“Those who do not remember the past
are condemned to repeat it.”
I do not agree with Santayana’s quote for a several reasons: #1 – other than professors on college campuses and a few (weird?) hobbyists, nobody studies history. We all “take” history courses in high school but only a few students find it even mildly interesting, much less a discipline to invest adult time in studying. #2 – Even if you “remember the past” it makes little difference because those in power don’t and, as a result, history is disturbingly cyclical. Regarding point #1 – as someone who taught history to high school students (or their aspiring teachers) for 42 years, I think it’s obvious why teenagers don’t actually learn history. Simply put, they don’t have history! For an adolescent, “history” is two weeks ago --- and it’s focused on social events or performance activities (sports, drama, band/orchestra, choir, et al). That too many history teachers slog through the past chronologically (starting with pre-history or Christopher Columbus) guarantees teens won’t be along for the ride. But I don’t want to talk about pedagogy and curriculum here, there are bigger fish to fry. Point #2 (history is cyclical because of ignorance) is being played out right before our eyes on a daily basis. Yesterday’s elections, particularly the Governor’s race in Kentucky, where a Democrat (Andy Beshear) defeated the incumbent Republican (Matt Bevin), who was endorsed by Trump on Monday, illustrates the cyclical nature of our politics/history.
Trump endorsed Bevin at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. The venue is named after the legendary University of Kentucky basketball coach who, while becoming the 5th most-winning coach in NCAA history, might best be remembered for the 1966 championship game where his five white starting players (not only there were no Blacks on the Kentucky team but there were none in the entire South Eastern Conference!) lost to Texas Western’s five Black players --- a significant event in the civil rights movement. During his endorsement of Bevin, Trump lashed out at the Democrats as Socialists --- which appears to be one of the major talking points he will use in the 2020 election. This builds on Trump’s February State of the Union address when he said:
Here, in the United States, we are alarmed by new calls to adopt socialism in our country. ... Tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country.
Reflecting on this strategy brought me back to Harry Truman (President, 1945-53) because he was attacked again and again by the Republican Party as a “socialist.” Truman is a font of “quotable quotes” that proves, in fact, that the citizens of the United States “do not remember the past.”
As a case in point, consider this Truman quote from 1952:
Socialism is a scare word they have hurled at every advance the people have made in the last 20 years. Socialism is what they called public power. Socialism is what they called Social Security. Socialism is what they called farm price supports. Socialism is what they called bank deposit insurance. Socialism is what they called the growth of free and independent labor organizations. Socialism is their name for almost anything that helps all the people.
The fact is, Americans are grossly ignorant regarding their understanding of what “Socialism” is and generally confuse it not only with term “Communism” but also with “totalitarianism.” Some of this is the understandable product of almost a half-century of the Cold War, in which the “free and democratic” United States stood on the barricades against the “godless, Communist” Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.). But the modern American Republican Party (until Trump) was built around opposing all things Russian. In the new Trumpist incarnation, Russia, apparently, is “okay” but Socialism (which Russia, now a kleptocratic authoritarian state, is not) is still the “scare word” used to rally the base. “A Trump campaign spokesman said that the rhetoric about socialism ‘resonates’ with the vast majority of hard working Americans who recognize that Trump’s patriotic capitalism is benefiting all Americans nationwide.”
And here, again, Truman had several choice quotes. First, he noted:
Republicans approve of the American farmer, but they are willing to help him go broke. They stand four-square for the American home ---but not for housing. They are strong for labor --- but they are stronger for restricting labor’s rights. They favor minimum-wage – the smaller the minimum wage the better. They endorse educational opportunity for all --- but they won’t spend money for teachers or for schools. They think modern medical care and hospitals are fine---for people who can afford them. They consider electrical power a great blessing --- but only when the private power companies get their rake-off. They think the American standard of living is a fine thing --- so long as it doesn’t spread to all the people. Andy they admire Government of the United States so much that they would like to buy it.
In the Kentucky election Tuesday, the issues of education and medical care were the driving force behind Beshear’s victory, but if we consider the other items Truman addresses, we can see that today’s Trumpublicans fit his quote. Farmers? Screwed by the tariffs. Housing? Ben Carson is Trump’s Cabinet man on that front. Labor and the minimum wage? We know where Republicans stand on those issues, and it’s not with the working person. Electrical power? One word: California. The standard of living? The Wealth Gap is increasing every year! Again, Harry said:
We are fighting with all of our strength to prevent the gluttons of privilege from swallowing up the country. An honest public servant can’t become rich in politics. He can only attain greatness and satisfaction by service.
A reaction to Trump’s view of the country? Seems pretty accurate.
Finally, as regards Trump’s attempts at using the Government to serve his own purposes, his characterization of the free press as an “enemy of the people,” and the demand that the Whistleblower’s identity be revealed, Truman had one more quote.
Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures. Until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear.
Trump’s “appeal” to voters is based on authoritarianism and fear --- particularly fear of “the Other” (read nonwhite, non-Christian, etc.). His instincts are clearly undemocratic and he is blatant in his craven desire for wealth and power. Fans of “The Apprentice” do not distinguish the character from that show (a successful businessman --- not Donald J. Trump) with this cartoonish buffoon serving as President. Harry Truman was reacting to the immediate post-World War II America he was navigating and his quotes are prescient --- clearly applying to the world we find ourselves in. Like a bizarre circle of Dante’s Inferno we are, day after day, condemned to repeating the past we have not studied.
(Coming Soon: The Political Spectrum – from Left to Right and Everything In Between!)