Opinion | Morgan Liddick: When we can no longer talk
On Your Right
“(He) is ignorant, passionate, hypocritical, corrupt, and easily swayed by the basest men who surround him.”
No, it’s not the New York Times talking about Donald Trump, although the language is eerily similar. The comment comes from a member of the Eastern elite that controlled America’s government for decades, sharing power among a narrow group of politicians from two of the most powerful states. An elite that, like Alexander Hamilton, tended to see common folk as unsophisticated, easily led and prone to the mesmerism of demagogues. One could easily understand why Andrew Jackson upset them so. And they never forgave him for it.
They were one of the nation’s largest ethnic groups, but the president described them as potential traitors. They were unassimilated, prone to vices and in league with foreign powers. Each was, he avowed, carrying “a dagger that he is ready to plunge into the vitals of this Republic when he gets ready.” No one was surprised when Woodrow Wilson threw many German-Americans into detention camps. And when World War I was over, no one apologized for it; they were too busy ferreting out communists.
“Practically every active communist is twisted mentally or physically in some way,” observed the now-notorious Sen. Joseph McCarthy. It is less remarked that several bipartisan committees of House and Senate agreed, working for years from the late 1940s through the mid-1950s to ferret out those deemed “persons of dubious moral character” including both communists and homosexuals. Purges followed across the country as people who were politically or “morally” suspect lost employment in government, academia, the media, entertainment and elsewhere.
Each of the above was a persecution perpetrated by political elites of those seen as less worthy. Each put citizens at each other’s throats, ruining livelihoods, lives, relationships, families. At the end of them disruption waned and those who could cleared away the wreckage and continued. In some cases such as that of German-American persecution or the Red Scares, the elites who perpetrated the crises arrogated more political power to themselves; in others, such as the case of Andrew Jackson, they failed and new political systems emerged. What’s happening at the moment is no different.
It’s hate, pure and simple, directed at President Trump and his supporters by those who understand that the rise to power by he who shares neither their views nor values will be deleterious to their continued stranglehold on power. Add to that the fact that many of his supporters share neither the worldview nor the class of the elites — that they favor places like Walmart where, as former FBI agent Peter Strzok put it, “I could smell the Trump voters…” And one has a poisonous stew of blindness, rage and contempt.
Fortunately, in each of the historical examples, the parties recovered their senses before taking that last irrevocable step. That step’s been taken only once before, and thank the Almighty for it because the one time it did nearly killed the country. We need to avoid a repetition, regardless of how much we may be tempted.
How do we learn to talk to one another again? It’s simple in theory, but hard in fact. People tend to poutiness, hurt feelings, sulks and mindless rages. Nevertheless, one should try, because the future of the republic depends on it.
First recognize that this instance of a president unpopular with elites is neither the first nor the worst of its type. As a corollary, that the outpouring of scorn from the political elites, from academia and the media, is nothing but an indication of their corrosively narrow vision and pettiness. Just because the commentariat believes it impossible to improve economic performance without a “magic wand” doesn’t make it so. Just because nine out of 10 “experts” think a foreign policy gambit will fail doesn’t mean it will. In both cases untried approaches may work. They simply await someone with imagination to try them.
Likewise, individually, we must cease seeing and talking about those with whom we disagree as useful fools, dangerous dupes or evil minions. It is far healthier for the republic to think of each other as people, some of whom have bad ideas, than it is to think that many of us are bad people with ideas.
Nevertheless, we must all try, because we understand the alternative is not the surrender of one side or the other, but the collapse of the nation and freedom’s Gotterdammerung.
Morgan Liddick’s column “On Your Right” publishes Tuesdays in the Summit Daily News. Liddick spent 27 years working for the U.S. Foreign Service, primarily living abroad. He also spent 12 years teaching U.S. history and Western civilization at community colleges in Colorado and Texas. He lived in Summit County as recently as 2015 and currently lives in Virginia. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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