The mob who toppled monuments to Junipero Serra, Francis Scott Key, and Ulysses S. Grant would compress past, present, and future into the almighty now.
It is pointless to observe the historical ignorance of the mob — or protesters, but this was not a peaceful group — that toppled monuments to Father Junípero Serra, Francis Scott Key, and Ulysses S. Grant in Golden Gate Park on Juneteenth. But it may be worth noting the curious symmetry of their actions.
When he canonized Serra, who brought Roman Catholicism to the Pacific Coast, Pope Francis homilized: “Mission is never the fruit of a perfectly planned program or a well-organized manual. Mission is always the fruit of a life which knows what it is to be found and healed, encountered and forgiven.” More than the statues in Golden Gate Park, it is that notion of healing and forgiveness — even encounter — that the mob rejects.
The commonplace description of the canceled is that they stood “on the wrong side of history.” But that is to miss the vital, defining feature of cancel culture: Its targets stand on the wrong side of Right Now. History, students of it know, is inseparable from context and change. The mentality sweeping the cancelers now is objectively ahistorical. Individuals, to say nothing of societies, can never be “found and healed, encountered and forgiven” in anything approaching moral complexity, discovery, or, for that matter, regression. Instead, the central claim of cancel culture is that each individual exists at a single moment — that of his or her worst sin — and that the standard of judging that sin is compressed into a modern instant.