race problem in the 1960s, and its welfare problem in the 1990s. This America can be found in History textbooks taught for decades in some of the largest school districts in the country.[4]

This vision of the nation is so entrenched that the counter arguments (that DACA is good for the national economy, that deporting DACA children is inhumane and cruel, and that DACA recipients are vital members of the American workforce and society) get no traction. That version of American History elides the History professional historians actually know to be the case. An empire built by invasive immigrants who killed and displaced the native population, who imported (and often killed) another population to do it. Formerly “invading hoards” (e.g., Irish, Germans, Swedes, Poles, Lithuanians, Italians) assimilated into American whiteness and used their new power to persecute non-whites. In order to do all this, the nation broke its laws, norms, and supposedly Christian ideals many times over: disregarding treaties with First Nations, resisting voting rights for African Americans, propping up dictators while selling arms to sworn enemies to pay for it.

Clearly, there are two American Histories (at least) at play in the fight over DACA.

They shape the grand debates that end up in the Supreme Court as well as our quotidian lives. Just today, a lawsuit emerged alleging that McDonald’s franchise owners forced their Oakland, California, employees to keep working after testing positive for COVID-19. Owners provided dog diapers and coffee filters for employees to wear as masks.[5]

America’s corporate elite have their own imagined histories. They’re trying to survive amidst declining business, seeing their largely minority workers (who may themselves be DACA recipients) as newcomers to the country who should be happy to have any job.[6] If one buys into the historical worldview that America is at risk of invading brown and black hoards, it is not a big leap to see those brown and black McDonald’s workers as disposable. Our view of our place in history impacts every action we take.


[1] Nina Totenberg, “Supreme Court Rules For DREAMers, Against Trump,”, June 18, 2020,

[2] Lamar Smith, “DREAM Act Rewards Illegal Immigrants for Law-Breaking,”, May 20, 2011

[3] Elizabeth Murrill, “Symposium: DACA Is Unlawful,”, Sep. 13, 2019

[4] Ray Raphael, “Are U.S. History Textbooks Still Full of Lies and Half-Truths?,” History News Network, September 20, 2004,; James W. Loewen, Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong, 3rd ed. (New York: New Press, 2018).

[5] Y. Peter Kang, “McDonald’s Franchise Hit With Suit Over COVID-19 Outbreak,” Law360, June 16, 2020,

[6] Ben Casselman and Tiffany Hsu, “Continued Layoffs Signal an ‘Economic Scarring,’” The New York Times, June 18, 2020, sec. Business,

Read more

“Man killed in shootout with deputies is half-brother of Robert Fuller, found hanged in Palmdale,” KTLA 5 News, June 18, 2020.

“The Real Reason The Aunt Jemima Brand Is Changing Its Name,” Mashed, June 18, 2020.


*If the pdf thumbnails are not appearing, please reload the page.

Bridgman, Aengus, Eric Merkley, Peter John Loewen, Taylor Owen, Derek Ruths, Lisa Teichmann, and Oleg Zhilin. “The Causes and Consequences of COVID-19 Misperceptions: Understanding the Role of News and Social Media.” Harvard Kennedy School Misinformation Review 1, no. 3 (June 18, 2020).
“Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ),” June 18, 2020.
Additional Links

* Timeline summaries at the top of the page come from a variety of sources:, including The American Journal of Managed Care COVID-19 Timeline (, the Just Security Group at the NYU School of Law (, the “10 Things,” daily entries from The Week (, as well as a variety of newspapers and television programs.