Well, not quite. Don’t get your hopes up just yet.
I refer to the overpowering anger I experienced (and still feel hours later) upon reading the Washington Post’s recounting of the decision by the National Archives to blur out portions of photographs from the 2017 Women’s March for an exhibit celebrating the centennial of women’s suffrage. https://wapo.st/2TzSTSo [Note: if you can’t access the story because you lack a subscription, you should get one. Not that expensive and we need to support the surviving independent journalism of the free press lest we lose it]
The gist of this latest outrageous deferral to the childish bigoted misogynist mind of Donald Trump is a decision by the National Archives, supported by the archivist of the United States, to digitally obscure words that, had they been left in, could constitute engagement in “current political controversy.” The word “Trump” was removed from signs held by marchers that said, “God Hates Trump” and “Trump & GOP — Hands Off Women.” Note that “GOP” was left on the latter sign in the photo exhibit. Only Trump’s name was removed.
If that weren’t bad enough, and it is, the Archives also removed references to parts of women’s anatomy from some signs [avert your eyes, children, we don’t want you to know about women’s’ anatomy; education is bad for you]: ‘vagina’ (yes, VAGINA!!! RUN FOR YOUR LIVES! THE HORROR, THE HORROR!) was blurred out on signs that said, “If my vagina could shoot bullets, it’d be less REGULATED.”
Clearly those women marchers (and supportive men like me who were there too) were intent on bringing down the nation’s morals, undermining democracy and, THE HORROR, exposing viewers of the exhibit to unwanted attention to parts of women’s’ bodies.
By now, I’m sure you’ve also figured out that the word “pussy” was obliterated from signs that read, ““This Pussy Grabs Back.” Those signs, of course, refer to the statement of that paragon of moral virtue, Donald Trump, that “when you’re a star, they [women] let you do it. You can do anything…. Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.”
So, it is clear beyond a reasonable doubt that these decisions were driven by a desire to avoid showing how women felt about the president during the Women’s March. The signs were part of historical photographs of the March. And the Archives decided that they were too much for the public to see because WHY? Because Trump wouldn’t like it. This is the same Trump that, along with his wife, dismissed the statements as just “boy talk” and “locker room talk.” Apparently, the Archives is more concerned about the statements than the person who made them.
Given other attitudes Trump has expressed and that some people claim that the Civil War was about a “northern invasion” and that slavery had nothing to do with it, we can now expect the Archives will surely want to avoid “current political controversy” by removing the bodies of Confederate soldiers from historical exhibits of Civil War battles. And, of course, no more photos of slaves. Should the Archives do an exhibit about the Holocaust, we can expect it to remove all evidence of bodies because there are still fools, and Nazis, who claim that the Holocaust never happened. Can’t risk offending them, can we?
And those pictures of American astronauts on the moon? Forget it. Just show the moon lander and the flag but no astronauts because there are people who claim the moon landing by astronauts was faked. Can’t offend them either.
Rather than avoiding “current political controversy,” the Archives has landed squarely in the middle of it by doing what the leadership of Soviet Russia did when they caused photos of the Politburo to be cleansed of “displaced” leaders. The Archives has also copied the techniques of Nazi Germany in “fixing” historical records. Once you start down the path of this type of “cleansing,” there is no end to it.
In an utterly lame and tone-deaf attempt to defend its decision to alter the historical record, the Archives sad, “Our mission is to safeguard and provide access to the nation’s most important federal records, and our exhibits are one way in which we connect the American people to those records. Modifying the image was an attempt on our part to keep the focus on the records.”
The problem with that is, of course, that the Archives did not provide access to the “records.” It provided access to records it wanted you to see without upsetting the president. In other words, we want you to see the records but only the records we think you, and our Dear Leader, can handle without getting upset. Because we all know what happens when Trump gets upset. We must avoid upset even if it means suppressing the truth.
Understandably, the Post reported, “Archive officials did not respond to a request to provide examples of previous instances in which the Archives altered a document or photograph so as not to engage in political controversy.”
It did say, “The decision to blur references to women’s genitals was made because the museum hosts many groups of students and young people and the words could be perceived as inappropriate.” I suppose no students or “young people” read the newspapers or watch TV or music videos either, so, of course, the Archives is just trying to align with everyone else in denying information so we can keep students and “young people” uninformed about female anatomy. How thoughtful of the Archives to manage the national morality this way.
The Post quotes Rice University historian Douglas Brinkley saying, “If they don’t want to use a specific image, then don’t use it. But to confuse the public is reprehensible. The head of the Archives has to very quickly fix this damage. A lot of history is messy, and there’s zero reason why the Archives can’t be upfront about a photo from a women’s march.”
Wendy Kline, a history professor at Purdue University, is quoted as saying, “Doctoring a commemorative photograph buys right into the notion that it’s okay to silence women’s voice and actions,” Kline said in an email. “It is literally erasing something that was accurately captured on camera. That’s an attempt to erase a powerful message.”
The article also mentions that Getty Images, the owner of the images, licensed them for use by the Archives but that it was unclear at press time whether Getty had approved the alterations. But Getty is not the Archives. Whether or not it approves of the alteration is total irrelevant in judging the decision to alter the photos for public consumption. Getty can do whatever it wants with its property on its own website but is not the arbiter of what is appropriate for the National Archives.
This, I suggest, is what happens when the government bends its knee to the Executive Branch, distorting history without even disclosing what it has done until called out for it. The Trump Administration has made itself unique in American history by the level of graft and corruption among presidential appointees, not to mention the president himself. This corruption has infected the work of the executive agencies to an unprecedented degree. In this unbelievable and outrageous example of the Archives being afraid to offend the president, and thus willing to distort historical records presented for public display, we see just how far the effects of the president’s corruption have extended.
The Archives must immediately either reverse the digital distortion of these photographs. If it’s so worried about upsetting children and “young people,” it can take other measures to warn about the content and let the parents and “young people” decide what they want to see. Making such decision is not the proper business of the government, at least not one serving a democracy rather than a dictator.