I’m trying hard to keep my mind off the election, because it seems bad for my gut to think of it. All I need to do is broach the subject, and I find myself restlessly pacing like a lion in a cage. But what can I do? I am only an old grouch with a single vote. My lone vote will likely be countered by someone in the “corpses-for-Clinton” category. Instead of a sword all I have is a pen, and it doesn’t feel all that mighty, no matter what Edward Bulwer-Lytton may have hoped to convey with:
“True, This! —
Beneath the rule of men entirely great
The pen is mightier than the sword. Behold
The arch-enchanter’s wand! — itself is nothing! —
But taking sorcery from the master-hand
To paralyze the Caesars, and to strike
The loud earth breathless! — Take away the sword —
States can be saved without it!”
In Hebrews 4:12 it states:
“Indeed, the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart.”
The prophet Mohammed purportedly said,
“The ink of the scholar is holier than the blood of the martyr”
Of course, the power of the pen can work for fools as well as the wise. In his play “Hamlet”, talking about young, ignorant, loud playwrights and actors, Rosencrantz states,
“…But there is, sir, an eyrie of children, little eyases, that cry out on the top of question and are most tyrannically clapped for ’t. These are now the fashion, and so berattle the common stages—so they call them—that many wearing rapiers are afraid of goose quills and dare scarce come thither.”
The power of the pen exists whether one uses goose quills or computer keyboards, and explains why my American Forefathers were so big on Freedom of Speech and the power of a Free Press. It may also explain why the so-called “elite” currently in Washington DC want to have a completely compliant media, that only echoes their opinions like parrots.
There have been all sorts of versions of pen-is-more-mighty-than-the-sword across the mists of time, and likely, before the pen was invented, “the word was more mighty than the club”, (as I have occasionally displayed at bars, while fast-talking my way out of a confrontation with a Neanderthal), but one of my favorites, (as a writer), occurred when Akbar was the great Mogul emperor of India, and a king up to his north (King Abdullah of Bokhara, in what is now Uzbekistan), purportedly said something along the lines of,
“I am more afraid of Abu’l-Fazl’s pen than of Akbar’s sword.”
Akbar was an amazing historical character, and one of the neat tales I’ve heard about him involves when the Portuguese wanted to build trading posts on his coast, and protect their posts with cannons. The tale states Akbar said he would let them do it, as long as he could build trading posts along the coast of Portugal, protected with his cannons. The Portuguese realized they were not dealing with a fool, and headed further south, and focused their energies on their “trading post” at Goa.
Akbar was not merely brilliant, but attracted other brilliant minds. Abu’l-Fazl was one of them, and was counted as one of the nine “pearls” of his court.
The current elite of Washington DC like to think of themselves as pearls. (There are far more than nine, and may number a million, though Wikileaks suggests they think they are the pearl, and their contemporaries are not pearls.) but I fear they are increasingly seen as quahogs by the ordinary citizen.
(A quahog is a clam on the coast of New England which almost never has pearls, and, when it does, the pearl is almost always misshapen and worthless. One in a million quahogs contains a pearl of value.) (I should mention I often have opened quahogs with a knife to use the raw innards as bait. When the fishing is really, really bad, I just eat the quahogs instead, like oysters. The “foot” is chewy while the “stomach” is a gelatinous mass it is best not to look at, as you slurp it from the shell. The jelly-like nature of the quahog “stomach” may explain a bit of Cape Cod slang, which is as follows: When a heavy smoker develops a bad cough and cold, and his cough brings up a particularly gross glob of mucus, the disgusting blob he spits into the sand is called a “quahog.”)
Anyway, as I was saying, the “elite” of Washington DC increasingly resembles quahogs, rather than pearls.
It has been amazing to watch the elite fall into disgrace, and I have had an unique view of their downfall, for though I am poor and humble today, years and years and years ago I was on the periphery of being one of the elite. (I have been very downwardly mobile, since then.)
Back when I was a teen in 1968 my stepfather, (likely fearing for the safety of his home, if I was left home alone), used to drag me whining and sulking to his yearly reunion of the OPA. The OPA was the “Office of Price Administration”, which was Harry Truman’s desperate attempt to control the complete chaos that was unleashed when World War Two ended, and a military that had expanded from 174,000 in 1939 to over 16 million was abruptly asked to disband, or at least reduce its size to a half million.
In fact most of the people in the armed forces were not volunteers, and were chaffing at the bit to be free again. However the fact of the matter there was not even the housing extant to shelter them, as few homes had been built during the Great Depression, and almost none during the war.
To have 15 million young people abruptly free was a frightening prospect, especially as, after seeing so much death in the war, they had a huge instinct to make babies and have large families. It was a chaos we cannot imagine, especially as we have a current chaos to attend to, that we are having difficulty imagining.
The OPA did well in some respects and less well in others. I’ll leave it to others to argue the finer points. The primary feeling I got at the reunions was that the survivors were amazed things hadn’t turned out far worse. They were Harry Truman democrats, and had a practical, pragmatic side which modern democrats can’t imagine, and I wish I had payed more attention than I did, as they reminisced about their travails. One thing I recall was they sang “OPA songs”, describing political opponents from 1946, laughing as they recalled the battles, though it was 22 years later by 1968. (In fact they were officially part of the “Office Of Economic Stabilization”, but they sang they were the “OPA” rather than “OES”.)
I could have cared less. They were nothing but a bunch of old farts, to me. However it did dawn on me that I was amidst a sort of afterglow of glory. I was in the company of retired kings, who were kings no more. There was something odd in the atmosphere.
The event was held at Chester Bowles’ place in Old Saybrook, Connecticut. No one explained to me Chester was a former Governor of Connecticut, Representative to Congress, twice Ambasador to India, and other stuff. To me he was just an old, shaky goat with Parkinson’s. I completely blew a chance to acquire knowledge, for it was a chance for me to mingle with the “elite” of that time, and I would have none of it. I hung about the edges of conversations and silently scowled, emanating disapproval.
As a teen my disapproval was a mishmash of unformed ideas that, in retrospect, seems very hypocritical. On one hand I could believe in Free Love, while on the other hand I respected fidelity, and frowned on any sort of “cheating”. And so on and so forth. I hadn’t thought things out.
After these elite elders had a few drinks, they’d open up and discuss the shortcomings of their peers, and even, occasionally, confess their own, (of 22 years earlier). I’d scowl and listen, as they laughed about the time so-and-so got too drunk, the time so-and-so went home with the cook rather than his wife, the time so-and-so promised the same political appointment to two different people, and I was shocked. SHOCKED, to hear of such shenanigans. After all, they were suppose to be old, and of a generation that was repressed by rules, and I was supposedly of the new breed, free to do as I wished. I was the one suppose to be breaking the rules, not them.
I must say this: Although they were indeed backbiting, gossipping, and to some degree bad-mouthing, it was nothing like the stuff Wikileaks demonstrates currently takes place in Washington DC. Rather than contempt there was pity, rather than disgust there was forgiveness, and rather than hate there seemed to even be a sort of love. Even though they were old and out of power, and facing the resurgence of their dreaded foe and nemesis Richard Nixon, they were not so hateful and threatened as the modern Liberals are by Donald Trump.
Back then I think people had a sort of “boys will be boys” attitude about the shortcomings of politicians. Churchill might smoke fat, stinking cigars, and publicly state “I have taken more out of alcohol than alcohol has taken out of me”, but people forgave his shortcomings, for they felt he was working very hard for them. People might not have known about other shortcomings other politicians had, (or only have heard the shortcomings murmured and whispered), but people back then had the feeling at least half of the government was on their side. Now such feelings seem naive. The trust has been frittered away, and people feel both parties are foes, and in cahoots.
People are increasingly disgusted, and less willing to say “boys will be boys” or “girls will be girls.” As I try to get my mind off the election, my mind keeps gravitating back to the difference I am sensing. What has changed?
Today I found myself wondering if the misbehavior my elders chuckled over, and I was so appalled by, at age fifteen in 1968, was the thin edge of a wedge. It was the beginnings of an infection, a slight redness. It could be laughed at, and dismissed as a “foible”, but it kept getting worse and worse, over the years, until now it is an infection resembling gangrene, and requiring amputation.
Before World War Two the efforts of both the “doves” and the “hawks” sought to avoid war. Churchill was derided, as a war-monger, because he wanted to stop Hitler with power, as others thought they could halt Hitler with appeasement, but all yearned for Peace. Then, at some point, people awoke to the fact Peace might no longer be possible.
I cannot find the text, but at some point Winston’s wife Clementine wrote him a plaintive and sweet cry of anguish, and the words were something along the lines of, “Oh Winnie, are we sliding into a war?”
I have the same sort of feeling, as I pace around today. “Oh America, are we sliding into a revolution?”
But what can I do? I am just an old man
With a pen, who never slept with the editor
And never obeyed the rules they smooched. I ran
Like a timid mouse, though you can be sure
I was a haughty mouse. I would not join
Their catty corruption. And I’ve watched them sink
Lower and lower as they’ve kicked the groin
Of honor. Now they’ve made a sewer, and stink,
And all look at them knowingly, and thank
God they don’t share power, as stink wins new terms
speaking what they call a “policy plank”,
But the plank is of wood so full of worms
That they sail a ship dishonesty sank
As voters raise pens to fill in the blank.
When I tear my mind away from the grim reality of the election, I see life goes on, for ordinary people. Children still swarm my Childcare as parents hurry to work, and the children quarrel and fight about things, utterly unaware of how they resemble Washington DC, and then silence descends as they troop to the bus.
And in that silence I hear what the din of humanity usually hides. The sound of drops falling from colored leaves on a misty morning. And I also see things that escaped my sight.
Last spring an ex-employee planted cosmos in a tub by the gate, but so hot and dry was the summer that, despite watering, the cosmos never did well. Many other plants bloomed, and the employee became my daughter-in-law, but the cosmos only sulked in the tub, as the newlyweds left for their brand new life, far away.
Only in September did the first buds form, and, as frost after frost cut plants down in the garden it seemed impossible the buds could ever bloom. September became October, and the frosts were sharper, but the cosmos plant only made more and more buds, and no blooms. Half of October passed, and a freeze killed even the most sheltered tomatoes, and I became very busy making sauce from the ruins, and then this morning I happened to look towards the tub as the children waited for the bus, and saw….
It surprised me that cosmos could survive frosts and freezes even after October 15, and burst into bloom. Perhaps America, the Land Of The Free, is the same, and will burst into riotous bloom after November 8.