Saturday, March 5, 2016

Finding Courage by Remembering the Past

"Passed years seem safe ones, vanquished ones, while the future lives in a cloud, formidable from a distance.”

--Beryl Markham, West With The Night

"Civilization, in fact, grows more and more maudlin and hysterical; especially under democracy it tends to degenerate into a mere combat of crazes; the whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary."
--H.L. Menchen

Whenever my friends and neighbors express trepidation about current conflicts, about the demagoguery of a Ted Cruz who tells us as President he will begin every day by praying to God, who wants to carpet bomb unspecified parts of the Middle East just to show somebody over there they should fear the United States, that we can make the sands glow, or Donald Trump, who says, some days, he wants to round up 11 million illegal immigrants and forbid Muslims from visiting the United States, I simply take a deep breath and say, "This, too, shall pass."

Those words, of course, from Lincoln, were spoken in the midst of a real tempest, when the fate of our nation was actually in doubt, when traitors from Louisiana through Mississippi and Alabama, to Tennessee and Georgia really were trying to drive a blade through the heart of this nation.  What Americans faced in those years, less than three lifetimes ago, was the prospect that this continent would be divided between at least two states, one slave and one free and with that likely more divisions, as the West Coast, the Southwest and the mountain states territories were brought on line. The American continent would look like Europe and likely with the same result: recurrent if not eternal war between nations continuously invading and violating each others borders.

Those were perilous times.

We don't have to look back to the 19th century to see nasty, perilous, distasteful times: In the middle part of the 20th century, with the Fascist hosts vanquished, and America reinvigorated by the return of the flower of its youth, now back and going to college, re-entering the work force, starting families, building futures, life should have been sweet, and it often was. But there were storms brewing, squalls disturbing the sunny days, as Joseph McCarthy led a trumped up hysteria into a full fledged witch hunt, thus confirming H.L. Menchen's observation that democracy is susceptible to con men cum politicians who seize power by whipping up fears we are facing great peril, when in fact, times are good.

Looking back through youtube, you only have to type in "Joseph McCarthy" to see a demagogue who makes even Ted Cruz look like a boy scout.  In his heyday, McCarthy cost hundreds, perhaps thousands their jobs, destroyed promising careers and exposed the cowardice of executives in industries from journalism to entertainment to academic to the professions, especially law.  It was a mini reign of terror. 

Somehow, during the Army-McCarthy hearings a mild mannered lawyer named Welch finally snapped and asked, "At long last, Sir, have you no sense of decency?"

Looking at the video now, it's hard for me to understand how or why this exchange unmasked the monster for the American public, but I am told it worked. 

Compared to the threats of these past national traumas, the spectacle of Republican party Family Feud episodes seems pretty tame. 

The nation will survive. 

One thing which Mr. Trump has demonstrated:  He can bring out people to the polls who have previously stayed home, who have heretofore shown no interest in politics.  For years, the fact that less than 65% of Americans exercise their franchise has been decried as evidence of dysfunction in the American body politic. What we can now see is what a good thing it has been to have only 65% of eligible voters actually showing up and pull levers on election day. 

Just look at the knuckleheads who are showing up now, mostly voting for Mr. Trump. Until Mr. Trump, the knuckleheads didn't read newspapers and they still don't but at least before the Donald, the knuckleheads weren't likely to express their ignorance by voting.

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