An Editor’s Comments and Notes – On A Given Sunday (Impeachment Trial Eve)
Published: February 7th, 2021
Oklahoma City – Some developed thoughts on issues of the moment (February 7, 2021) – but not the Senate trial of a twice-impeached former president.
On Friday, I posted on my personal Facebook page and elsewhere a few words from Thomas Jefferson, Author of the Declaration of Independence, founder of the University of Virginia, the first Secretary of State, second vice president, and third president of the United States.
The quotation, from 1781:
“History by apprising [citizens] of the past will enable them to judge of the future; it will avail them of the experience of other times and other nations; it will qualify them as judges of the actions and designs of men; it will enable them to know ambition under every disguise it may assume; and knowing it, to defeat its views.”
Former Oklahoma Corporation Commissioner Cody Graves responded quickly with a comment:
“That assumes that the past is studied…sadly far too many of our friends have not taken the time…”
What follows is adapted slightly – after further reflection – from my reply to Mr. Graves, who is a Facebook friend (also, actually, a friend):
That seems right. In the few words you used there is a lot of insight reflecting years of observance and contemplation.
Learning from the past requires a willingness to … learn.
Concerning those who believe they know everything about everything and who act as if history worth knowing began with their pain and their need, rather than at the dawn of humanity … Well, there is in such a mindset trouble, in the form of multiple roadblocks to common understanding, experience and meaning.
Learning in the sense Jefferson touched on in can only happen for those willing to study events or people in context, to listen to those who provide information about the past in order to inform, to enlighten, to illuminate dark corners.
As more consumers of information grow weary of the work required to “learn” in this sense – when empathy is undermined or destroyed through a push to reach judgments based on appearances and on emotion and with preconceived notions — history devolves into a weapon and not a tool for instruction.
This is in direct opposition to the development of discernment and restraint.
Once upon a time, I found it common for people to “walk a mile” in the other person’s shoes, or moccasins or boots or other footwear.
But now even the simple call on another to “see this through my eyes” is dismissed, with the call for restraint itself tagged a form of assumed “privilege.”
Yes, this is working in all directions right now. I blame particular factions more than others but concur that it is pervasive. Not only have far too many Americans (and others) not taken the time or made the effort to learn from the past, they regard the past as meaningless until they decide it has meaning.
To say that we are presently in a vicious cycle is to state the obvious — but stating the obvious is getting harder because fewer and fewer things are “obvious” to more and more observers.
Below – as a simple listing without commentary, for the moment – a sketch of The Oklahoman’s opinion and commentary pages in the newspaper print edition delivered in a timely manner by a reliable carrier, on Sunday morning, February 7, 2021:
1. Point of View by Leonard Pitts, Jr. (Miami Herald), “It is different, being us”
2. Brad Mahoney (USA TODAY) Editorial Cartoon on Tom Brady
3. Point of View by Gov. Kevin Stitt, “On leading Oklahoma toward becoming a ‘top 10 state’”
4. Point of View by John ‘Rocky’ Barrett (Chairman, Citizen Potawatomi), “A rising tide lifts all boats”
5. Point of View by E.J. Dionne, (Wash. Post) “Does bipartisanship matter more than helping kids?”
6. USA Today editorial cartoon on Congress, You and Suffering Americans
7. Point of View by Jonah Goldberg, “Biden unwisely following the party line lead of his two predecessors”
8. Paul Mullasseril (president, Oklahoma Dental Association), “History will repeat itself and out state’s most vulnerable population will suffer”
9. Letter to the Editor Instructions including other guidelines, and Subscriber Services information.
A few weeks back I began to reflect anew on the widespead assumption — among many American journalists, intellectuals, and others — that the growth of government and the ongoing decline of individual economic liberty and autonomy are both desirable and inevitable.
I do not agree with either assumption.
I won’t attempt it here and now but am confident that I could, in an essay of reasonable length, provide a definition of socialism that would respect differing views while advancing my own.
For now, I merely submit some observations to provoke thought and perhaps event thoughtfulness.
There is absolutely no reasonable basis for assuming (or attempting to ‘require’ in public discourse using “pervasive” mechanisms ) that economic conservatives and libertarians must accept every expansion of government economic control and power that comes along simply because of the undeniable historical facts of Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries.
The desire for greater economic liberty is not a pipe dream, it is a rational aspiration held by hundreds of thousands – perhaps millions – of informed, caring, compassionate and creative American citizens.
Margaret Thatcher maintained much of the British welfare state while nonetheless leading a major shift in government policy during her historic tenure as Prime Minister in Great Britain.
Ronald Reagan (originally an FDR Democrat) had no problem accepting the economic fact of social security while still arguing for greater economic liberty in most areas of the American and world economy.
The present governments of scattered countries around the world are in one degree or another engaging in policy shifts aiming to reduce the economic power and footprint of the State. The undeniable fact that these governments are in the minority – that government power in the economic arena is growing in most nations – is not a reason to deny the contrarian examples.
Even the comparatively recent history of the United States features salient facts worth consideration. A certain notable Democratic president opposed but then embraced what was deemed “the end of welfare as we know it.”
In the end, nothing of the sort was sustained, yet it was nonetheless a notable policy impetus during the 1990s and, in some places, after that.
Policy developments contrary to the reigning assumption – that growth in government power is as immutable as fundamental laws of Nature – are wholesome and much to be desired, in my view.
Actual policy changes can be dismissed as “tinkering” and are by many.
I characterize even the attempts as reality-based efforts rationally to push-back against the most negative effects of government interventions in economic life.
Such attempts can be undertaken without driving the vehicles of broad daily governance off the proverbial cliff.
The historical truth is that there is an ebb and flow in the affairs of women and men. A dramatist of some note once said something to that effect.
Much of my personal commentary and the day-to-day flow of shared posts reflect my informed belief that while the multi-trillion dollar expansion of public debt is certainly real, I do not believe its continuance is inevitable. And I believe it is largely undesirable to continue growing government and shrinking human liberty. I respect many of those with whom I differ on such things.
I am inclined to cling to my own view of these and related matters, even in the midst of cancel culture.
In closing this set of comments, notes and reflections, here are some words of hope in the midst of this present darkness.
Words that are not mine, but from a reporter I respect at The New York Times.
David Leonhardt – in his recurring feature called “The Morning” – wrote on February 1:
“The news about the vaccines continues to be excellent — and the public discussion of it continues to be more negative than the facts warrant. Here’s the key fact: All five vaccines with public results have eliminated Covid-19 deaths. They have also drastically reduced hospitalizations. ‘They’re all good trial results,’ Caitlin Rivers, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University, told me. ‘It’s great news.’
“Many people are instead focusing on relatively minor differences among the vaccine results and wrongly assuming that those differences mean that some vaccines won’t prevent serious illnesses. It’s still too early to be sure, because a few of the vaccine makers have released only a small amount of data. But the available data is very encouraging — including about the vaccines’ effect on the virus’s variants. ‘The vaccines are poised to deliver what people so desperately want: an end, however protracted, to this pandemic,’ as Julia Marcus of Harvard Medical School recently wrote in The Atlantic.”
Biographical sketch: McGuigan is the publisher of The City Sentinel newspaper, founder of CapitolBeatOK.com, author of three books and editor of seven, and a member of the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame.