- Publisher: The Baffler
- Editor: John Summers
- Published: June 1, 2016
History Fake Out
We began this issue feeling idly curious about the once and future role of architecture in effectuating social change. But it was hard to take our eyes off the flesh-and-bloodied presidential candidates. The whole group seemed to be reaching for the imperium by peddling backward-looking, twentieth- century visions of “greatness.” Pondering the reactionary spectacle produced this issue, Memory Holes, a constellation of essays, poems, and illustrations blinking urgent messages through distinctive places and imagined locations. In our sights are a Christian theme park in Florida; a fast-privatizing stretch of wilderness in Montana; a zone of strip clubs in Boston; a collection of time cap- sules in Southern California; and the Hotel du Parc in Mont Pelerin, Switzerland—the original host site of neoliberal economics— now on its way to the ash heap, courtesy of firster, birther, and anti-free trade fantasies of the good old days of yesteryear.
That the architecture of memory has become so central to identity and revanchist nationalism in Europe isn’t so surprising. The backward-tending political reaction that it conjures is potent, though. As we learn in this issue, the espousal of history and tradition on the Hungarian right spins out into a never-ending persecution complex—a fantasy of belonging that works to justify the repression of all those outside of history’s charmed circle. As for Americans, gawd luv us, we were always a people who could make the most out of amnesia. Hollywood’s movie set designers, as this issue reminds us, have typically preferred creating a fake facade over setting down in a real location. Between Emerson’s fabled Party of Memory and Party of Hope, we chose heritage.
As Memory Holes came together, it seemed hideously fitting that a man whose business model is memorializing his surname on luxury buildings, golf courses, and casinos had finally crossed over from gag candidate to the presumptive GOP nominee. I take it personally. On April 26, Republican primary voters in Adams County, Pennsylvania, where I was born and raised, went big for Trump. This part of the country encompasses what Sarah Palin calls “real America”; the good farmers living there are rural, white, and Protestant, descended from German and Scots-Irish frontier settlers. To the summer touring public, the county seat, Gettysburg, is a synecdoche for the idea of our nation’s noble, redemptive his- tory, a locus of collective memory.
Just before the GOP’s last contested national convention, in August 1976, Ronald Reagan took a break from lobbying Pennsylvania’s uncommitted party delegates to motor about the battlefield’s Union and Confederate markers, bronze monuments, and equestrian statues. But that sort of display would be pretty tame by Trump’s standards. Better to use a Trump-branded helicopter to ferry delegates over to the Gettysburg farm of his fellow Republican Dwight Eisenhower for an anti-immigration stemwinder. After all, it was Ike’s “Operation Wetback” that deported hundreds of thousands of Mexican migrant workers in the 1950s. It already happened here, back in America’s golden age.