In light of today’s history making [Trump’s impeachment], it may be important to reflect on the historical differences and similarities we now experience on a daily basis. Upon reading two books in parallel, Eleanor Roosevelt’s biography [1936-45] and Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here, I am struck by the many similarities between recent history and today. When I say recent, I mean the history within the parameters of my lifetime … and a little earlier. I was born in 1942, and my first president was Franklin Roosevelt. The political and actuarial events and decisions of those times strike a hauntingly similar theme to those occurring today.
FDR was confronted with the same demons of prejudice and bigotry we see today. The isolationists then were in the vast majority. The prejudice toward the “other” then engulfed the European Jews and intellectuals trying to escape Hitler’s barbarism. But we were afraid. At least our bureaucrats and politicians from both parties were.
They fomented the seeds of fear and paranoia against accepting these refugees because they thought – without evidence – that among these thousands of people running for their lives were German spies and communists. The Martin Dies anti-communist committee of the 1930s presaged McCarthyism by two decades.
Our capitalists were already sharpening their anti-labor organization knives, and Sen. Dies gave them the political voice they needed. Add to that the inherent anti-Semitism generated from such oratorical extremists like Father Coughlin and his radio attacks on everything Roosevelt and non-Christian, and we had a not dissimilar immigration “philosophy” that the Trump administration brought with it to the White House.
Instead of putting children in cages, the pre-war U.S. State Department let the refugees huddle in the ports of exit until they were roasted in Hitler’s ovens.
Even with the aid of Eleanor Roosevelt’s pressure on her husband and from her friends in and around government, misguided bureaucrats like Breckenridge Long thwarted every attempt to save the hundreds of thousands of soon-to-be doomed people.
Today, we have the dreadful creature, Stephen Miller, filling Long’s role as the great denier of immigration opportunities for people also running for their lives. This time, however, the refugees are running toward the very country that fuels the fear, death and panic in their home countries: the illicit drug trade, a multi-billion enterprise that destroys still more lives.
So, instead of Hitler generating the refugee floods, our own citizens are doing it by lusting after the drugs that “ease the pain” of the users. Well, their pain is transferred to the refugees clamoring to breathe free.
The 1850s presaged the Civil War. Were we any more divided then than we are today? It certainly doesn’t seem so. Today, our “secessionists” and white supremacists are scattered throughout our country instead of being concentrated in the old South. But the racist demons that rampaged then, have once again been let out of their fetid bottle, first by the election of Barack Obama, and then his hateful and bigoted successor who fueled and validated that hate, prejudice and bigotry. Why did he do that? It looks like he did it because that’s who and what he is.
Well, done, America. You have really grown and matured in those 170 years since you slaughtered almost 700,000 of yourselves over things and people you didn’t understand, haven’t you? Well, that’s what wars are about, aren’t they?
No, democracy isn’t a tidy business, but what political philosophy is? But fighting for one’s voice in a democracy yields differences and chasms that self-defeat. Instead of working toward a better nation, we work toward a better tribalism within our boundaries.
Maybe this is normal. Maybe democracy is just another manifestation of tribalism. The idealists episodically get pushed aside for the primitiveness of the tribes.
Our founders were idealists, but they knew that political confrontation, criminal behavior, graft, grifting, varying ideologies and ignorance would prevail no matter how well they wrote those 7,000-plus words of our Constitution. That’s why the Federalist Papers were written afterwards.
Today is a good day to read Federalist papers No. 65 and No. 66. They’re right at your fingertips. We have, sadly, egregious politicians today as we did from way back in Andrew Jackson’s time that abetted and enabled a very wicked man as president.
Today, we have the likes of the infinitely corrupt Mitch McConnell and the abjectly spineless windsock from South Carolina, Lindsey Graham, openly stating that they will violate their oath of office, the Constitution and the oath of a Senate jurist to protect their political asses. That’s it. They know Trump is guilty of many more crimes than just the two articles of impeachment, but they will posture and allow that criminal enterprise to destroy the nation before they will do the right thing. This is the year 2019.
All through the 19th and 20th centuries, our government had periods like this. The only times, really, where we have even come close to resembling the idealism of our founders was during times of extreme stress like world wars, the cold war and the space race. Even then, the profit hogs and ideological radicals persisted at the risk of our very existence, because profits and political power were deemed to be more important.
Well, here we are again. Even though each period of history has its own particular nuances, this latest example of our rancor and distrust is egregious enough that the president this time must be removed from office before his particular pathology destroys our Constitution and our democracy altogether. McConnell and Graham, et al, give not a single damn about that. Their vision extends not much past their own heat signature.
Maybe this is normal for democracy in the United States of America. The trick is to recover from the worst of our angels.