Some of you know I am back at university working on a degree in Appalachian Studies. During some of my reading I came across a quote that echoed with me. It is from Rebecca Harding, the Civil War era journalist/author known for her devotion to Social Justice and advocacy for workers and women. Harding was writing about the cultural climate leading into the Civil War, the “succession crisis”. Harding, whose family had roots in Alabama, was living with her folks in Virginia when she noted:
“There was a time when the great mass of people took no part in the quarrel,” she wrote. “They were stunned, appalled. I never have seen an adequate description anywhere of their amazement, the uncomprehending horror of the bulk of American people which preceded the firing of that gun at Sumter. Politicians or far-sighted leaders on both sides knew what was coming. And it is they who have written histories of the war. But of the easy-going millions, busied with their farms or shops, the onrushing disaster was as inexplicable as an earthquake. Their protest arose from the sea like the clamor of a gigantic hive of frightened bees.”
Speaking about the year leading into the war, Harding said that Congress and the White House were flooded with letters and supplications to put an end to the madness that appeared to have overtaken the country. The citizenry had a host of answers to fix the country, their views shaped mostly by geography, where they lived. Still, Harding recalled:
“The great mass of the people, as of yet took little interest in any of the questions involved except the vital one – whether the union should be preserved. The union, to the average American of that day, was as essential a foundation of his life as was his Bible or his God.”
It’s an odd thing for me as a writer, as a Gold Star daughter, as a woman, to read words that were penned over a century ago and have the sense that they could be as apt a commentary for the political climate today as they were for that time.
We only have to look to our voting records to see that the great masses people are no different leading into the 2020 election as people were leading into Lincoln’s election. The citizenry don’t want to concern themselves with matters of the country. The Citizenry wants good roads, good jobs, an environment they can enjoy without being poisoned by it. They want to know they can go to the doctor when they are sick and that they can get medical treatment that won’t bankrupt them. They want the opportunity for a good education for their children and grandchildren. They don’t want to send their sons or daughters to war. They don’t want to pay higher taxes than one-percenters. They want people who are guilty of crimes to be held accountable, and those who aren’t guilty to not be imprisoned, or worse, killed. They don’t want the government, local or national, with their noses up their private business. The vast majority of voters want to be able to have guns for hunting but not assault weapons for hunting humans. They want children to be loved and cared for, all children, no matter their color or immigration status. And the masses want regulations for Social Media, for chemical companies, for mining companies, for Boeing and the pork industry. The masses understand that allowing companies to self-regulate almost always leads to exploiting people, and too often to illnesses and death (Boeing, I’m looking at you).
Harding’s quote reminded me of something that I read years ago that the war criminal Lt. Calley said about the war in Vietnam: “The average Vietnamese wasn’t interested in any war. They were simply interested in their rice paddy, their water buffalo, taking care of their families.”
People are the same that way the world over. We want lives free of the things that men in Ivory Towers and palaces crave: Absolute power & control over others.
Harding wrote one other thing that resonates with our current climate: “The nation grew sick at heart.”
Sick at heart.
That sums it up doesn’t it?
We are a nation sick at heart, no matter which side of the Trump cult you are on. We fight not against flesh and blood but against the rulers of darkness, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
All evil begins first in the heart and soul of a few. It is rarely contained there, however.
“The happy light went out of the old eyes and never came to them again,” Harding observed.