OPINION — In 1934, William Allen White, editor and publisher of The Emporia (Kansas) Gazette wrote to a young editor Whitley Austin, of the Hutchinson (Kansas) News in an effort to try to get the younger former Gazette reporter to be patient with democracy.
“The impatience of young men like you with the slow, sure processes of democracy — which solve problems, not in terms of years, rarely in terms of decades, sometimes in terms of generations — that hot-foot haste to be a godsaker, is what has landed Germany back of Hitler, Italy back of Mussolini and Russia back of Stalin; and no good will come of it,” White wrote to Austin.
“The gorgeous thing about a dictatorship is that it furnishes a damn fool a sure, quick way to take his country to hell and prove what a chump he is.” White said. “Democracy has its checks and balances. We elevate dubs and boobs and tear them down because we are free to do so, and never fail to do so. But the dub and boob of the dictatorship are permanent. They stick until they crash.”
White went on, “…be patient with the chumps, with the half-baked emissaries of an even-less-baked and gooey constituency. Because, someway, in the mysterious alchemy of time, out of this hell-brew rises the essence of truth.”
Nearly a hundred years later, White had predicted the future. As we appear to be about to inaugurate a dub to replace a boob, White is calling from his Emporia grave for us to be patient with democracy. We elevated Donald Trump, an arrogant, self-important braggart and bore, and as White predicted, voters have torn him down. And, now we have elevated Joe Biden, a man of sub-standard native intelligence who by all rights appears to be suffering from diminished capacity for coherent thought.
Add to this hell-brew a global pandemic and a shattered world and domestic economy, coupled with a severely divided nation. Four years ago, I used this space to tell readers that this country has survived worse than Donald Trump, and would survive Trump as well. And we have.
We would do well to dwell not upon Trump’s character (or lack of it). Prior to the pandemic, Trump had developed — through luck or skill — a vibrant economy. He slowed illegal immigration and made significant strides toward peace in the Middle East. He succeeded in bringing some manufacturing back to the United States. And at least among his devoted base, he restored pride in the United States.
In my lifetime, there have been three times when Americans were truly united: immediately after the assassination of President John Kennedy; the simultaneous inauguration of Ronald Reagan and the release of Iranian hostages; and the horrific events of Sept. 11, 2001.
Biden has pledged to succeed where Trump failed. He has declared that he can bridge the chasm between the “progressive” left and the “conservative” right. We shall see. This will be Biden’s task. The virus will pass. Foreign affairs will calm. The economy may return to its pre-virus robustness. We’ll see. The voters have decided that it is Biden’s opportunity to either seize or squander.
The coming weeks will determine whether or not he has the chops to succeed. His cabinet picks will be the first sign. Other Democrats have a part in uniting Americans. It may be made more difficult by their actions of the past — their obsession with impeachment; the declarations of racism; their obstructionist tactics; their treatment of court nominees, their attacks on conservatives in restaurants and on the streets. Those Americans remember Nancy Pelosi tearing up Trump’s State of the Union Address. They remember being called deplorables. They remember snide references to their guns and religion.
Navigating the path to unification will be the Biden administration’s most daunting task. We should remember White’s admonition that the processes of democracy are slow. And the Biden administration should remember that if they fail, we’ll “tear them down because we are free to do so and never fail to do so.”
Michael Sanborn writes from Rapid City.
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