Dec 10 2020
Reserving the right to object…
I want to thank the gentleman from New Jersey for bringing this issue to the floor today. Cultural programs may represent a tiny fraction of federal spending, but they are magnified many times over by their symbolic and substantive impact.
Culture is upstream from politics. It’s more important, and more deserving of more of our attention.
For that reason, the Smithsonian Institution is more than just another line item in the federal budget. It is one of the great cultural triumphs of our republic.
From the moment of our Founding, the United States has faced an almost unique problem in history.
How do we turn our huge nation’s cultural, religious, racial, ethnic, and regional differences from a potential weakness into a real strength.
The way our nation has always achieved this is by creating institutions that unite Americans around shared interests and the mystic chords of collective memory.
The Constitution. The Senate itself. Our free enterprise economy. Our armed forces and public schools. Federalism. The First Amendment. And even March Madness all fit this bill. They have the power to harness our individual and community differences to the common good of the whole nation.
The Smithsonian Institution does the exact same thing. It winds all the myriad strands of America’s triumphant history into one imperfect but heroic story.
Americans of every age, race, creed, and background come to Washington from all over the country to visit the Smithsonian Museums… Natural History. American History. Air and Space. American Art. The National Zoo.
Within the walls of a Smithsonian museum, just like at the National Gallery of Art or the great memorials that dot this city, there is no us and them… there is only us.
And so my objection to the creation of new Smithsonian museums based on group identity – what Theodore Roosevelt called “hyphenated Americanism” – is not a matter of budgetary or legislative technicalities. It is a matter of national unity and cultural inclusion.
We have seen in recent years what happens when we indulge in the cultural and identity balkanization of our national community. The so-called “critical theory” undergirding this movement does not celebrate diversity; it weaponizes diversity.
It sharpens all those hyphens into so many knives and daggers. It has turned our college campuses into grievance pageants and loosed Orwellian mobs to cancel anyone daring to express an original thought.
Especially at the end of such a fraying, fracturing year, Congress should not splinter one of the institutional cornerstones of our national solidarity.
The Smithsonian Institution should not have an exclusive Museum of American Latino History, or a Museum of Women’s History or a Museum of American Men’s History, or Mormon History, or Asian American History. American history is an inclusive story that should unite us.
Mr./Madam President, the gentleman is absolutely right that the history of American Latinos is a vital part of America’s story.
So, of course, is the history of American Women, who have written more than half of the American story going back to Plymouth Rock.
Their stories are our stories. And they are stories that emphatically should be told by the Smithsonian Institution at the Museum of American History, period.
Now, the gentleman from New Jersey is well aware of my stingy views on federal spending.
But if American Latino or American Women’s history are being under-represented at the Museum of American History, that is a problem.
And I will happily work with him to correct them, even if it means more money, more exhibits, new floors or wings. I understand what my colleagues are trying to do and why. And I share their interest ensuring these stories are told.
But the last thing we need is to further divide our already divided nation with an array of segregated, “separate but equal” museums for hyphenated identity groups.
At this moment in the history of our diverse nation, we need our federal government and Smithsonian Institution to pull us closer together, not pull us further apart.
Therefore, Mr./Madam President, I object.