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the wisdom of others

January 14, 2021

I have a real treat for you today. This is from a friend of mine:

W.B. Rodgers is an American living in British Columbia.

An Open Letter to My Children:

When my eldest daughter was in the fourth grade, a dear friend and I were asked to speak to her class about Abraham Lincoln, one of my heroes, and the lessons that they, as students, and we, as people, might learn from him. I had only recently returned from active military duty, and being invited to spend that brief hour with those young minds remains one of the greatest honours of my life.

Over the last week, I have lost many hours of sleep as I turn the events in Washington over in my mind — unable to believe what I just saw yet seeking desperately to find lessons from history that might help me (or us) make some sense of that desecration. I realize that much of what I write will be contested by some, perhaps most, of those, who, like me, believe that January 6, 2021, will forever be remembered as a dark day in the history of the world — and as a lasting stain on the garments of representative government.

Nonetheless, I must share my thoughts with you all, my children, nieces, and their partners, for the same reason I was so honoured to speak to my daughter’s fourth grade class — because you, all of you, are the future. And today, thinking about the future, occupies my mind, and the minds of people of good will throughout the entire world.

What we saw happen in Washington was painful beyond my own words’ limited power of description — and so, I will not try to describe those images of shame and horror. The irony is not lost on me that Heiko Maas, the German foreign minister, reminded the United States that, “violent actions come from inflammatory words — on the steps of the Reichstag and now, in the Capitol.” (italics mine) For a German minister to be comparing the US in 2021 to Germany in 1933 is an analogy most damning.

And there are parallels to those dark days, and to the darkest times in the history of the American Republic. Lincoln himself would have wept to see the battle flag of the Confederacy carried into the American Capitol by the bloody hands of self-proclaimed “patriots”. We must acknowledge these parallels — and look back on how those dark times are remembered. History will curse those who betrayed their oath to the Constitution, who maneuvered to subvert the will of the people, those who cynically stoked the fires of ignorance for no other purpose than their own political gain. Senators Hawley and Cruz will be condemned to stand alongside Calhoun and McCarthy — their names recorded, in shame, beside Aaron Burr.

But, but, but . . . I would beg you, even in your grief, to remember that there were those who refused to follow the path of wanton demagoguery. There were those — even those who had acquiesced in times past to the venality of this most venal of would-be tyrants, who had condoned his excesses, and had abetted his whims — there were those with whom I will never share a single common ideal — who stood and said “Count me out.” Never forget that. Always remember that those across the aisle for you may hold the rule of law sacred and may love their country more than they love their party, or even their own lives. Always do them the courtesy of believing that they, too, believe in the sanctity of collective decisions — even when those decisions are at odds with their own desires.

But just as surely, remember that, at times, defending the will of the people demands the unmovable courage of individuals. Remember that it was the Association of National Manufacturers who first called for the invoking of the 25th Amendment — and that they made the call while the Capitol building was still in the hands of the insurrectionists. Remember that Tyler Goodspeed, the chair of the Council of Economic Advisors, was among the first to submit his resignation in disgust. These are people who differ from us in economic ideas, and political policy — but they understand the sanctity of representative government. Their actions are not analogous to Rommel taking cyanide after Valkyrie failed; their words and deeds show what could have happened if the board of IG Farben had said “No. We will not make your gas for you.”

Never forget that, for every would-be Alexander Stephens, there was a Sam Houston; for every Rick Scott or Tommy Tuberville, there was a Lindsey Graham or Mitch McConnell. Never forget that Vice President Pence made the personal choice, deep in his own soul, that he would not stand in History’s Dock manacled to John C. Breckenridge.

This is not to say that you should forget all that the Vice President and Senators McConnell and Graham have done to silence the voices of so many Americans. Remember that they would still seek to disenfranchise people of colour, that they will work to deny fundamental rights to the poor, and that they will tirelessly attempt to deny women control over their own bodies.

With as much clarity, remember those unrepentant traitors who, even to this day, would destroy the very Constitution that they declare to defend. The greatest drama about the first quarter of the 21st Century remains to be written by some Shakespeare-yet-unborn. It will be a tragedy of hubris, of a fall from grace of Miltonic proportions. In images evocative of an Iago sketched by the hand of Goebbels, it will be entitled Guiliani.

I know you are wondering why I have taken such pains to remind of those whose opinions differ so much from ours who chose to hearken to the voice of the people rather than bowing to the violence of the mob (or the tweeting of the despot). It is quite simple, really. To you, to your generation, falls the terrible responsibility of rebuilding this broken world. You are the physicians who must (in Lincoln’s words) “bind up the nation’s wounds” and bring healing to the fractured and bleeding body politic. And you must do it as Lincoln and Dr. King would have done it, by reaching out to those who have wronged you, by working with those who have worked against you, and by finding common ground because you have a common humanity. It falls to you, as it fell to Ulysses Grant, the bloody and bloodied warrior who had ended a war, to turn to your bitterest enemies and say “Let us have peace”.

I realize that I have forgotten much in the half century I have lived but, perhaps, I have learned more than I have forgotten. These last few days, however, have shown me something I can never forget and will never doubt again. I have come to realize that my greatest hero, Abraham Lincoln, was wrong. The United States is not (and perhaps, never was) the last, best hope for earth. You — each of you — is the last, best and in truth, only hope of earth. Of that much, I am certain — just as I am confident that your lives will prove the fulfillment of that hope. Do not lose faith in the sanctity of law, and work to ever prove that the compass of the people’s will, though sometimes twisted awry by the hands of demagogues, must finally point toward justice.

Love,

Dad