So go the lyrics of a Dylan classic. I started this post at three in the morning at SeaTac airport with three hours to kill before my connection. Just a forewarning that the quality and coherence of thoughts put down may be more suspect than is even usual for me. I wanted to write this as a follow up to the previous post where I presented my case that left is indeed right. As in, if one takes a position left of center on a social issue one will likely end up on the right side of history.
I had a conversation with a gentleman a few years ago that I remember still quite clearly. I mentioned how among the pantheon of great American presidents I admire Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and FDR. The gentleman I had this conversation with was a conservative, so naturally — or a wrong presumption on my part to assume so I suppose — he said he agreed that Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln were men to be admired but FDR not so much. What with the New Deal and Social Security and all. Which got me thinking about how, in their time and age, these men were likely derided, even ridiculed for some of their views. For example, I have heard several people argue with me about how Lincoln was the person most responsible for the Civil War and how I’ve bought into the popular myth about the Civil War being about slavery and the eventual abolishment of the inhuman practice. To illustrate my point better, consider, for example, Barack Obama. I realize there are many who would take umbrage at the mere mention of the forty fourth president in the same context as the first, third and the sixteenth, but hear me out for a minute. I heard innumerable times how, when there are so many important things to do, Obama was concerned about, for example, gay rights. But here’s the rub. There are always more important things to do. They said the same thing about ol’ Abe Lincoln in the mid nineteenth century. That there were so may important things to do, and this man here was worried about abolishing slavery. A view, if held openly today, would result in the person holding that view being held in near universal contempt, and deservedly so.
Adams, Jefferson and the rest were the men of the Enlightenment which made them extraordinary men for not just their time but for several ages. But for all their greatness, the first and third presidents are guilty of pawning off to the next generation a practice in society that fundamentally challenged one of the founding principles of the republic that “all men are created equal”, much as it ate at their conscience. America’s Original Sin if you will. If they had tried to address it however, they would have, in their own time been thought of as too radical.
Words like expert and scholar are bandied about so casually these days and are so overused that they’re almost cringe worthy. So far be it from me to claim any expertise on American history, but I’ve read enough of it and the men that formed a part of the founding to know this much. Washington was accused of being a dictator. The man who set the precedent for the two term presidency. Adams was an unabashed elitist and egomaniac. Adams, who was jovially nicknamed “His Rotundity” by one of his peers for the highfalutin titles he kept coming up with which the president was to be addressed. “His Highness the President of the United States of America and Protector of the Rights of the Same.” was one such, before Washington put his foot down and settled on the simple, elegant and no less awe inspiring Mr President”. Jefferson after all, was responsible in introducing realpolitik to the nascent republic, aided in no small measure by his opposition to the anglophile Hamilton. The Francophile Jefferson some would say. Lincoln of course was the “black republican”.
I guess all this is a long winded way of saying that the reverence we hold for our forefathers and their prescience would have been misplaced in their own time. I also tend to stay away from hearkening back to the good ol’ times. Because the good ol’ times were good for a select few. Not so much for the rest of what would have been us at the time. Sure there was a time when travelers on airplanes were treated to luxury but air travel was then only accessible to a select few. The democratization of the technology and mode of transport means that it is accessible to people of lesser means but not at the same comfort level and luxury. But the rich have to differentiate themselves somehow. So they came up with first class, which is fine by me. Sure the good ol’ times were simpler and kids could play outdoors without constant adult supervision but they were more likely to be run over by cars too. That’s probably not a good example, but the reader gets the point.
It particularly irks me to see social media memes and posts where millennials are portrayed as lazy, self obsessed, smartphone and social media addicts that can do little but Snapchat all day. Assuming Snapchat hasn’t yet been relegated to the un-cool parents and grandparents category. When in fact they are the smartest generation in a long line of smart generations with ideas that will change and in some cases with their embracement of sustainable living concepts, save the planet we call home.
I guess my point is, and there is one indeed, if you were wondering, is that the good ol’ times weren’t that great and the very people we hold up as examples from that time were considered far from examples to hold up at the time. So before I dismiss someone’s opinion, no matter how young, to keep in mind that I should think long and hard before doing so. It also reminds me that just because I am forty something years old doesn’t automatically entitle me to the younger generation’s respect.