We Will All Go Down Together

Shakespeare’s original use of what has become a common saying, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” was about differences between the families of Romeo and Juliet. I think he is right about that, but calling a skunk a rose will not change our perception of “scent.”

As I have mentioned elsewhere, we are living in interesting times. We have more unrest in the States now than any time since the Vietnam War protests. Even the Nixon Presidency did not produce as much turmoil as we have seen recently—since the election of Donald Trump. The protest and anti-protest in Charlottsesville, Virginia illustrate just how crazy political life in the States has become.

The hostilities seem to have expanded, with white supremacists wreaking havoc across the country. A very long time ago, one of my older cousins was teaching me to play chess. At some point, she asked me whether I thought that what had happened in Germany in the years before WWII could happen in the States. My preadolescent self said, “No, we’re much too reasonable to go crazy that way.” She disagreed. She perceived a dark current of anger beneath the facade of democracy.

The election of Donald Trump seems to be proving my cousin right. One of the recent news stories says that the pardon of Joe Arpaio legitimizes concentration camps. We definitely seem to be heading in what I consider a wrong direction. I came of political age in the 1960s and was strongly influenced by the two main causes of the times: Civil Rights and the Vietnam War.

I was one of those caught up in both the Vietnam War protests and the Civil Rights movement. Many of those I knew from those days did what they could to avoid service. When I was drafted, I went. I volunteered for a noncombatant position (medic), but everywhere I went, the question was, “Who here can type?” I always held my hand up, and ended up spending my time in the service—including my tour in Vietnam—as a clerk. Vietnam gave me not only the opportunity to have conversations with the Vietnamese who worked for the Army but also to work with (and often report to) Black NCOs, so in some ways my military experience reinforced my days of protest.

One of my principal concerns at this time is that Trump and his followers seem to want to undo the rule of law that we have done our best to uphold through much of our history (the Civil War being the big exception): Hanging by Our Teeth to the Rule of Law. It seems as though many cling to a belief that the Confederate States were right to rebel against the rule of law once the Thirteenth Amendment was past. At that point, the United States was simply trying to catch up with the rest of the world considered “civilized” at the time by outlawing slavery.

As was the case in many other places, we went from slavery to segregation. Even when segregation was outlawed, it continued to be practiced, and was often reinforced by the practice of lynching. We may not longer have mass lynchings as in the past, but there’s still plenty of of racial hatred to go around.

I can’t remember a time when I have felt this discouraged about the future of the the States—and the world. One of the songs from the Vietnam era that comes to mind is, “Goodnight Saigon,” by Billy Joel:

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