Saturday, August 08, 2009

Not that anyone will notice my asking, but...

Is America a country, or an idea?

But as this escalates we should continually be stepping back and thinking retrospectively from the vantage point of the future about where this all seems to be heading.
August, not April, is the cruelest month; in politics, anyway. I have to note, first, that Josh Marshall has no memory of 1968, a year I was later astonished to learn almost meant the death of the republic, according to wise grey heads like Eric Sevareid (no one remembers him anymore, oddly enough; all fame truly is fleeting). There were street riots in those days, actual riots where people were shot, killed, beaten, bloodied; where buildings burned and civic life was actually disrupted. Civil rights marchers were murdered in the '60's (NPR did a retrospective, briefly, on what they called the "Mississippi Burning" case [interestingly they named the case for the movie, which came decades later]). FBI agents were openly threatened (as mentioned in the report). Innocent people were shot to death at Kent State in 1970. And now the republic is threatened because of disruptions at town meetings and threatening phone calls?

Huh. I guess Henry Ford was right, and history really is bunk.

The republic survived the Civil War, as I recall. It survived the Great Depression, a situation actually made worse by the government before FDR started to make it better (and war, always a government enterprise, finally brought it completely to an end; ironically, just as it did for Germany). But we are threatened by a bunch of kooks and excitable people in a few closed rooms around the country? When Phineas Fogg visited America in his whirlwind trip around the globe, he ran into a riot in a frontier town, that turned out to be an election for dog catcher. Jules Verne was only slightly exaggerating the passions brought out in American politics. I read recently that no less a luminary than Ben Franklin despaired for the nascent republic because German immigrants in Pennsylvania were enjoying their liberty so much (and abusing it, in Franklin's eyes) that they were firing pastors whenever the pastor said or did something they didn't like (there's a complex tale behind that of the restrictions on releasing pastors that existed under German law; separation of church and state in America has always meant the courts won't interfere here in ecclesiastical matters which are state matters in Europe).

It's like Tommy Lee Jones tells Will Smith in "Men in Black": the planet is ALWAYS about to end. Deal with it.

So is America a country? Or is it just an idea? Such events don't threaten the social fabric of Germany, or France, or England, where multiple parties exist, some avowedly Marxist or Communist, some neanderthal in their conservatism. America has Tweedledum and Tweedledumber, and any variant shade toward either end of the political spectrum is dangerous and disastrous and means the end of the polis as we know it. I don't like the "tea baggers" and I despise the fear-mongers Rachel Maddow (especially) has exposed this week; but is this really the end of the Republic? Really?

I mean, in historical context, this isn't even a very interesting August....

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