Special to the Village News
As you do the morning “doom scroll” on your phone, where you continually read bad news after worse news, or sit mesmerized watching one of the “hair on fire” TV news networks, or grip your steering wheel tighter and tighter as you listen to “This could be the end of America” talk-radio hosts, just keep in mind the words of Harry Truman who said, “The only thing new in the world is the history you don’t know.”
Shaking our collective heads as we ponder our current presidential campaign conundrum, and also recalling the election in 2000 of Bush vs. Gore, when the talk of recounts, hanging chads, counter-counter lawsuits and the Supreme Court dominated our lives, I wondered if anything like those events had happened before. And boy, did they ever!
The presidential election in 1800 pitted the incumbent John Adams against Thomas Jefferson and their vice presidential candidates, Aaron Burr and Charles Pinckney. It was only the fourth presidential election of our fledgling democracy. It started out bad and quickly devolved into disaster.
President John Adams was called, among other things, a hermaphrodite! Jefferson was deemed a “howling atheist” and a dangerous man. Due to presidential votes and vice presidential votes being counted separately, in the first go-round in the electoral college, Jefferson was actually tied with Aaron Burr.
Things really heated up after that. There were rumors of a coup d’etat, and plans to assassinate Jefferson if he won. And if Jefferson lost, a civil war was threatened. Alexander Hamilton hated Aaron Burr and plotted to undermine him to get Jefferson elected.
It took weeks of threats, insults, backroom deals and compromises, but after 36 votes in the electoral college, Thomas Jefferson was finally elected the third President of the United States. Oh, and by the way, four years later Aaron Burr killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel.
It’s only natural to think the times we live in are the most consequential ever. Looking at the Russian invasion of Ukraine, there is talk that it could lead to World War III. There’s a clue right there. That’s World War III. World Wars I and II and countless millions of deaths are a stark reminder that, sad to say, it wouldn’t be the first time. You’d think we would have learned after the first and second world wars, but here we are.
We’re constantly reminded of polarization in America. Some say it’s the worst it’s been since the Civil War. Maybe. But having been alive in the 1960s, I remember millions of protesters in the streets, opposing the war in Viet Nam and demanding civil rights.
There were also massive, violent riots shutting down and sometimes destroying, entire swaths of cities and college campuses. I can recall race riots in amusement parks, at the beach and in neighborhoods. Hippies vs. hardhats, blacks vs. whites, Puerto Ricans vs. blacks, Yippies vs. cops, Dodgers fans vs. Giants fans, etc. etc. etc.
As a child and then a teen living through assassination after assassination after assassination with the threat of nuclear war, and a race war, it was nothing short of terrifying. Naturally, arguing with family and friends over politics and race issues is part of a long American tradition.
I remember many a heated argument over Sunday lasagna family dinners culminating with people throwing down their marinara stained napkins mid-bite and storming out of the house. I know because I did a lot of storming out, as uncles wagged fingers at me with a hearty “Good riddance!” And yeah, I cried at all their funerals.
And speaking of families being fractured, the Civil War literally had brothers fighting against brothers. And that wasn’t the first time. The first actual civil war was before, during and after the Revolutionary War.
New York was a hotbed of conflict with many New Yorkers being British loyalists and acting as spies and saboteurs. I mean, even Benjamin Franklin, the ultimate Founding Father, had intense family conflicts. His own son, William Franklin, was a staunch British loyalist who led military units against the American revolutionaries and had to flee to England and live in exile.
And it wasn’t all unicorns and butterflies after the war either. Revenge was rampant in the streets as there were hangings, public square tar and feathers, and businesses and homes of British loyalists burned to the ground.
My point isn’t to be another depressing doomsayer. On the contrary. As we get drawn into current events on a global, national, local or family level, it’s important to keep in mind the words of the philosophers who have told us century after century, including one of my favorite 20th century poet/philosophers, George Harrison, who sang "All things must pass.” And they will.
So in the meantime, put down the phone and the newspaper and turn off the TV. If somebody’s trash-talking politics, smile and walk away. Is somebody tailgating you? Pull over and let them pass. As my mom used to say, “Be a duck, not a sponge. Let the water just roll off your back.”
We’re lucky to live in a part of the world where we can listen to birds sing, watch the waves wash onto the sand and see the golden evening sun dip behind verdant vineyards and orchard laden hillsides. Take a walk on the Santa Margarita River Trail. Read a poem aloud to someone. Or just sit in that creaky rocker and flip through that dusty, old photo album.
Yeah, things are pretty whacked out there, but remember, don’t let the good things in life pass you by just because there’s craziness all around. It ain’t nothing new…
Steven Schindler’s latest novel is “Fallout Shelter.”