Monday, August 13, 2018

Week of 08/13/2018

The Past May Be Prologue, But It Is Not Permission
“The past is prologue.”
How many times have you heard that?  I’ve said it several times, but I’ve been hearing it more and more lately from different circles, and not for the reasons it is intended to be used.
I’ve been on the Internet all the way from the pre-W3C years.  I’ve been an online columnist for over two decades now.  I’ve been an active voter even longer than that.  I don’t wallow in political ignorance.  I have plenty of experience in these matters, which is another way of saying that I have plenty of history. 
I also know the rightful place of history.  History is always meant to be a teacher; to show what works... and, also, what doesn’t work.  Of course, too many people fail history, which is why there is also the saying that those that do fail to learn from history are forever doomed to repeat it.  Maybe not repeat it exactly, but certainly not for the better.
Unfortunately, of late, history has been used in a different way.  It’s being used to excuse the bad behavior and corrupt practices of today.
Take, for instance, gas prices.
Every time gas prices spike, like they were over a decade ago, we get some self-important “expert”, either from Big Oil or some lobbying group, who gets in front of the camera and pulls up statistics from past fuel spikes to say “well back in the year such-and-such-and-such-and-such we paid x-amount, but if you adjust it for inflation, it really was three times what we are paying today, so people are really complaining about the price of gas for nothing.”
And that’s really the purpose of this supposed “lesson” in history.  It’s used to shut people up and to negate the complaints being made about the greed of Big Oil.  Are prices low?  Yes.  Certainly compared to the prices in 2005, they are low.  Have they stayed low for a while now?  Yes.  But do you know what else has been staying low?  The income of hard-working Americans.  It’s been staying below the ever-increasing cost-of-living for decades now.  Plus, “back in the day”, we didn’t have our oil coming from shale and hydrofracking like we do today.  We also didn’t send most of our own oil to other nations instead of using it here.  Those also affect gas and oil prices.  Funny how these self-professed “experts” don’t want to factor those pieces of history in with their arguments.
Climate change deniers use the excuse of “history” as a weapon as well.  Their tired old line is to say “well, all climate is cyclical.”  Even when we’ve reached a new high or low in temperatures or rainfall or drought or smog, climate change deniers will chant “well, it’s all cyclical.  It’s always been cyclical.”  Worst rainfall ever recorded?  Bah!  “It’s all cyclical.”  Worst drought?  Bah!  “It’s all cyclical.”  Lowest amount of ice in the polar ice caps ever?  Bah!  “It’s all cyclical.”
But, lately, the biggest use of these self-professed “history teachers” has been to supposedly “set the record straight” about the caustic partisan environment that we are engulfed in.
America is not just mired in hyper-partisan politics; it is paralyzed by it.  It has stagnated the legislative process, creating budget stagnations and government shutdowns.  Our infrastructure is literally collapsing from neglect.  Agencies are overwhelmed and underfunded.  Our judicial system is literally held hostage by political bosses who want “their” people put in as judges and will do everything in the power to stop the system until they get their way.  Our parties are so corrupt that they are actually nominating affirmed child molesters and Nazis for public office and nobody is batting an eyelash.  And their mind-numbed masses will actually support those aforementioned child molesters and Nazis and actually vote for them simply because they don’t want Democrats to win.
There are people today who proudly wear T-shirts that say, and I am not joking or exaggerating about this, “I’d rather be a Russian than a Democrat”.  And given that we have the President of the United States who kowtowed to Russian President Vladimir Putin and sucks up to every tin-plated dictator and third-world junta he meets, I’d have to seriously challenge that political party’s true allegiance.  A party that, two decades ago, I was once a card-carrying member of and used to proudly support, and now I am truly disgusted of.
And then, on the other side of the dominant and overbearing isle, is a party that is so grossly incompetent that they don’t know how to win even in a supposed “rigged system”.  The woman who wants to once again be Speaker of the House is a power-monger who can’t do the right thing because she thinks she can leverage the wrong thing to her advantage.  The man who wants to be Senate Majority Leader doesn’t know what the last third of that title means or how to apply it.  Their definition of “winning” is waiting until the “other side” is so incompetent that the voters will turn to them out of desperation, and then they aren’t surprised when they lose power because that “other side” decided to get their collective act together.  They don’t really win.  They don’t know how.  They can only struggle to be “not the worst choice”, which is different from being “the better choice”.
America is broken, and it’s not getting any better with Donald J. Trump in the White House and the GOP controlling the Congress and the courts.  And the supposed “alternative” is inept and incompetent.
So now, out come the self-professed “history experts” who want to remind us of the days when America was paralyzed by chaos and rioting.  When cities burned and yet the police used firehoses more times than the fire department.  When a certain political party’s national convention was the target of violent protests.  When certain civil rights leaders and even a would-be candidate for President were shot down.  They want to remind us all that times were so much worse... in 1968.
Curious how these self-professed “experts” are fixated on 1968, as if there weren’t other times when there was political instability and chaos.  1860 comes to mind, since that Presidential election was a four-party race.  In fact, partisan politics was so violent in one year during that time that a sitting member of the House of Representatives was violently and viciously assaulted in the House chamber at his desk.  But you won’t hear that from the “experts”.  No, in their minds, 1968 was “the most caustic partisan time ever”.
Now we can go on and on about the differences between what went on in the 1960’s as opposed to the 1860’s and then with the here-and-now, but that detracts from the true purpose of these so-called “history lessons” by these self-professed “historical experts”.  Their purpose is not to educate the masses, but, rather, to validate and excuse their faction’s actions.  Essentially, they are looking at past partisan chaos to tell the masses “Well that’s how it has always been in America.”
Except that it hasn’t, and they damn well know that.  But they have to sell the lie in order to convince the rest of the world that what they are doing is not only “normal” but simply “business as usual”.
But even if it was, does that make it right?
That’s the one question that these so-called “history teachers” don’t want us to ever ask.  Because there is a lot that used to go on even recently that is no longer tolerated.
Once upon a time we said that slavery was “okay”.  So-called “history teachers” used to proclaim that it was “right” simply because “that’s the way it’s always been”.  Hell, slavery was even in the Bible, so that automatically became an endorsement to the pro-slavery faction.  Until enough of us finally said that it was wrong.  And we fought a bloody Civil War because of it.  And even after that, we still have people who think racial discrimination and racial superiority is “okay” simply because “that’s the way it’s always been”.
Once upon a time spousal abuse and child abuse were “okay”.  It was okay because we said “well, that’s the way it’s always been.”  Again, we even turned to the Bible to validate it.  Then we decided that it wasn’t “okay”.
We once believed that smoking was “okay” simply because “that’s the way it’s always been”.  It was a cash crop for America.  Hell, there are still artifacts of those days in the halls of Congress!  Then we decided that it wasn’t “okay”.
We once believed that drinking and driving were “okay” because “everyone did it” and “that’s the way it’s always been”.  Then, suddenly, it wasn’t “okay” anymore.
Hell, we believed predatory sexual behavior was “okay” because “boys will be boys” and “that’s the way it’s always been”.  And now we have the “Me Too” and “Times Up” folks telling us that it’s no longer “okay”.
Let’s get brutally honest here... just because something used to be routine, that does not automatically make it right.  Just because “that’s the way it’s always been” does not mean that it was either right or good.  History should never be used as permission to do wrong.
Hell, the very system of governance that the United States was set up as was unique at the time.  The people who came up with it rejected the old systems.  They rejected the argument of “that’s the way it’s always been” and said that it was not “okay”.  And many of the changes made to that system – for good and for bad – were also because enough people rejected what was always done before.  Ironic, then, that the people who pretend to be “strict constitutionalists” and “originalists” are ignoring the fact that the very system itself was in defiance of history.
History is meant to be a teacher, not a tool to silence criticism, and certainly not an excuse for bad and even abusive behavior.  The past is prologue, not permission.  In fact, it’s the opposite.  Every change that happens, for good and bad, begins when people look at that history and they ask themselves “does that make it right?” 
And usually the answer to that question... is “no”.

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