Wednesday, September 23, 2020

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Historical Fiction

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Photo courtesy of BYUtv.

There are lies and there are damn lies. And then there is American history.

History is, after all, written by the winners. And from settlement to geo-economic dominance, our plucky countrymen have long managed to come out on the winning side of human events. That’s what makes American exceptionalism so alluring—the evidence of God’s favor seems to be everywhere.

Of course, there are all those pesky, less virtuous details to deal with. Slavery and Jim Crow. Carpet bombings and ethnic internment. Proxy wars and puppet governments. That’s where revisionism comes in handy. Sometimes, after all, it is simply easier to tell a story than deal with the truth.

Stan Ellsworth seems to understand this all too well.

The Utah actor and host of BYUtv’s hit history series, American Ride, is an unabashed advocate for American exceptionalism.

“I do believe this nation was founded by Providence,” said the 6-foot-2-inch, 300-pound blonde-bearded biker, a self-proclaimed “Southern boy” who said he grew up idolizing General Stonewall Jackson and other heroes of the Confederacy.

“A lot of people want to run down the great men of American history,” Ellsworth said. “They focus on the mistakes, and they’re all too willing to forget the noble sacrifices.”

But that, Ellsworth said, doesn’t excuse the failings. “People can be proud of this country and they should be proud of this country,” he said. “But they have to be honest, too.”

Indeed, on his show Ellsworth peppers his nationalism with a healthy dose of smack-you-in-the-face reality. And so, when it comes to a war that many fellow Southerners still blame on “Northern aggression,” Ellsworth won’t abide by Dixie revisionism.

Those who say the South seceded over “states rights,” he growled in one episode, have “either checked their morality or their common sense at the door.”

“They have two problems,” Ellsworth went on. “No. 1: Chattel bondage is wrong, there’s no way around it. No. 2: Under the Constitution, states don’t have rights. States have powers, shared powers with the federal government that the people have given them.”

This is what gives Ellsworth’s show—in which the history buff rides a Harley-Davidson Softtail Deluxe across the country as he recounts the battles, booms and busts of American antiquity—its peculiar charm. It’s the seeming honesty of the message. It’s the apparent sincerity of the messenger.

But that’s also why, today, Ellsworth has a problem. Because when it comes to his own history, he’s been significantly more prone to revisionism.

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