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I’ve lived in tumultuous times before…
“Hey, hey, LBJ! How many kids have you killed today?”
Chicago, Miami, Memphis, and LA — the whole inglorious summer of ’68.
In 1970 the Kent State “incident” was a mere 33 miles away from me.
Then came “I am not a crook.” Followed by two different assassination attempts on Jerry Ford.
On we go to Jimmy Carter, 444 days of “America Held Hostage” and “malaise.”
And here we are again. Only this feels different.
Why does it feel different? Well, I am willing to accept that I have been thoroughly stripped of the optimism that comes with youth. It could also be that my mother was an excellent parent. The stories of deprivation I saw on the news were accompanied by tales of the Great Depression. Scenes of riots evoked stories of the “Bonus Marchers.” The war in Vietnam was recast through the eyes of someone who knew someone who came home from Bataan. There was always perspective. I knew history did not start the day I was born and that, for the most part, life is a struggle. Always has been, always will be.
Still, there have been some fundamental changes in my outlook since “The Donald” descended the escalator in Trump Tower and rode it all the way to the Oval Office. Here is what I have learned:
The Losers Hold the Key.
Winners of democratically held elections control policy but it’s the losers that hold the key to a civilized society. Non-acceptance of election results, an attitude legitimized by a petulant media, is perhaps the biggest threat. Trump’s enemies (and believe me, they are enemies, not a loyal opposition) within and without the government, like to style themselves as “The Resistance.” Of course, they want to romanticize themselves as some sort of underground struggle fighting in France between 1940 and 1944. But they’re not fighting a foreign occupier. They are more akin to the Confederacy who could not abide the election of Abraham Lincoln. As abhorrent as their views on race and slavery were, they would have been more than happy to go their merry way alone. Not this group. The Resistance is at war with America and they won’t rest until she’s subjugated to their will.
Cognitive Dissonance Is Integral to Politics.
Every one of us is capable of holding views that contradict one another. The real problem is that these internal contradictions are always easy to spot in your opponents but carry a certain vampire quality as they aren’t quite as visible in a mirror.
When it came to the destruction of Civil War Memorials, especially those that glorified the military of the Confederacy, I was among the first to point out that history is never ancient in America. Many of these memorials, as the left argues, were built far beyond the era we were all taught as being the “Reconstruction” period. That is true. But the wounds of the war were not healed in 20 years of activity with bricks and lumber. It was a multiple generation effort. When the last reunion of the survivors of Gettysburg met they were only 15 months away from Hitler and Stalin invading Poland and starting the Second World War.
So, if I want them to accept that the wounds of the Civil War are barely healed, then I must also accept that the wounds of slavery are as equally as fresh. The problem is, of course, is that the rioting, the looting, the arson and the actions of mob hysteria make that acceptance difficult. There is no constructive dialogue among destructive actions. Again, civil advancement doesn’t come through anger but through the mutual acceptance and respect of competing interests.
The Political Class Is Obsessed with Theater.
For the first 144 years of American history, the political class toiled away in relative obscurity. Oh, their names were known and their words were read, but few Americans ever heard the voices of our leaders. The presidency of Franklin Roosevelt and the growth or radio changed that. Then came television and Jack Kennedy. And at its zenith, we elected an actor.
Since then we have made more and more political judgments based on theatrical performance and presentation than policy. Teleprompter skills have become confused with intelligence. We worry about and mock the costumes (The crease in the pants, the tan suit, the pants suit, etc.) We comment on weight or muscle tone (Mr. William Howard Taft, please pick up the white courtesy phone…). We care more about tone than substance or ability.
We worry more about the President saying something about an issue than doing something about it. “Please, Mr. President, say something strong about Hong Kong. Or the Uighurs. Or the Turks. Or the Russians. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.” They don’t care if the trade or foreign policy positions they championed for over 40 years neutered our government’s ability to actually do anything about those problems. They just want the heroin-like high of the statement. To them, to “condemn in the strongest terms possible” is leadership.
Their definitions of leadership and my definitions are different. When it comes to foreign policy I wouldn’t call $125,000 in Facebook ads “an act of war” nor would I sell our nation’s debt or otherwise place my country’s economy or safety in the hands of my Communist enemies. And if push really came to shove and it meant a real shooting war I wouldn’t go unless the nation understood the terms, i.e., this is what victory looks like or admit that it really has no end.
The problem with this theatrical notion of politics is how easy it is to get sucked into it. Like the words of the old song, “it’s only a paper moon, sailing over a cardboard sea – a canvas sky hanging over a muslin tree.” I enjoy the make-believe and the magic of the theater as much as the next guy. But keep that thinking out of our politics. Shoving the next actor onto the stage willing to perpetuate your West Wing fantasies is not the answer to our problems.Published in