We don’t live in due time, Out for dinner with friends a few nights ago, we talked about America’s history of lurching against the status quo toward greater freedom and justice for greater numbers of its people. The carnage of civil war, lynchings, burnings and beatings backed by laws of exclusion and prohibition existed along with optimism for a future in the vastness of a continent in which opportunity abounded for those willing to take risks and work hard. The contradictions were not easy to resolve. They haven’t yet been fully resolved.
Nevertheless, the nation has lurched forward, not without great effort on the part of courageous people who stood for a better way, leading others to stand with them, sometimes at the cost of their lives. It has made us unique among all nations, a marvel of civil instability that defies historical logic: one of the great wonders of the political world. As dinner conversation went on, one of us wondered if progress in civil rights would have happened in due time. Maybe it didn’t need wars, protests, and rabble rousing leadership to egg it on. In due time it would have happened.
“We don’t live in due time,” said our host. Very little of real worth happens in due time. It happens when forces of change have enough strength to overcome forces of the status quo. It takes a lot. Change is always disruptive, and sociopolitical change may be the most disruptive of all. If we know how to get along with the way things are, why risk changes that may not turn out well? Even if they do, how will we know how to get along in the strange ways of a new environment? Not all change is good. It can be bad. How is one to know? Why take the risk?
Still, America has a record of lurching unsteadily, violently, but consistently toward more civil rights for more people shared more equitably. And each forward lurch has been the product of courageous people taking courageous stands, against enormous odds.
There are vicious enemies of more civil rights for more people: the KKK, neo Nazis, white supremacists, etc. Within movements for needed change are internal obstacles created by radical extremists who would rather fight than win. Against all of it stands the most powerful obstacle to expanded rights; the passive resistance of those content with the status quo who are more upset with bad manners and ill behavior than by injustice. It’s something with which I’m quite familiar, having been a part of it at critical times.
Once again, the courageous among us are on the march, not to expand the scope of civil rights, but to defend ground gained against powerful counter attacks. Hard won rights are under threat from the current administration, backed by a large portion of the population convinced that their own rights and privileges are being taken away. Among them are passionate libertarians deeply distrustful of government interference in their lives, egged on, oddly enough, by a relatively small cadre of wealthy persons who appear to favor a more authoritarian form of government they hope to manipulate for their own benefit. Such turmoil is the perfect opportunity to dismantle regulatory structures that impede doing business as one desires, getting out from under intrusive government oversight, and all in the name of freedom.
In due time will the nation come to its senses, and restore legitimacy to government? It seems unlikely because we don’t live in due time.
Several years ago I wrote that the United States would benefit from getting over the need to be the leader of the free world, the biggest and best at everything, and learn to be one nation among others, doing what it does best while letting other nations do what they do best. I didn’t anticipate that we might get there through an administration intent on corrupting our national reputation, eroding our competitive advantages, and undermining the integrity of our democracy, doing it, they say, to Make America Great Again.
I don’t know how this will all work out. Now and then I run into Trump supporters. Some of them amaze me with the tenacity of their support. Others astound me with the grotesquely distorted convictions they hold about the world they live in. On the other side are dozens of opposition and resistance movements that have yet to say what they stand for instead of what they stand against. In between is a discouraging number who don’t vote, don’t intend to vote, don’t know what’s going on, and have little knowledge of American government and history.
I guess we’ll find out, in due time.