We cannot see the misty undercurrents of History.
We paddle about on the surface of this gigantic ocean in our tiny boats, noting the waves, or the tips of sharks or icebergs as we float along–; But we do not comprehend the vast canyons and submerged mountain ranges far below…
On an unseasonably warm mid-June evening of 1972, a lone security guard –a certain Frank Wills– was making his rounds at the swanky new Watergate complex in downtown Washington, DC. The guard noticed that someone had re-applied the electrical tape to the self-locking door mechanisms on the stairwells which he’d removed earlier in the evening.
This little discovery meant that someone didn’t want the doors locked– and that someone didn’t have a key. Of course, we all know how the little escapade spun out: A few days later, reclining by the pool in Key Biscayne, President Nixon noticed a little story from page A-17 of the New York Times and wondered aloud to his Chief of Staff “Hey, Bob, what do you know about this chickenshit story about the break-in at the DNC?”
By then, of course, the blood was already in the water. Richard Nixon would be driven from office in a little over twenty-four months. Which, in its turn, would give rise to Jimmy Carter in less than twenty-four months after that.
But, we slept soundly in our beds that June day now oh-so-long ago, not knowing that the world as we knew it was unraveling. And, outside of certain jurisdictions in Georgia, who had ever heard of Jimmy Carter?
Similarly, on August 20, 1989 a few vacationers enjoying the draw-down of summer along the sparkling-blue waters of Lake Balaton in north central Hungary decided to tarry a bit, and not go home. They organized a picnic for that day, and the scene was resplendent in the late summer sun.
Lake Balaton is a Central European idyll, a place where, in 1989, splintered families and friends could reunite: Those from West Germany and East Germany. Usually, the West Germans went home, but the East Germans would figuratively press their noses against the barbed wire, hoping against hope they could emigrate to the west, too. But, year after year, the Hungarians kept the walls and barricades mended and manned, and remained Moscow’s jailers– sending the East Germans back to the tender mercies of Erich Honecker. By 1989, their economy in a shambles, the Hungarians (never too hep on being commie anyway) decided to stop spending money on the whole useless endeavor, and let the picnickers stay… and go where they wanted.
Needless to say, word spread, and soon the “picnic” swelled in the tens of thousands. Inside a year, the Berlin Wall fell.
As I say, History has vast currents beneath the surface we cannot see. It might be a piece of electrical tape, it might be a picnic.
We live our lives day to day. Who can say what is taking place this day– whatever it is, it has nothing to do with polls, or the gyrations of media frenzied attention. It has nothing to do with celebrity.
At about this time in the election year of 2000, there were some twenty-odd Saudi Arabian men hanging out in Florida, some taking pilot’s lessons. Ho hum, whatever. Happens all the time.
Of course, while this was going on, John McCain and George W. Bush were delighting South Carolina primary voters with questions about John McCain fathering a black child (?). Al Gore was doing a weird minuet with Bill Bradley, where Bradley was pretending to be more liberal than Al Gore. And, of curse, the poll said This, and the polls said That.
What are the currents roiling in human endeavor, far under the surface waves and swells? Who knows, really. But, I can guarantee that a thin-skinned deal-making self-indulgent middling egotist like Donald Trump is wholly ill-suited to comprehend them before the elusive make themselves apparent.
We have been given an enormous gift: We have in our midst a young man who is putting himself through the absolute hell of a modern presidential campaign, who is of towering intellect, gracious demeanor, humble spirit; a man gifted in the arts of communication and persuasion, steeped in American tradition, learned in American history and blessed with calm, steely, courageous leadership skills. He is young and strong, and clearly loves this country every bit as much as he loves his family and his Lord. Senator Ted Cruz is the sort of man who only comes along once a generation, and if we as a people reject him in favor of a vulgar, unctuous, charlatan con-man who is not fit to walk in the same house as Lincoln, or Adams, or Reagan, then the demise of the American system is clearly at hand.
Recently, Donald Trump was asked if he would place his enormous personal financial assets in a “blind trust”. This isn’t so troubling, to me –at least in the context of history– as does the trusting blindly of his fanatical adherents. History teaches us that vast movements based on a single man and his blind followers all begin with what seeming innocuous and almost laughable prologue: Adolf Hitler and his drinking buddies attempting to take over a Bavarian constabulary, Pol Pot reading French Revolutionary poetry to his like-minded student comrades on the Champs Elysees, or Mao Zedong haranguing his students to become physically fit so they could endure the coming revolution. Each soon had their blind adherents.
As I say, we cannot know the depths of the currents of History. But, we can grasp them.
We do this by knowing history, not making “deals” in the moment. Mr. Trump’s grasp of history is only as broad as last weeks “tweets”, and yesterday’s polls. In all likelihood, given his lofty position in his gilded station, he’s remained largely unaffected by the ebbs and swells of history in his own life: For example, the simple price of a gallon of gas hasn’t affected Mr. Trump much beyond what it might cost to fly his jets around– how, then, can he be expected to remember such mundane facts as what Wickerd v. Fillburn did to growing wheat in this country, or what Homer Plessy was doing when he boarded a Pullman Car in Louisiana?
As I say– it might all seem like dimly-lighted minutae, at least in the context of supermarket tabloid headlines. But history doesn’t reveal itself this way.
It reveals itself –when it does at all– as it will in 96 hours or so. It reveals itself in the living rooms and church social halls in the snowswept drumlins of Iowa. Groups of earnest men and women will gather, in dribs and drabs. There, relatively small voices will be heard, humble arguments made. Coffee will be served, and there will be Oreos on platters.
These are the moments where the roiling undercurrents are seen. A person here, a person there, will be persuaded. The ripples will build to a wave. And, I pray –as Senator Cruz so recently enjoined us to– that these tiny ripples will build toward a Ted Cruz nomination, and a Ted Cruz Presidency.