Sydney M. Williams
Thought of the Day
“When Means Become Confused with Ends”
October 22, 2018
“Perfection of means and confusion of goals seem,
in my opinion, to characterize our age.”
Albert Einstein (1879-1955)
Out of my Later Years, 1950
Most days, I read or skim five newspapers. Like many, I strive for some sort of balance. But it is difficult. Families and friends avoid politics for fear personal animosities will subsume relationships. Partisanship is everywhere, especially in the media. Either we, as a people, have become reflective of the them, or they of us. We read and listen to one side; we ignore (and condemn)those who think differently. Think of our universities, network TV and late-night comedians. The consequence is that real news is hard to discern. We all have examples of a news item picked up by The Wall Street Journalthat is ignored or exaggerated by The New York Times, or vice versa. Editorial pages smack of hypocrisy, sanctimony, mendacity and schadenfreude, depending on which side of the story the editor finds him or herself. Often, I find myself – and I am sure I am not alone – tossing the papers aside in frustration and picking up a novel, a Wodehouse for its comic relief, or a Times crossword puzzle for its mental stimulation. I am not without prejudice, as you all know, so find myself wondering:why is the Left so consumed with hate? I know many of these people and many are friends. And I know they wonder:why am I so stupid, insensitive and obtuse? I don’t think I am, and my guess is that most of my friends are not filled with hate. But we have allowed extremists to define our opinions; and politicians, watching which way the clouds move, sail with the wind.
The problem, as I see it, is that both sides fail to recognize that we, generally, have the same ends – life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (and all that encompasses). It is in the means to achieve common goals where we differ. In recent years, as rhetoric has amplified, a desired political end has justified not only nasty words but acts of violence, “whatever it takes,” as one Democrat put it. We saw it in the Senate Visitor’s Gallery during the Kavanaugh hearings and in restaurants that forced out Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Ted Cruz, among others. Listening to the bickering of Senators last month reminded one of Matthew Arnold’s poem “Dover Beach,” “…where ignorant armies clash by night.” “Never argue with a fool,”my father used to say, “for a passer-by could not tell which was the fool.” Like a lover’s quarrel, both parties may be at fault, but both parties are not equally at fault. Despite a mainstream media that would have us believe otherwise, it is the left that has elevated hateful discourse to new levels.
In a Wall Street Journalop-ed last September titled “Why the Left is Consumed with Hate,” Shelby Steele of the Hoover Institute explained what he thought was the answer: “The great crisis for the left today – the source of its angst and hatefulness – is its encroaching obsolescence.” Perhaps? I don’t know. In my opinion, part of that angst stems from the failure of the progressive Presidency of Barack Obama to leave a lasting legacy. Despite being elected President twice and remaining popular as an ex-President, Mr. Obama, over the course of his eight years in office, saw Democrats lose the House in 2010 and the Senate in 2014. Worse, Democrats lost heavily in state and local elections. In 2008, there were twenty-eight Democrat governors and twenty-two Republican governors. Eight years later, Democrats had lost twelve governorships and Republicans had gained eleven. (Bill Walker of Alaska is an Independent.) During those same years, Democrats lost over a thousand state legislative seats. Mr. Obama may remain personally popular, but he destroyed the Democrat Party.
Nevertheless, with expectations high in 2016, Democrats felt their time had come. Mrs. Clinton tilted left, endorsing Pyrrhic victories, such as gender equality, transsexualism, abortion on demand, identity politics and liberalizing marijuana, while ignoring the economy, jobs and middle America’s, “deplorables.” Tasting victory, Mrs. Clinton tweeted that Mr. Trump must be a good loser. Results turned out otherwise. While Mr. Trump may not have been the most gracious of winners, Mrs. Clinton did turn out to be one of the sorest of losers. It would have been one thing to have lost to a mainstream Republican, like Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio, but to lose to a reality-TV star with orange hair and whose speech did not carry strains of the ivy league was too much for progressives who believed it was their destiny to transform America.
Gutter tactics, once the choice of a few, have gone mainstream. Mr. Trump is a fighter. He had witnessed what happened to those who acted civilly – like George W. Bush who was reviled and Mitt Romney who was splattered. Offering good counsel, Michelle Obama said, “When they(Republicans) go low, I go high,” but others in her Party ignored that advice. Eric Holder recommended kicking them if they went low. Mrs. Clinton said civility among Democrats would not return until Democrats regained control of Congress. And, remember how Mrs. Obama’s husband once said he would bring a gun to a knife fight? Such incivility is not new. In 1856, South Carolina pro-slavery Representative Preston Brooks (a Democrat) bludgeoned abolitionist Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner (a Republican) with a cane. Nevertheless, there have always been those who stood for decency: “I could never divide myself from any man upon the difference of an opinion,” so wrote Sir Thomas Browne, on the eve of the English Revolution, in 1642If only a Sir Thomas would appear today.
While many of my generation grew up in ethnic neighborhoods, we were proud to be Americans. We had common goals regarding marriage and families, but we took different paths, and most of us ended in a place where we were content – sometimes after more than one marriage! We had differing goals regarding jobs and careers, reflecting differences in ambition, intelligence, athleticism and looks. But we had common beliefs in what America stood for – liberty, self-government, rule of law, freedom to express opinions and to worship, and respect and tolerance for those with whom we disagreed, and to do all this in a fiscally responsible manner. This faith in America was based on what we had studied in school. We read history. We studied people and events and learned of how thousands had died that others could live in freedom – that a Civil War had been fought to free enslaved Americans, but also for “a governmentof the people, by the people, for the people.” We were told civility and thrift were good and rudeness and indebtedness bad. We were taught that evil exists and that even good men can do bad things. We read of how our government came into being and how it works, and that it was – and is – not perfect, but unique, the best the world has yet devised. We learned that different people believed in achieving common goals – gender, racial and religious equality, freedoms to express opinions, better living standards, financial stability – but through different means. We learned that if we agree on the ends, we should be able to civilly debate the means.
Extremists on the left, however, say our goals are not the same, that conservatives lack compassion, that they want to put women back in aprons and Blacks back in chains. If that reflects the true feelings of Democrats, we are lost. If the refusal to accept election outcomes, is greater today than what the Country experienced in 1861 or 1933, then I fear we are lost. But I suspect that such naysayers are only a noisy fringe. There is a tendency to assume we live in unique, extraordinary times, that, for example, the 2018 midterm election is the most momentous of our lifetimes. Not to make light of the current elections (or even of the witches in Brooklyn who placed hexes on Donald Trump, Justice Kavanaugh and Mitch McConnell), I question the assumption. For together we have lived through a lot: The American Revolution; the War of 1812; the Mexican War of 1846; the Civil War; the panic of 1907; World War I; the stock market crash of 1929 and a decade of depression; Pearl Harbor and World War II; the Cold War; Vietnam; 1968, with its race riots and assassinations; the stock market crash of 1987; 9/11 and ensuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; the credit collapse of 2008, and the assassinations of four Presidents – Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, William McKinley and John F. Kennedy. Today’s concerns pale in comparison to what we have experienced and overcome. In his first inaugural, Abraham Lincoln, facing a far more divisive time than what we face today, wrote: “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
That, it seems to me, should be our goal. Let loose the better angels of our nature. You are not filled with hate, and I am not insensitive. Don’t be sure that your Party has all the answers. Don’t assume that your political opponents want to destroy democracy. Discover and decide on what and where we agree, then debate how to get there. Martin Luther King once wrote, “In the final analysis, means and ends must cohere because the end is preexistent in the means, and, ultimately, destructive means cannot bring about constructive ends.” Amen.