Vietnam was a real war, but so was the conflict over that war here in America. The Progressive Era, at the turn of the last century, saw sporadic violence throughout the period from 1890 to 1915.
Who wins the war is not always obvious at the time. I would argue it’s the side whose values define the next era which has won. Never mind that almost all the violence of the Progressive Era ran against the rights of workers. Their values won. Never mind that Nixon was elected, and re-elected, during the Vietnam Era. The protestors’ values won.
Every political crisis is an opportunity, and an obligation, for a new generation to stand up and be counted, to define what their America is all about.
While Charlottesville will be seen by history as a battle in the present crisis, the result has been foreordained for a long time. It was defined on a cold night in Chicago, where a young black man and his beautiful family accepted his election as President of the United States. A single tweet from that man, issued after the last battle, broke all records for the service. Barack Obama remains the President of our heart.
The fact that the monster is in the White House is thought unique by many sunshine patriots, but we’ve had monsters in the people’s house before. Richard Nixon was an anti-democratic monster. Warren Harding was a sexual monster. U.S. Grant was a corruption monster. The Presidents before Lincoln were monsters on behalf of slavery, and Woodrow Wilson was a white supremacist, as vicious in his attitudes toward people of color as Trump himself is.
Despite all this America moves forward. The sociopathy of the current President seems unprecedented, but so too has the response been unprecedented, his party and even some of his followers edging away from him the way you would a ranting uncle at a family gathering.
It is the reaction to what happens in America, in our hearts, that matters more than the events themselves. The attack may be vicious, it may be deadly, there are young bodies dead on the ground. But from these honored dead, from those who gave the last measure of devotion, we highly resolve that they did not die in vain.
The Kent State Four did not die in vain. Heather Heyer did not die in vain.
America is not just a place. America is not just a flag. America is what it has been since 1776, a set of values. It is what it has been since 1787, an effort to form a more perfect union among people.
Look how far we have come. We are the world’s oldest democracy. We are the world’s most powerful country. We are its largest economy. Immigrants got this job done. Look around at how wonderful it is to be alive right now.
But sometimes we get lost, sometimes we get complacent, sometimes we must be reminded, sometimes we must be slapped in the face to recognize just what our forefathers died for. Trump reminds us of all that, by violating norms we have established for how our leaders should act, by endorsing a homoerotic march of bearish gun nuts and polo-shirted bottoms on one of our great universities.
The tactics used at Charlottesville are clear. The old guys use their “Second Amendment Rights” to bring in lots of big guns, which intimidated the local cops. This created a safe space for Nazi slogans, for an orgy of political obscenity by their little boys, who sang “Tomorrow Belongs to Us” and similar Broadway classics.
The answer is a bigger arsenal. If College Station calls out the National Guard, the popguns of the Nazis will look puny, and the cowards will call off the crazy. These idiots think the A&M Corps of Cadets will come to their rescue, that a right-wing governor like Greg Abbott would never stand against them. But they will, and he will, because we have norms in our society, and Trump’s troops are in direct violation.
There will be other battles, and things will look very dark, because we are playing the 1942 Game, because the Monster is in the White House. I get all that. You are right to be scared. But don’t be scared shitless, and don’t think for one minute that a small minority, even with the connivance of a President elected 3 million votes short of his defeated opponent, is going to inaugurate a 1,000-year Reich over America.
The Crisis of 2008, and its successful outcome under President Obama, created a reaction against democracy, from Republicans, leading to the Jim Crow project across America and the election of both Trump and the current Congress.
That was necessary for Americans to get over our complacency, to get off our hind legs, and to begin doing the things Obama’s election only hinted at. The work of securing our democracy is now beginning. It will take years. It won’t end with Trump’s defeat, because the whole Jim Crow Project must be dismantled, Citizens United must be overturned, and gerrymandering must be ended.
Our economic future demands this. A democracy’s political center revolves around some vaguely defined public interest that lies between and among a constantly shifting balance between the parties. An autocracy’s political center revolves around the personal desires of the autocrat. You can’t grow an economy that way.
Even in China, it’s not where Xi Jinping stands so much as where the party stands, and the party stands at the center of a highly complex system where freedom is a commodity that some people have and others aren’t permitted to have. It works for them because the horrors of the 20th century made creation of such a Mandarin-led system necessary. But it doesn’t work as well as democracy. Many Chinese people who come to America still choose to stay here, and become citizens, rather than have their liberty be put in a box again back home.
"This is not the end, it is not even the beginning of the end, but it is perhaps the end of the beginning." Freedom will never surrender. Woe betide all would-be tyrants who pretend different, and their followers, because history has graves for all of you.