How soon history is forgotten

It’s tough to get a word in edgewise when you’re having a tooth filled. But the World’s Best Dentist and I always seem to do a pretty good job in the few minutes it takes for the freezing to take effect; and then afterwards for a few moments when the work is done.

Yes, yes . . . the infernal T-word came up. It was bound to: we both follow current events pretty closely; and in case anybody doesn’t get it yet, the fate of the world is at stake in the still-uncertain outcome of the incredible political events taking place in the U.S.

In the course of our conversation – as the Good Doctor stood drill in hand, at the ready – the subject of Marshal McLuhan, who coined the phrase, “the medium is the message,” came up in connection with that very troubling political situation, in the great country, envied by many, that used to be called the “leader of the free world.”

We agreed the late, world-renowned, Canadian philosopher of communication was a “real prophet,” especially considering what’s happening in the world now. McLuhan also used the expression “global village” to describe the effect technical advances in media technology would have on the world.

It’s a reality now. But I think it’s fair to say the nations of the world are having a great deal of trouble adapting to it. It frightens many people; and that fear is surely part of the reason why conservative sentiment in the U.S. is so aroused, and so vulnerable to unscrupulous, political exploitation.

I say “great” above, in reference to the U.S., because it is still a great country, founded on a great idea. It has come through many perils and challenges in its history. I will dare to say it has not always lived up to its high calling and acted on the side of right. But when called upon by fate and circumstance to save the world from domination by the most evil doctrine history has ever known, the United States gave itself – heart, soul, industry, and many lives – to the cause of defeating it.

Otherwise where would we be today; and where, for that matter, would it be?

How soon we forget history, apparently; or never learned it.

It’s a terrible, a tragic irony, but much of what’s happening now politically in the U.S. is happening in ignorance of what the Second World War was about. Otherwise, it would not be happening because people would have no trouble identifying certain shocking parallels – like the use of the “big lie” to sway the masses of a nation’s people, hateful, racial rhetoric, and incitement of violence at political rallies to further arouse extreme passions.

Democracy is, or should be, a growing, evolving process. Ideally, public and political discourse finds a way to agree or at least reach some sort of working consensus so the nation can move forward, not drop off the edge of the world into darkness. Canada seems to have a knack for doing that, though I might not have bet on it in the midst of the last federal election campaign. It was not founded on the basis of armed revolution, and has never fought a terrible civil war to preserve its union.

But even in the midst of its war, after the Battle of Gettysburg, President Abraham Lincoln – a Republican, by the way – was able to speak thoughtfully and hopefully of the future of his country with deeply moving words that now strike me as quite appropriate at this critical time in American history. I quote here in part from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address:

The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

(It occurs to me as I update this post after the Inauguration of Donald Trump as the new President and Commander-in-Chief of the U.S.A that he would certainly lay claim to understanding what Lincoln meant by “a new birth of freedom” and government of, by, and for the people. He would even say he and his so-called “movement” embodies that spirit. After all, he declared the date of his inauguration as a new “National Day of Patriotic Devotion.” But so many other of his words during the campaign, and after his inauguration betray his utter lack of understanding the basic principles of American democracy, and of the Constitution he took an oath on Jan. 20, 2017 to “defend and protect.”)

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