Rediscovering America

This week’s Courier Herald Column:


This week we celebrate Christopher Columbus’ discovery of America.

There’s just so much wrong with that sentence it deserves to be deconstructed before moving on.  Christopher Columbus, as we know, didn’t actually discover the America we live in. There wasn’t an actual discovery at all, as there were some folks already living here. He did, however, manage to spend some time in the Caribbean while telling his bosses he was in India.

And as far as “celebrate”… Well, there’s usually a mediocre sale at most department stores.  Federal employees get the day off, but a lot of them aren’t coming to work these days anyway.  And have you ever heard of anyone having a Columbus Day dinner?  Seriously, what is the food we’re supposed to celebrate Columbus Day with anyway?  Let’s just say it’s a scramble dog from the Dinglewood Pharmacy in Columbus – the Georgia city named for the Italian man that didn’t exactly discover America.

Regardless, we have a Monday in October to celebrate the discovery of America.  Perhaps instead of buying some new sheets or a vacuum at a discount, we could instead spend some time re-discovering it.

The basis of Columbus’ discovery was rooted on capitalism and trade.  His mission to sail west wasn’t one rooted in science or discovery.  It was spurred by a profit motive, an attempt to find a superior trade route to the Far East.  Throughout our history, we have sought to trade with those around us to make us a stronger people.

Trade, of course, exists for only one reason.  It by definition is designed to make both parties better off.  If either party is not strengthened by a trade, then the trade will not happen. When one party gives up some of what they have in abundance for something that they find scarce, they have improved their economic standing.

Value is created when parties can find the basis for a trade.  When both sides refuse to give, there is by definition less to take.

The America that Columbus didn’t discover – that which is known by a system of individual rights and a representative government – has also developed along a system of trade.  This, however, has always been a bit of give and take.  Our founding fathers understood this.  While they each brought their own ideology to the table when making decisions that framed our great nation, they also brought the pragmatism of businessmen skilled in the art of making a trade.

Thus, our founding documents on which America is founded are the result of epic battles over principle, but are themselves the result of compromise.  Ultimately, the items that were needed to make a deal were included.  Those that stood in the way were discarded.

The system of compromise and trade in government continued along for almost a century before some decided they could no longer trade, that compromise wasn’t an option.  The War Between The States showed us that America as an ideal only thrives when opposite sides continue to work together.  The War costs us about 620,000 lives as the result of direct combat.  The economic devastation to parts of the country lingered for decades.

And yet, even after a period of time where the enemy was us, one where brother fought brother, we managed to find a way to continue to work together in an effort to make us a great country. One where individual effort and mutual cooperation provides social opportunity, upward mobility, and economic prosperity.

We approach this week again with high vitriol from those we have elected to represent us.  These are not happy days for those in government, and they are reflecting the general intransigence of those who elected them.  And they are us.

Trade and compromise do not mean that we are just losing faster, as some have adopted as a mantra.  If it does, it means we’re doing it wrong.

Trade and compromise have a history dating back to both the roots of our government and to the discovery of the land in which we live.  It is a part of us.  It is required for us to continue.  For us to thrive.  For us to prosper.

In a week where we give the slightest of nods to discovery, the art of compromise is a skill which we need to rediscover.  It’s something we used to understand was the path to our ultimate benefit.  Done correctly, it is the only path for us to get to prosperity again.


  1. greencracker says:

    If by “capitalism and trade” is meant rape, theft, murder, enslaving people, torture, child sex trafficking, mercantilism and trade, sure, I’ll take it.

    I don’t think he was uniquely diabolical: he was just acting like most European pirates did at the time.

  2. saltycracker says:

    At a recent presentation by some historians they made an excellent point:
    Much of the intense debates over who came first, why and where they first walked is but entertaining academic exercises.

    The bottom line is Columbus kick started the European migration events that resulted in today’s United States of America. The history of his voyages and those he inspired to explore our globe are inspiration.

    They also pointed out that many times “myths” serve a valuable role. Example: Washington never cut down a cherry tree or threw a coin over the Potomac but the stories keep one of the most important contributors to our founding in the minds of our citizens and many go on to learn his real accomplishments.

    • George Chidi says:

      Myths. Inspiring. Sure.

      Facts. Also inspiring. Like his penchant for child rape. Or the fact that he extracted gold from the natives by cutting the hands off of those who would not produce their quota and made them wear their dismembered body parts around like a scarlet A. Or that he effectively began the transatlantic slave trade.

      Columbus discovered America for Europeans. He also brought unspeakable death, disease, war, slavery, exploitation and human suffering on a scale equivalent to Nazi Germany or the Great Leap Forward. This is a day of mourning.

      • Harry says:

        I believe it’s true, what you write. It’s too bad the Indians didn’t have a better system of tribal defense in place to control the Europeans instead of being on the receiving end.

      • saltycracker says:

        It is what it is. The originals were a violent divided lot and engaged in bad behavior including slavery, the pope divided the new world up between Spain and Portugal, England and France got pieces via wars, the Patriots got 13 colonies via war, land got won, swapped and sold via war or threats, few are here because they so loved their motherland…..and none are held here against their will or accountable for past generations.

      • Noway says:

        A day of mourning? Give me a break and grab a Kleenex, George. America is the greatest nation ever conceived by man. Period. You get to freely express your point of view because of what America became. Every nation has its history of bad deeds. How far do you want to take it back, George. I knowwwww! Let’s mourn the fact that murder came upon this Earth when Cain killed Abel!!

  3. D_in_ATL says:

    I did not read this but I did catch an interview with the author on NPR…
    1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created

    Pretty informative in that most of the Indians died from disease before they had ever laid eyes on a european. The things they brought over from europe had all sorts of bugs (literally) and their horses and other domesticated animals exacerbated the problem as the natives didn’t have immunity to cross species diseases; think bird flu writ extreme. Also interesting was the enviremental affect of non-native plants on the ecosystem, like there were no earthworms in America before Columbus and that doomed entire species.

    • saltycracker says:

      Globalization has a few negatives.
      Prefer to recall the positives on a dedicated day. Not so long ago we dedicated a day to MLK for his very positive effects and should let the negatives – that are minor to Columbus – of his personal behavior go.

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