July 25, 2016
By Agnett Bonwit
P o t h o l e A h e a d
One calm note in last week’s mendacious maelstrom that hit Cleveland was the Republican Convention speech by former astronaut and first female shuttle commander Eileen Collins. Speaking on on the 47th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, Collins called for a shot in the arm to America’s space program:
From the moment the first Pilgrims arrived on our shores, Americans have been asking, ‘what’s next? … In 1961, President Kennedy issued a challenge to America: to land a man on the moon and return him safely to Earth. 47 years ago on this very day, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin answered that call and walked on the moon … [I]n 2011, the space shuttle program ended. The last time the US launched our own astronauts from our own soil was over 5 years ago. We must do better than that!
Oddly, as pointed out by Washington Post writer Phillip Bump, It seems that Collins stumbled into the wrong party given the Republican nominee’s recent derisive comments about NASA, such as when he was queried by a young boy last November on how he felt about the space agency, Trump dismissively said, “Right now, we have bigger problems — you understand that?, We’ve got to fix our potholes. You know, we don’t exactly have a lot of money.” Another time, Trump rejected the notion of increased space agency funding: “What we spend in NASA should be appropriate for what we are asking them to do … Our first priority is to restore a strong economic base to this country. Then, we can have a discussion about spending.”
Significantly, in the end Collins snubbed Trump even though the speech’s official text called for her to say “We need leadership that will make America first again. That leader is Donald Trump,” Perhaps as the teleprompter ominously rolled those words she realized the danger of hitching one’s wagon to a black hole.
T h e R e s t i s H i s t o r y
While the following comments by groundbreaking documentarian Ken Burns from his recent commencement address delivered at Stanford University may not at first seem to have direct relevance to this column, his status as an historian provides an eloquent argument to the threat of a Trump candidacy not only to the United States, but to the rest of the world and to the survival of the Earth.
For 216 years, our elections, though bitterly contested, have featured the philosophies and character of candidates who were clearly qualified. That is not the case this year. One is glaringly not qualified. So before you do anything with your well-earned degree, you must do everything you can to defeat the retrograde forces that have invaded our democratic process, divided our house, to fight against, no matter your political persuasion, the dictatorial tendencies of the candidate with zero experience in the much maligned but subtle art of governance; who is against lots of things, but doesn’t seem to be for anything, offering only bombastic and contradictory promises, and terrifying Orwellian statements; a person who easily lies, creating an environment where the truth doesn’t seem to matter; who has never demonstrated any interest in anyone or anything but himself and his own enrichment; who insults veterans, threatens a free press, mocks the handicapped, denigrates women, immigrants and all Muslims; a man who took more than a day to remember to disavow a supporter who advocates white supremacy and the Ku Klux Klan; an infantile, bullying man who, depending on his mood, is willing to discard old and established alliances, treaties and long-standing relationships. I feel genuine sorrow for the understandably scared and – they feel – powerless people who have flocked to his campaign in the mistaken belief that – as often happens on TV – a wand can be waved and every complicated problem can be solved with the simplest of solutions. They can’t. It is a political Ponzi scheme. And asking this man to assume the highest office in the land would be like asking a newly minted car driver to fly a 747.
As a student of history, I recognize this type. He emerges everywhere and in all eras. We see nurtured in his campaign an incipient proto-fascism, a nativist anti-immigrant Know Nothing-ism, a disrespect for the judiciary, the prospect of women losing authority over their own bodies, African Americans again asked to go to the back of the line, voter suppression gleefully promoted, jingoistic saber rattling, a total lack of historical awareness, a political paranoia that, predictably, points fingers, always making the other wrong. These are all virulent strains that have at times infected us in the past. But they now loom in front of us again – all happening at once. We know from our history books that these are the diseases of ancient and now fallen empires. The sense of commonwealth, of shared sacrifice, of trust, so much a part of American life, is eroding fast, spurred along and amplified by an amoral Internet that permits a lie to circle the globe three times before the truth can get started.
We no longer have the luxury of neutrality or “balance,” or even of bemused disdain. Many of our media institutions have largely failed to expose this charlatan, torn between a nagging responsibility to good journalism and the big ratings a media circus always delivers. In fact, they have given him the abundant airtime he so desperately craves, so much so that it has actually worn down our natural human revulsion to this kind of behavior. Hey, he’s rich; he must be doing something right. He is not. Edward R. Murrow would have exposed this naked emperor months ago. He is an insult to our history. Do not be deceived by his momentary “good behavior.” It is only a spoiled, misbehaving child hoping somehow to still have dessert.
This is not a liberal or conservative issue, a red state, blue state divide. This is an American issue. … I implore those “Vichy Republicans” who have endorsed him to please, please reconsider. We must remain committed to the kindness and community that are the hallmarks of civilization and reject the troubling, unfiltered Tourette’s of his tribalism.