By Peter Berger
I was 13 in 1963, the year Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I have a dream” speech. I was sitting on my parents’ bed, watching the March on Washington.
Dr. King had spoken earlier while I was outside. I have a clear recollection, though, of a very different speaker.
Strom Thurmond was a segregationist senator from South Carolina. He was being interviewed for his reaction to the march and the speeches. “The Negroes in this country,” he declared by way of rebuttal, “own more refrigerators and more automobiles than they do in any other country.”
I can still hear the way he said “Negroes.”
And I still remember thinking his answer was the stupidest thing I’d ever heard.
Of course, now that alien lizard Democrats eat children, Jewish space lasers incinerate forests, and a President prescribes injecting pandemic patients with bleach, stupidity from our leaders has become commonplace.
Like many repugnant ideas and lies, Sen. Thurmond’s argument rested on a germ of truth. American Negroes did own more refrigerators than Negroes in other countries, just as white Americans owned more refrigerators than white Bulgarians. The fallacy lay in comparing black Americans to other black people when he should have been comparing black Americans to white Americans.
Some present-day public voices seem so mired in distortions that it’s hard to tell if they ever knew the truth. Ten years ago Sen. Ron Johnson blamed climate change on sunspots. He cited Greenland as proof that a place that’s “a whole lot whiter now” must have recently been green when Europeans settled there and named it. Actually, Erik the Red called it Greenland to lure more settlers. Most scientists estimate it’s been covered by ice for at least a million years.
Sen. Johnson still touts Donald Trump’s discredited hydroxychloroquine COVID therapy. He denies that his investigation of Hunter Biden stemmed from pro-Trump Russian disinformation, even though a bipartisan intelligence community report concluded that the allegations against Biden stemmed from pro-Trump Russian disinformation. He’s also a leading proponent of Trump’s voter fraud “big lie” that undermined public confidence in the election and fueled the insurrection, which incidentally “didn’t seem like an armed insurrection” to him.
Sen. Johnson described the seditious mob that attacked Congress as “jovial, friendly, and earnest.” He “didn’t feel threatened” because Trump supporters “love this country” and wouldn’t “have done what the rioters did.” That’s how he knows that the rioters photographed with all those Trump flags were actually “fake Trump protesters,” which means, using his logic, that he should have felt threatened.
All he knows is “there was no violence on the Senate side, in terms of the chamber” that he and the other senators evacuated, along with the Vice President that the jovial rioters were threatening to hang from the gallows they’d erected. He apparently also missed the guy with the horns, the mayhem in the corridors, the flex cuffs, and the earnest Trump supporters who were looting desks.
Donald Trump’s reality is even more delusional in its wishful thinking and even more self-serving in its deceit. Trump’s version of his failed coup is that “right from the start, it was zero threat.” His germ of truth is his acknowledgment that “some of [the mob] went in” and “they shouldn’t have.”
He then invents a fantastical scene where the rioters were “hugging and kissing the police and the guards, you know, they had great relationships.” He recounts how “the people” were “waving American flags” and how “they love our country.”
He neglects to mention how they used those flags to beat and spear policemen. Roll the videotape. Listen to those officers’ frantic radio calls. See the pipe bombs. Watch the mob kill Brian Sicknick. Hear them chant, “Hang Mike Pence.”
He concludes with the threat that “some things should happen to” the law enforcement authorities who are “persecuting” and “arresting” the rioters.
Remember that Trump justified the insurrection as “the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously stripped away from great patriots.”
Remember that he told his mob “you’re allowed to go by very different rules.”
Remember that he incited them to “fight like Hell” or “you’re not going to have a country anymore.”
This isn’t over.
The chief challenge for any republic, more than any policy or program, is to prevail and endure, and by enduring preserve the blessings of liberty.
The work of government must go on.
But enough about diversity in the cabinet.
Enough posturing at the border.
Enough about filibusters and pride in doing nothing.
Enough lies and lies about lies.
Traitors are on the move.
We faced a coup in January. Donald Trump tried to overturn the election, overthrow the United States government, and take for himself the power that the American people chose not to grant him.
If we fail to pursue and achieve justice in the courts against those who have set themselves against the Republic, including the most highly placed and powerful, we’ll soon be required to fight them again and not just on the Capitol steps.
When Patrick Henry confessed his willingness to die for liberty, he also asked a question: Why stand we here idle?
The lying tyrant remains at large
Partisans cripple voting rights.
Glory-chasing senators turn their eyes to Iowa.
Republics don’t last forever.
Why stand we here idle?
Peter Berger has taught English and history for 30 years. Poor Elijah would be pleased to answer letters addressed to him in care of the editor.