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How “Rugged” is Rugged Individualism in Hard Times?

by Charlie Barber | .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) | Last Word | April 30th, 2020

History and Liberty: “On the one hand is the politics of inevitability, the sense that history could move in only one direction: toward liberal democracy – a self-induced intellectual coma…On the other hand there is the politics of eternity – a longing for past moments that never really happened during epochs that were, in fact, disastrous…The danger we now face is of a passage from the politics of inevitability to the politics of eternity, from a naïve and flawed sort of democratic republic to a confused and cynical sort of fascist oligarchy…The only thing that stands between them is history itself…History allows us to see patterns and make judgments…History gives us the company of those who have done and suffered more than we have.” – Timothy Snyder

“In the 1930’s an ecological disaster on the Great Plains accompanied the economic upheavals of the Great Depression…In North and South Dakota—farmers, shopkeepers, artisans and independent professionals battled not just to save their land but also to maintain a complex way of life…(and) to protect the authority and viability of their culture.” - Catherine McNicol Stock, Main Street in Crisis

“It was a town and a government entirely unprepared to take on the global responsibilities suddenly thrust upon it…Franklin Roosevelt found that he had, in effect, to recruit an entirely new and temporary government to be piled on top of the old one…The war transformed not just the government. It transformed Washington itself…Nothing like it had ever been seen before. Nothing like it is likely to be seen again…” - David Brinkley, Washington Goes to War, 1987

“…it is the fatal, unforgivable error of conquerors to ordain the destinies of men and nations according to wartime views and circumstances.”– Milovan Djilas, Wartime

“The Center for Disease Control currently estimates that for ordinary smallpox, with a fatality rate of 30 percent, one infected person can infect five others, and by the fifth generation of the disease, 3,125 people will be infected. As true today as in 1837, there is no known cure or treatment for smallpox, but as of 1980, the World Health Organization declared smallpox eradicated in nature following a worldwide vaccination program.” - from Michael M. Casler, “’This Outrageous Disease’ - - Charles Larpenteur’s Observations of the1837 Smallpox Epidemic,” The Rocky Mountain Fur Trade Journal, Vol. 10, 2016

“Yesterday, upon the stair, I met a virus that wasn’t there…
It wasn’t there again today; God I wish it’d go away…”
- attr. to Donald Trump

“Those were the days…………” - Archie Bunker


While visiting my neighborhood Cenex station to top off my gas tank for the next month or two of infrequent trips to the grocery store, I took the daring step of paying cash (discounts matter these days!) with my mask and gloves on. The cashier, was safely behind plexi-glass screens, but in my fumbling for change I “ungloved” and chanced to brush her finger. I apologized and vowed to wash my hands, but she said she “had it covered.” She had a hand sanitizer on her blue jeans belt for such cases, and said we should have been doing “this sort of thing long ago.”

That’s right buckaroos! No more packin’ a “big iron” on your hip like wacko Trump morons putting a new twist on the “right to die” movement in State Capitols around the country. What’s “hip” for your hip out here on Missouri R. banks in Mandan, ND, “where the West begins,” are hand sanitizers. This sensible young lady rejects a White House strategy to herd her into herd immunity for the sake of a second term for Trump. This gal clearly would represent us better in Washington than our current Republican Congressional delegation. She is one of many retail workers who have kept our economy limping along for us, while Americans continue to get bad medical advice from their President and FOX News. In addition, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the Majority “Rump Trump” Republicans, and their dark money lords, continue to play the Covid-19 Blame Game by suing responsible Governors like Republican Doug Burgum (ND) for “ruining” life styles based on hair styles, and Democrats Gavin Newsom (CA) for supporting life styles based on cheap Mexican-American labor, and J.B. Pritzger (IL) for protecting life itself. I asked my KGB friends if there were answers to such challenges to public servants like these Governors by such selfish and self-interested citizens -- “blowin’ in the wind.”

High Plains Reader: Oh my goodness, you have brought the Headless Horseman with you!

Putin: You said you wanted answers, so we brought the man who has chased them down. His answers may displease your illusions, but they save your mind, like science saves your body.

HPR: Well, Mr. Horseman, what can 21st Century generations do to win the war against the virus, since the “Greatest Generation” is no longer with us?

Headless Horseman: The first thing to do is to drop that silly notion. In rationalizing greed and self-centeredness in the 1980’s, a consequence of American moral exhaustion from cynicism and hysteria in the Cold War and conflicts over civil rights and Vietnam, you indulged in fantasies about World War II. There has never been such a thing in American History as a “greatest generation.” Each generation has had its own unique triumphs and tragedies, virtues and flaws.

HPR: But I read this book by Tom Brokaw about all these men and women who survived the Depression and then went on to win World War II.

Headless Horseman: Tom Brokaw was a TV Anchorman. What the hell did he know about history that wasn’t spoon fed to him? You should pick up Jon Meacham, who had the good sense to co-author one of his books (Songs of America) with country singer Tim McGraw and tell stories of multiple generations of Americans whose collective genius has truly formed the United States, and continues to do so. If it’s an Anchorman in touch with popular culture you want, you should try Ari Melber (msnbc), who mixes legal acumen, disarming charm and sensitivity, with alternative cultures and “bad jokes.” He is also a major political therapist, helping neo-conservatives like Bill Kristol recover from drinking koolade mixed by William Buckley and Ronald Reagan, by pairing them with rappers in the tradition of LL Kool J.

Rasputin: Bill Kristol has a sense of humor. Conservative pundits like George Will only have a sense of themselves, hidden behind a cloud of six bit, multi-syllable words. Unfortunately, they, like their rhetoric, will blow with the wind, so that their self appointed wise man status will not suffer revelation of their ignorance of an underlying, living, breathing America that defies political divisions into left (liberal) and right (conservative), exposed by crises like Covid-19.

HPR: Don’t journalists and historians have to label political opinions and American generations just to keep track of things?

HH: Journalists naturally, and somewhat forgivably, do so. They have deadlines. But historians are obliged to take more time and deal with the complexities of human endeavor. Over time, responsible historians see how one generation has built upon another, and either learned to embrace hard won lessons, or rejected or forgotten them.

Schickelgruber: It is difficult, and painful, to remember, for example, how anti-Semitic the World War II generation of Americans were, in their institutions and daily lives, even as they formed into troops to fight the Nazi authors of the Holocaust, when we see that ancient ghost of Christian racism reemerge among Trump supporters at Charlottesville, VA, MAGA rallies, and among Tea Party demonstrators against the Obama Administration going back to 2010.

Chicago Dog: A Black President, supported by white and black folks, I hasten to add. Such a phenomenon would have been unthinkable to the World War II generation containing many Republicans who hated Democrat FDR, a white President supported by black and white folks.

Señor Perro: The phenomenon of an American President of color still seems to be unthinkable to a fairly large number of folks who call themselves Christians, as well as Trump Republicans.

Lena: And men, who were brought kicking and screaming into acceptance of “Rosie the Riveter” during and after World War II, still have misogynistic heirs at the top of all three branches of U.S. Government, on Wall Street, and large swaths of the private sector. The idea that women could be just as rugged as men was too much back then, and, for some, even now.

HPR: What happened to rugged individualists? Are there now only “rugged CEO’s?”

HH: There are many rugged individuals from the past, and many today as well, but they rarely succeed alone, and mostly never did. When Americans are confronted by crises, they form committees, of varying effectiveness. One of the most effective of these communal efforts were the Committees of Correspondence, key organizing components of the American Revolution.

Mr. Swamp Fox: During the Great Depression, small armies of New Dealers wrote, and passed legislation through Congressional Committees, to be signed by President Franklin Roosevelt, some of the most effective protections of General Welfare in our history. One of the most lasting was Social Security -- finally putting people alongside profits, not necessarily above them.

HPR: And yet so many maintain, as we often did back then, that our liberty has been the result of our “rugged individualism.” “Don’t Tread on Me.” For some reason that I do not pretend to understand, way too many political pundits, politicians, and citizens, posit individualism and cooperation as contradictory, rather than complimentary.

HH: The results of such an either/or approach to the American character have been, and are, tragic. Social Security, Medicare, Immigration, Science (a collective work of art as well as work of individual geniuses) are all under attack by your moron President, and the moronic greed of all too many Republicans of the past 40 years, waving the flag, and spitting out the word “liberal” like a swear word. For these bandits, profits aren’t the first thing, but the only thing.

Mr. Crying Wolf: Trump is irrelevant to what this country, and the world, needs, and so is the Republican party of Mitch McConnell, which wants to continue to pit Blue States against Red States for the sake of power, while most Governors are working together for the sake of survival, and trying to keep big business from stealing the Congressional aid marked for small businesses.

But with Joe Biden going ballistic against Wall Street and for a green economy, the game is on.

Rocinante: Disgust with Trump is truly bipartisan in Washington, D.C., regardless of how fewer and fewer yahoos get riled up elsewhere. Someone smuggled a sonnet out of the State Department basement, allegedly written by a rapper from a Blue State, shortly after Rex Tillerson left in dismay at how irrelevant Trump always was, until he became President. From a climate change perspective, Rex Tillerson is one of greatest “fossil fuel morons” of all time, but that is a separate category from the ordinary garden variety moron like Trump described in this poem. Chief Loyalty Enforcement Tsar, Attorney General William Barr, is still trying to sniff his way to the bottom of it all, but he is wasting his time. It was a Republican staffer from a State that is so Red that he will never find the dude:

The Baron of most oil on planet earth
Became the Foreign Minister one day
Atop a government in U.S.A.
That claimed “new greatness” as its “perfect” worth
Alas, the Baron did not know his fate
Would be determined by a special quirk
In Constitution’s Regs.—That put a jerk
In Office as the Country’s Head of State
The Baron tried sweet reason with this man
Who deemed himself King Donald: He the First;
The Baron quit; rather than soul defer.
When asked why he had not a better plan
He said to one who asked, and feared the worst;
He is a f*cking moron; My Dear Sir! - Chicago Dog, The Oil Baron and the Moron

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