These are the times…On August 26, 2020 by Bob Talks
Remember these famous words? “These are the times that try men’s souls; the summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country, but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell , is not easily conquered, yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.” Thomas Paine wrote that in “The American Crisis” in 1776, when the American Revolution was in peril and could come to a humiliating defeat.
We presently face our own very trying times. A new form of tyranny is loosed upon our land. We know all too well its dark faces. In the midst of a surging pandemic, we witness daily the failed leadership, the derisive dishonesty, and the systematic dismantling of our cherished institutions and traditions by an incompetent and mean-spirited president. Police brutality, civil rights violations, voter suppression, dangerous conspiracy theories, and abuses of power are all part and parcel of Trump’s game plan. Added to these is a collapsing economy, with the clear and certain reality that we cannot heal the economy until we halt this pandemic. These are serious and urgent times. This tyranny is like a Hydra, with many, far-reaching tentacles.
I am consciously dramatic about this, for we are at a self-determining crossroads. We cannot be passive (a “sunshine patriot”), silently hoping we will emerge on the other side of this darkness into a renewed place of optimism. Our mandate is to be actively involved, engaged, and to do what we can to correct the course and assist this country out of these crises. It’s a simple but hugely consequential choice.
The voices of concerned alarm are loud and numerous from such respected leaders as Colin Powell, John Kasich, and Charlie Dent. There is a ground swell of Republicans supporting Joe Biden and working to end Trump’s rule, such as the Lincoln Project folks and others. Or hear the recent warnings from George Will. He asserts that Trump’s adolescent, “Crybaby-in-Chief” behavior is spiraling this country out of control. “Never has a U.S. election,” Will maintains, “come at such a moment of national mortification.” He further states that “Trump must be removed. So must his congressional enables.” These siren calls of alarm are echoed by Rachel Maddow, President Obama, Lawrence O’Donnell, Don Lemon, and many others. George Will knows that Trump and his enablers are not Republicans in the traditional sense of what that Party has stood for. Remember, his promise to drain the swamp? Instead, he threw huge treble hooks into the swamp and pulled out his band of crooks to exploit this country. Steve Bannon is an apt symbol of the stink hole Trump has created. We’re suffering from this culture of corruption.
I did my doctoral dissertation on George Orwell, who sounded alarms about the rising tyrannies in Germany and Russia in the 1940s. He saw that Hitler and Stalin were mirror images of the same totalitarian face. In his compelling and moving essay, “Shooting an Elephant,” which is based on a true incident when Orwell was a police officer in British controlled Burma (now Myanmar), he makes this profound statement: “When the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys.” Orwell’s novels and essays are about the politics of powerlessness in the face of oppressive authoritarianism. This message culminates in his last two novels, Animal Farm and 1984.
Orwell understood only too well that the victimizer is victimized by his own victimizations, tyrannized by his own tyranny. This does not lessen the brutal impact, the cause and effect, on those being victimized. Orwell knows how significantly different they are. The slave’s suffering does not compare with the slaveowner’s despair. However, it does dramatically suggest the symbiotic relationship between the abuser and the abused, caught in a grotesque dance of mutual loss. The net result is empty, hollow, faux power—not the healthy power of sharing, giving back, showing empathy, building bridges, opening doors, and embracing diversity. Trump has no capacity for healing, transformative power, but rather shamefully abuses power for his own gains.
Donald Trump is a classic illustration of Orwell’s diagnosis. He fits the pattern perfectly.
We see this played out day in and day out, clearly described and analyzed in Mary Trump’s book, as well as by so many others who describe his destructive behaviors. “We the people” has no meaning for him. Creating possibilities for a better United States is not his intent, for he is about his own estate. Power is the laxative he needs to keep tweeting. His self-victimization means he is desperate to retain power. For Trump, maintaining power enables him to continue his abusive patterns, while it also protects him (he believes) from an onslaught of charges and lawsuits. In his efforts to maintain power, he will become more and more desperate, unhinged, irrational, and dangerous as he feels his grip on abusive power eroding. By the way, shortly after I finished reading Mary Trump’s book, I watched the documentary on Jeffrey Epstein, titled “Filthy Rich.” What is shockingly disturbing is how similar, how very much alike, these two “friends” are. They are both classic cases of abusive bullies driven by an authoritarian obsession for power.
These are the times that stress our souls, wear down our energy, challenge our conscience, and test our resolve. The unintended consequences and spill-over effect of our crises are a dramatic rise in suicide, anxiety, and depression. There is now very disturbing evidence
that our health is not only being threatened by the virus but also by these other conditions eroding our ability to function in normal and constructive ways. History is never pre-recorded or pre-written. It is an ever- evolving, ever-changing force with its own energy, like time. Nevertheless, what we do today and tomorrow has major influences on what happens in the future, regardless of how seemingly insignificant or small it is. This coming election is a classic example. We are facing the challenge of choice that will determine our directions, our health, our well- being for many years to come—not only for ourselves but also for our children and grandchildren. We cannot sit on the sidelines, like a “sunshine patriot.” The stakes are simply too high. The moral imperative to do the right thing is in our hands. How we respond determines how we view ourselves as gatekeepers. Do we open gates and welcome others inside or close the gates to keep others out? The answer has to do with how we regard the power vested within us.
When I began working on this blog, I was feeling a high degree of anxiety and anger, brought about by the crises we face as well as personal concerns. Staying safe, hunkering down, being on the alert day-in-and-day-out take its toll. I was struggling with my own sense of loss and discouragement. I think the entire country is trying to cope with our individual and collective traumatic stresses. We feel victimized. We have a right to resent that, to be angry about it, and to want systemic and dramatic change.
We witnessed the prospect of change at last week’s Democratic National Convention. I was hungry for healing words, promises of better days, music and speeches that lifted my spirits. I was (am) not disappointed. In message after message, the DNC defined the issues and presented solutions—realistic, doable, hopeful, optimistic solutions. When it was over, climaxed by the spot-on power of Joe Biden’s effective and masterful speech, I again realized that what is truly great about our country is the possibilities it offers. These possibilities are all about potential—potential for justice, equality, empathy, inclusion, civil rights, civic behavior, and real solutions that can improve education, address the threat of climate change, re-energize the economy, and live up to our capacity as a “beloved community.”
For a welcomed moment, my darkened clouds moved on and moved over and were replaced by the bright sounds of hope. The spiritual aspirations of “Glory” by John Legend and company was truly inspiring, indicative of the entire convention.
I needed that aspiration.
All my good wishes to you,