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In These Troubled Times


Kudos to Jonah for his superb NRO column yesterday, href=””>Division
Diversions: Enough with this two-Americas, wedge-issues, unity nonsense
I have a small quibble and a proposed addendum. First the quibble,
though “quibble” is probably not the right word. Although Jonah is right to
note that Democrats like John Kerry imply that they will unite the
American people, I was struck at the time that, in his victory speech on
Tuesday, Kerry did not explicitly promise that he would do so (and of course
if elected he won’t). Instead, after chastising Bush’s claim to be a “uniter
not a divider” on the ground that we are more divided than ever (as though
this is solely Bush’s fault), his very next line began (I quote from
memory), “but WE BELIEVE that. . . .” The “we” here was clearly Democrats
since the litany that followed was his campaign issues that obviously divide
the electorate. This “we” is in contrast to “they” which refers to
Republicans. Unlike George Bush, Kerry made no promise to unite America and
he has no intention of doing so. When Democrats repeatedly call to “Take back
the White House” or, even worse, “Take back America” (a pretty scary phrase
when you think about it) what they mean is take it back from the other half of
the electorate with whom they disagree. Unless they somehow dispose of this
other half, the nation will remain divided as it always has.

Now here is my proposed addendum: Jonah’s historical survey reminded me of
my pet peeve which I sometimes even let myself vent to my students.
It is the eternal reference by public figures to “these troubled times” in
which we live–a phrase that has been uttered by public figures for as long as
I can remember–including throughout the boom years of the 1980s and 1990s
when it really started to get on my nerves. I remember the 1970s when we
still had the Vietnam War, gas lines and stagflation and malaise. I recall
the 60s when, after the Kennedy, King, and Kennedy assassinations, one dreaded
hearing the words “We interrupt this program to bring you the following news
bulletin. . .” because it was often followed by some new catastrophe. From
body bags, to riots in all major cities to regular airliner crashes (yes at
least one or more a year), to coal mine disasters, to mass street protests,
sit ins and shut downs, it was a truly miserable time. I even
remember the 50s when as a very small child I was seriously afraid of nuclear
conflagration–with good reason and with the rest of the nation watched the
events of the Cuban Missile Crisis unfold on TV in 1962.

I then ask my students (rhetorically), if we are living in troubled times, can
you tell me when in the past was the good time? Was it the 50s (Korea,
the “red scare”)? The 40s (WWII & the holocaust)? The 30s (Depression)?
The 20s? (A few frenzied fun years in between WWI and the Crash marked by
widespread gangland violence and corruption resulting from Prohibition), the
Teens (WWI and the Lost Generation)? The 1900s (Jim Crow)? Indeed all these
decades were marked by racial segregation and a palpable overt racism in the
culture that I am old enough to remember. The end of the Nineteenth Century
(labor unrest and violence, mass immigration into choked cities,
Reconstruction)? The Civil War (about which Jonah writes)? Antebellum
America deeply divided over slavery? The late 18th Century when Madison and
Jefferson organized their Republican Party to oppose the reigning
Federalists? Or was it after the Revolution when factional politics got so
bad we needed to devise an entirely new constitutional order? Or was it the
Revolutionary War? Or….well you get the idea.

No, by comparison, today we are living in incredibly wonderful times, even
after having been attacked by radical Islamic terrorists with whom we are now
at war–though times were definitely better in the years immediately before
9/11. Remember all this the next time you hear a public figure preface his or
her remarks with “In these troubled times.” On second thought, why should you
be as annoyed as I am. Never mind.


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