“It takes courage not to be discouraged.” That was Benjamin Ferencz, the last surviving Nazi war crimes prosecutor who, at the age of 27, prosecuted two dozen death camp supervisors and who, now age 97, was interviewed on 60 Minutes. He was responding to questions as to how and why his experience had not left him bitter.
But it is also a message for those of us watching a lifetime of effort ― to move our nation forward, to improve the lives of those left behind, to leave a healthier environment for our children, to control weapons of mass destruction, and many other standards of progress ― being swept away.
There are many reasons to be discouraged. Energy policy is being turned over to the energy industry. Environmental programs are being dismantled by climate change deniers and anti-science zealots. Public education is being privatized. Affordable health insurance now finances tax cuts for the wealthy. Federal judges are selected for ideological purity.
Most discouraging of all is the commercialization of the presidency. The extended first family blatantly sells White House (or Mar-a-Lago) access to powerful interests around the world. Heads of state are entertained at a private resort, not the White House. The president’s family promotes its hotels, casinos, and beauty products in foreign capitals. Foreign leaders are learning to trade access to their markets in exchange for the U.S. supporting their policy objectives.
It is too bad William Faulkner is not still living. His trilogy The Hamlet, The Town, and The Mansion chronicled the rise of the Snopes family in Southern politics. Corrupt and self-serving to the core. He would now have to add The White House. Looking back, it now seems almost inevitable that corruption on a monumental scale would eventually make it to the top.
A few of us disagree with the pundits who have settled on the last election as a class conflict. Certainly some Trump voters were angry at various elites, liberal and otherwise. But what about the Wall Street elites now running our economy and the corporate elites dismantling worker safety and environmental regulations and helping themselves to public lands. And the conservative dark money elites dismantling anything having Obama’s name on it. You will search in vain for any step taken so far or for the next three years that directly and immediately helps low income white people who are, instead, being taken to the cleaners by the Trump elites.
Since few young people today would call themselves idealists, it is left to aging idealists from the 1960s to keep that flickering and archaic torch alive. But Mr. Ferencz is right. It does take courage. Not battlefield courage. But the courage that comes from believing in an American ideal that is far better than what we see today. The courage that believes we are not witnessing a modern day version of the fall of the Roman Empire. The courage that insists when this grim un-American detour is over we will return to our ideal as a nation of principles, political morality, and Constitutional standards.
In the meantime, it takes courage. Courage to persevere. Courage to see farther down the road. Courage to believe a large majority of Americans, including many who voted for this administration and are now experiencing shock at what they got, will return to our traditional beliefs, the faith of our fathers. The courage to know that we will not only endure, we will prevail.