The Bullet We Still Need to Dodge
But are beginning to ignore...
The victory of our Spokane County Auditor, Vicky Dalton, over the vocal election denier and conspiracy theorist Bob McCaslin in last November’s general election was cause for celebration. However, we would do well to note that what should have been a landslide victory was very narrow, only a 1183 vote difference among 218,552 total votes cast. What does it mean that very nearly half of our fellow Spokane County voters cast ballots for a man not only unqualified for the job, but a man who actively challenged the legitimacy and integrity of the 2020 election, a man who actively promoted the Big Lie of election fraud?
It should also escape no one’s notice that many of the Republican U.S. House majority featured in the Kevin McCarthy spectacle last week, including “our” Representative, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, also actively participated in Trump’s scheme to subvert democracy and continue to nurture the Big Lie—regardless of the lack of evidence.
Many who read these emails also read “On Tyranny” by Timothy Snyder when it came out 2017 in the early days of the Trump presidency. Snyder is the Richard C. Levin Professor of History at Yale University, an historian specializing in the modern history of Central and Eastern Europe. His Yale lecture series “The Making of Modern Ukraine” (available for free on YouTube) is a masterpiece. It is a considerable time investment (twenty-three lectures) that vividly reminded me how little history (beyond the classic stories of “American” history) that I (and, by extension, most Americans) receive in the context of our formal public education.
Especially in the last forty years I have often lamented (mostly to myself) that we of the American public are frequently exposed to braying asses on talk TV and radio posing as “experts”—while many people with broad expertise in complex subjects are rarely seen or heard outside of university settings. Often they are not interviewed because these people don’t speak in the soundbites of buzzword-tested political culture—real life generally isn’t that simple. Furthermore, their messages and knowledge have been broadly denigrated by demagogues on the right as the “liberal elite.”
I live in some hope that the chaos of the Trump presidency, the Trump insurrection, and the ongoing threat American democracy that Trump and his dogged followers represent is beginning to awaken Americans to the need to better understand history. As the narrowness of Vicky Dalton’s win over Bob McCaslin should remind us, we need to listen and learn. When the history we think we understand encompasses only our own republic’s meager 250 years, the 250 years customarily taught in our high schools (often as a series of names and dates) we run a grave risk of imagining that republics and democracies are always destined to triumph over autocracy and totalitarianism. That is a dangerous fallacy when viewed in the context of broader history.
A friend just introduced me to Timothy Snyder as a Substack writer—and a podcaster—in a forum entitled “Thinking about…”. It is Snyder’s very first podcast effort that sparked my writing today. It is a 13 minute talk entitled “America is on the ballot” recorded just before the November election. One statement stands out: “If you vote for someone who denies the 2020 electoral results you are voting for someone who is taking part in a plan to overturn the 2024 or perhaps the 2028 electoral results. You will have responsibility for that, and for everything that follows.” That rings painfully true as we face off with a Republican Party that continues to traffic in lies and conspiracy theories that threaten the continuation of our democracy. I urge you to click, watch, and listen to “America is on the ballot”.
Keep to the high ground,
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