I think historical patterns are more than a “cyclical phenomenon” of events and trends; there are too many on and off ramps, like the Beltway at rush hour. I don’t know enough—yet—about political history elsewhere in the world, but I feel we definitely have recurring patterns in American political behavior. Time, trends and the figures may change, but the gravity of the situation is much the same. The parallels can be painful, and today they are when you find yourself impotent in the face of them as the world you know goes mad.
My inner history nerd requires plenty of gratification; when I am reflective, I realize there are reasons (or will be) for the things I write, the films I watch, the TV I avoid, etc. In the past month I’ve avoided the T.V. in favor of political thrillers, mainly those based on actual events. Truth is far stranger and more amazing that fiction. I had watched Good Night, and Good Luck (2005) probably half a dozen times and wasn’t sure why I wanted to so much. (For the record, if you haven’t seen it, it’s one of the best historically-based movies of the past decade).I’ve watched it enough that I’ll be putting the biography of Edward R. Murrow in the front of my “to read” queue when I get home. The man was a damn good journalist, and did his best to be fair, if not always impartial, to all sides. The time Murrow reigned on the news, like Cronkite, is a bygone era, so drastically different from the entertainment and fear-based bullshit news of today.
In particular, I found several clips about Murrow from “See it Now” when I went digging for more than film scenes, and found one famous monologue the filmmakers re-created perfectly for a scene in their film. It made my jaw drop for one reason: other than the eloquence (which is hard to reproduce without sounding weird today, I guess), why hasn’t this point been brought up by pundits yet? You can listen to these two-and-a-half minutes from 1954, where Murrow (The Man!) responds to Joe McCarthy’s power-wielding the way only he seemed able to.
I didn’t think of it before, but it doesn’t take much to realize how eerily similar what he’s talking about has resonance today. The cycle is here and now. People are damned afraid of each other, and of those in positions of power who are using bully tactics to get what they want. I had to watch that clip several times. Through its direct brilliance, I recognized the fear and distrust of the period, and wonder if ours is right around the corner. I’ll admit, at the peak of the hate- and fear-mongering during the campaign trail, I’d predicted knifings in the streets as opposing sides clashed (thankfully I was wrong). I find it interesting, strange, and dismaying that I thought of this clip, while all this horrible dirt in the news today just piles up rapidly on all sides. I got tingles thinking about how eerily appropriate this monologue is over 60 years later; just the names and positions have changed… once the new presidential administration is established, I sincerely hope those words remain a feeling of an older time instead of heralding the things still to come.
I’m not asking to confirm or explain the behavior of any political candidate up for grabs right now. I can’t stand any of them running for office, and never thought at this late date that I would still be undecided. How do you vote when every option will make it tough to sleep at night? Which one would I be more likely to tolerate? I can get into some serious arguments with family members about this, so I do my best not to even bring up politics, and I will avoid saying much more here. When they try to goad me into an argument, I can only say that I’m angry that we’ve gone—in less than 300 years—from Washington, Adams, Jefferson…to whatever the hell this is. It’s a bad dream I can’t wake up from.
But speaking of pundits really missing out, and all the vitriol constantly spewed by a certain candidate, I’m surprised some awesome pundits and journalists didn’t pull this gem out of the archives—it’s been seen often enough…Joe Welch (The Other Man!), saying what needed saying in the end, and delivering a K.O. to a career in the process:
Whatever the politics, personal convictions, etc. of all I meet, this is what I desire the most in our present and future…so it is not some quaint relic of the past. We can still have decency, but now it feels like we have to fight for it.