By Scott Graber
It is Saturday, Oct. 10, and it is early.
This morning there is no newspaper — no Gazette or Wall Street Journal — and one is left with one’s imagination. But more and more one’s imagination can’t anticipate what has happened overnight. One’s imagination can’t believe the news that six armed men would plan to kidnap a sitting Governor; or a sitting President would say, if he lost, “I’m not leaving.”
Every morning we are faced with news that is unimaginable, well beyond our scope of anticipation. We read (or hear) a story that sounds like the plot for a “thriller” — or something from John Grisham or Aaron Sorkin.
Every morning we hear the word “unprecedented” and the same tired descriptors we heard the day before. It’s as if our journalists no longer have adjectives and adverbs that can explain the developing situation.
But every now and then someone will appear on television (or in print) and say something that sounds logical, something that seems to make sense in this time of fantasy and fiction. For me that happened last night.
Last night Jon Meacham was a guest on a news program and was asked one of those “what do you make of the ongoing abomination” kind of questions favored by many journalists who cannot formulate an actual question. Meacham, a writer and historian, went back 70 years to Joe McCarthy.
For those of you too young to remember Joe McCarthy — I myself was 6 — he was a Senator who was around when Communism was a growing menace throughout the world. McCarthy decided there were card-carrying Communists employed in the U.S. government and he and others (notably Roy Cohn) decided to expose them.
McCarthy was relentless in his prosecution, and reckless, and it is widely accepted that many of his accusations were false and many reputations were ruined at his Senate hearings. Notwithstanding Korea and the continuing Cold War, McCarthy was eventually branded as a publicity-seeking bully who traded in fear and fabrication.
Meacham said that in spite of history’s verdict on McCarthy, that 40 percent of Americans still believed his theory about a government full of secret communists. Meacham pointed out that this 40 percent was remarkably close to the percentage who currently believe that Donald Trump is worthy of re-election.
Meacham went on to say that the days of broad consensus — when 80 percent of the adult population agree on a single, overarching philosophy — are gone. He said that it is time to accept the idea that 40 percent of the population will always be standing outside the gates waving their flags, raising a clenched fist and (in some states) carrying AR-15s.
Meacham pointed out that there have been times when there was broad-based agreement — pointing to landslide victories by Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon — but the new normal will be the 40 percent who profoundly disagree with the sitting President and his or her philosophy of governance. Meacham said landslide elections will be rare; that close, divided elections will become the norm.
No doubt the well-worn chestnut — “What unites us is much bigger than what divides us” — will still be spoken by those who aspire to office; but the reality is a stark divide on the issues of abortion, universal health care, climate change and whether or not we’re going to welcome immigrants into our fractured landscape.
It is hard to imagine that we would actually go to war (with each other) over abortion. We did fight a civil war over the question of slavery, but it’s hard to imagine an internal shoot-out over immigration or climate change. But the accusations in the run-up to the Civil War were not that far removed from the “Godless,” “baby killer,” “liar,” “traitor” invective that we hear today.
As I sat and listened to Meacham, my heart began to hurt and I was ready to depart Meacham’s commentary for football. Then, as I changed the channel, I saw David Beasley had won the Nobel Prize.
Some of you may remember that David Beasley was once South Carolina’s young, rising star Governor. But Beasley did not like gambling and, incredibly, decided the Confederate flag should be removed from atop the State House. For these beliefs Beasley was banished from South Carolina politics.
But Beasley, like Jimmy Carter, had a second act. In Beasley’s case it was the World Food Organization. And that second act, and the acquisition of the Nobel Prize for his organization, made me proud of this beleaguered state and my anguished country.
Scott Graber is a lawyer, novelist, veteran columnist and longtime resident of Port Royal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.