This is the monologue for the latest episode of Why? Radio. The topic was the same as the question above: "Are Indian Tribes Sovereign Nations?" You can hear the whole episode online here.
We all tell the stories of our lives as if they are immediately understandable. We expect people to hear our history and grasp, pretty quickly, how we ended up where we are and why we do what we do. Our narratives are our explanation for who we claim to be.
We do the same thing when we tell the story of our nation. In America’s case, we can describe the progress of an exceptional country or the bullying of an imperialist one; we can paint a picture of a battlefield wracked by inequality and racism, or a home of great opportunity. But however we tell the story, we expect, for the most part, that the connection between the pieces will be self-evident. History feels like reason, justification, and explanation, all at the same time. It is told as if it is simple, obvious, and intuitive.
But the fact of the matter is that there is no easy connection between the past, the present, and the future. There is no inevitable outcome for any one event, and the facts are buried in meaning, emphasis, and experience. History—what actually happened—is hidden by historiography, the story that we create to connect and explain events, and this historiography is the epicenter of our deepest most intractable disagreements. It is also the core of our greatest misunderstandings.