'Begin the World Anew'

When I was finding my way as a new columnist, I remember questioning whether any of us outside the big media capitals ought to write much about national affairs. There’s plenty of subject matter here in the hinterlands after all, and anyway aren’t the experts sitting in NY and DC?

No more. Around 2016, I came to believe that any of us with a platform anywhere need to weigh in on what we’re seeing. On what worries us as citizens, and what ideas give us hope in what has become a dark and fearful time in our federal government.

I believe there are wise and knowledgeable people who are witnessing exactly what’s going on and what it means for America. They are sitting at desks and kitchen tables all over our nation.

Forget the Russians for a moment. It’s not only them. Closer to home, our national norms are being centrally assaulted by an obvious “enemy within” (as RFK once wrote, or if you prefer, the way his ghostwriter Seigenthaler titled it) when he described the Teamsters’ organized crimes in the early 1960s. The difference now is it’s Trump with his serial erosions of our institutional norms, aided by the complacent and/or cowardly Congress.

This extended Fourth of July weekend has got me thinking fresh about all this – reading how Trump militarized our Independence Day, his continuing undermining of the free press, and on and on. In truth, it’s time a lot of us said what we’re seeing and what we feel about it, and that we hear each other saying it. There is so much good in our cities and towns and nation. But we never hear this from our President, except when he consents to read the words penned by an invisible speechwriter (I’d like to know that person’s name). But even then, so little sincerity undergirds this President’s ghosted words that just a few raindrops on a ‘prompter screen will get him way off message.

There were genuine heroes of our Revolution – think Jefferson, Adams (both), Hamilton, Franklin, Madison, Revere, Ross, Washington himself – and another of them was Thomas Paine. “We have it in our power to begin the world anew,” Paine bravely wrote, under the shadow of tyranny, the reign of great fear, the risk of death.

We have that power, even now. Some days I’m reminded of the words of “Howard Beale,” the central figure in the brilliant 1976 film Network, by the screenwriter Paddy Chayevsky: “Get up! Get out of your chair! Go the window, and yell, I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore.” That film was fiction, of course, whereas real life is much more complicated. A more relevant film is Good Night, and Good Luck (2005). It’s the true story of Edward R. Murrow at CBS News in the early 50s and his takedown of Senator Joe McCarthy. It’s a good reminder, in stark black-and-white, of the role of our free press and why it matters in extreme times.

In any case, the feeling here is that it’s time for any and all of us to speak up, using whatever “windows” and platforms are available, and to not be timid or bashful about it. It’s what Americans are supposed to do. And we should do it soon.

Who’s with me?