This piece appeared in newspapers at the beginning of August, 2022.
I really blew it with the wisteria.
My image of wisteria derived from those lovely verandas and arbors, from which dangled beautiful and sweet-smelling wisteria blossoms. So when I saw those vines becoming a massive part of two massive oaks, I looked on it benignly, figuring the mighty oaks would handle it.
But I didn’t know what I was dealing with—i.e. a really virulent invasive species. By the time I realized that the wisteria were killing those oaks, it was too late. I was compelled to take those great trees down.
Writing a four-figure check to the tree specialist, I saw myself as like the man in a Sufi story who is engrossed in reading his sacred texts while a fly is buzzing around his little hut. But the fly isn’t really a fly; it is, rather, a powerful and evil spirit. Paying the “fly” no mind, the man doesn’t notice as the fly grew ever bigger and more menacing. When the evil spirit assumes its real form, at the story’s climax, it kills the man, and demolishes the hut as it breaks into the wider world.
It pays to pay attention, and to notice the rising dangers early on, before they get so mighty they destroy what might have been protected.
In the continual failure of the British government to recognize the threat posed by the rise of Hitler’s Germany, history provides a devastating example of such misjudgment of the rising danger. Generations have recalled the image of the British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlin claiming “Peace in our times,” as he waved what soon proved a worthless piece of paper with Hitler’s false promises.
Why did the British government fail to see the danger?
In part, the trauma of World War I understandably made them very hesitant to take any risks of war.
I suspect another factor: perhaps, in the culture of decent liberal democracies, decent human beings adopt a view of the world that interferes with their recognizing Evil when it’s right before them. Because such societies offer people exceptional levels of security and comfort, decent people can generally get away with shutting out the scary part of the range of possibilities. They can dwell in their comfort by recognizing no need for vigilance against Evil.
That hypothesis might also help explain how Liberal America – and its political arm, the Democratic Party – have similarly failed to perceive the danger rising in our nation over the past thirty years.
Like me with the wisteria, like the pious man with the “fly,” like the British with the rising military threat from Nazi Germany, the Democrats of our times have failed to protect the nation from an extraordinary destructive force that has been visibly taking over the Republican Party since the early 1990s.
From the rise of Limbaugh and Gingrich, through the years of the wrecking-ball Presidency of George W. Bush (guided by Karl Rove and Dick Cheney), through the across-the-board obstructionist Republican Congress during the Obama years, all the way up to lawless Donald Trump and the subservient Trump Party, the Republican Party gradually morphed from a normal American party into something more dangerous than any in American history.
One could see it happening — as decency, honesty, concern for the nation, willingness to cooperate got squeezed out of the Republican Party. As this visible takeover of the GOP by a destructive force proceeded, it became increasingly difficult to point to anything that the Republicans said or did that made things in America better and not worse.
But Liberal America did not see the danger rising.
In 1992, I saw just the propaganda piece and I sought a good radio platform to counter Rush Limbaugh’s poisoning of the American political well. I was told by liberal gatekeepers, “Limbaugh’s audience is not our concern.” Another misjudgment of rising danger: not seeing the threat to the nation from 20 million dittoheads being led onto a path where one day they’d support a blatant effort of a demagogic leader to steal an election he’d lost.
Like the man studying his books in his hut, the Democrats of the past thirty years did not notice the transformation happening, did not notice that the stakes in American politics were moving to a battle between Democracy vs. Fascism.
While America’s other major party was being overtaken by a fascistic force (with its lying propaganda, its fomenting conflict between racial, ethnic, and religious groups, with its disregard for the rule of law and its attack on democratic norms), the Democrats continued practicing “politics as usual.” Even as the Republicans were consistently acting like their enemies, the Democrats would refer to Republicans as their “friends across the aisle.”
The history of such misjudgment is troubling enough. But in addition one has to add the remarkable fact that in Liberal circles –still — these questions are virtually never asked and discussed:
- What are the reasons why Liberal America failed to see what the Republican Party was becoming, as the darkness and destructiveness continually increased? And especially:
- As this danger was rising, how could the Democrats have acted differently that would have prevented this destructive fascistic force from becoming so powerful that it now threatens the very survival of American democracy?