History and David McCullough


Senator Margaret Chase Smith had a backbone and stood up for what she believed was right. “I speak as a Republican. . . I speak as a woman. I speak as a United States Senator. I speak as an American. I don’t want to see the Republican Party ride to political victory on the four horsemen of calumny — fear, ignorance, bigotry, and smear.”  Smith’s Declaration of Conscience speech wasn’t made this year.  She wasn’t talking about a current political situation.  It was 1950 and her speech was aimed at Senator Joe McCarthy, who saw communists behind every bush in Washington and in every major government agency.  Enemies of the people.


I recently read the Smith/McCarthy story in David McCullough’s “Brave Companions” (1992).  McCullough is an excellent historian, writer and I suspect teacher.  My son-in-law Rob was in his class at Cornell.  In a graduation speech at Middlebury he said, “We appear to have an unending supply of patriots who know nothing about the history of this country, nor are they interested. We have not had a President of the United States with a sense of history since John Kennedy — not since before most of you were born. It ought to be mandatory for the office. As we have a language requirement for the Foreign Service, we should have a history requirement for the White House.”

McCullough encouraged the graduates to see the country — the strip mine coal fields  in Kentucky, Antietam battlefield, Monticello and it’s gardens, the heartland.  In one chapter he revels in all that Washington, D.C. has to offer.  For McCullough, “If nothing else, seeing the country should lead you to its past, it’s story, and there is no part of your education to come that can be more absorbing or inspiring or useful to your role in society, whatever that may be.  How can we know who we are and where we are going if we don’t know anything about where we have come from and what we have been through, the courage shown, the costs paid, to be where we are?”

In “Brave Companions: portraits in history,” McCullough tells the story of interesting, sometimes forgotten Americans but it’s always a biography, a personal story in context, in a specific place.  The setting is as important as the person.



I think “The Johnstown Flood” (1968) was the first McCullough book that I read.  It was a great story, dramatic, really riveting, so well written.  Many years later a Holy Family College graduate student used it as the basis for a history unit.  She traveled to Johnstown and created a great teaching unit.  The trip is still on my to do list.




A few years later I read “The Great Bridge: the epic story of the building of the Brooklyn Bridge, (1983). I remember a great, dramatic story.  It was also very long.  John Augustus Roebling of Trenton died from an accident.  His son, Washington took over supervision; and he became incapacitated with the bends, which effected many workers who were construcing the huge piers underwater, reaching for bedrock.  Then there were the cables manufactured in Roebling’s Trenton factory.    A story of tragedy and determination. A great read.

In “Brave Companions” we read about the forgotten South American explorer, Alexander von Humboldt; Harriet Beecher Stowe (“Uncle Tom’s Cabin”);  Frederick Remington (western artist); Louis Agassiz (Harvard scientist); aviators, Charles and Anne Linberg, Beryl Markham.  Of special interest was Harry Caudill, a Kentucky lawyer who awakened the country to the tragedy of strip coal mining, black lung,  and the poverty of Appalachia. I also liked reading about photographer David Plowden, until recently I  had his book, “Commonplace,” a midwest tribute.


I particularly liked McCullough’s chapter, “Washington on the Potomac,” a homage to our Capital, it’s old hotels, monuments and plaques, government buildings and institutions, the books written about and films made.    He writes, “What I am drawn to and moved by is historical Washington, or rather the presence of history almost everywhere one turns. It is hard to imagine anyone with a sense of history not being moved. No city in the country keeps and commemorates history as this one does.  Washington insists we remember, with statues and plaques and memorials and words carved in Stone, with libraries, archives, museums, and numerous, magnificent old houses . . .”

He is captivated by images of Washington characters, Truman who is the subject of another one of his books, but also Lincoln who he senses throughout the city.  McCullough also asks (relevant today), “Why do so many politicians feel obliged to get away from the city at every chance? They claim a pressing need to get back to the real America.  To win votes, many of them like also to deride the city and mock it’s institutions.  They run against Washington, in the shabby spirit made fashionable in recent presendential campaigns.  It’s as if they find the city alien or feel that too close an asssociation with it might somehow be dishonorable.  It is if they want to get away from history when clearly history is what they need, they most of all, and now more than ever.”  Could that have been written today instead of 1956 when it was first published.


McCullough suggests politicians spend time on the Mall, in the National History Museum, or the National Gallery. “This is our capital. It speaks of who we are, what we have accomplished, what we value.”  It was Capre corn but the bus ride Jefferson Smith (Jimmy Stewart) takes through Washington, D.C. in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” echoes McCullough.  “Prize tolerance and horse sense. And some time, somewhere along the way, do something for your country.”

I like David McCullough’s sense of history, his interest in individual “brave” stories and his emphasis on background and place.  I’ve read a few other McCullough books (“1776” and “ Greater Journey: Americans in Paris.”) but I want to read “ John Adams” and “Truman.”  “Morning on Horseback,” about Theodore Roosevelt and “The Wright Brothers” are also on my list.

But like McCullough.  We need to know our history.




Independence Day Reflection


I’m waiting.  Am I waiting for a cure?  Am I waiting for political harmony?  Cooler weather?  Or am I waiting for Godot?  With temperatures in the high 90s the past few days, I’ve been inside most of the time.   Brief early morning forays into the garden, harvesting, staking, weeding.  Not too long.  Kwait’s dog has been with us since they are at LBI for a few days.  So I’ve stayed in the house with Tosh while Diane takes Nala for a morning longer walk.  The AC is on, but it has a hard time keeping up with the heat.  It’s July 4; a holiday; independence; barbecues; fireworks; a celebration freedom.  Why am I waiting?

There have been several feel good, let’s bury the hatchets, stop arguing politics, we can get along, listen and trust each other articles that I read.  I strain, yes, that would be good.  But . . . but . . . I don’t feel it.  Independence, freedom for me is having control.  It’s a bad trip if I’m in the hands of fate, circumstances, or other people.  I’ve been struggling with my medical issues; will I be able to; do this; go there; can I do what I want?

Our political climate leaves me feeling powerless.  In the 1960s, I was a 20 year old who thought our country, the world, was ripe for positive change.  Equality, equity, independence, more freedom.  Sixty years later; I repeat, sixty years later we have Trump and company.  They are rolling back civil rights, environmental policy, worker protection, the safety net for the poor and disabled, affirmative action, women’s rights, gay rights and the list goes on.  Our Allies are our enemies; dictators are our friends.  And somewhere between 30 and 40 percent of Americans like it.  I don’t feel very independent, free or in control.

The Declaration Of Independence

” No taxation without representation.” One in a list of complaints the American colonists had against the British government in 1776, listed in the Declaration of Independence.   If I was a Pennsylvanian then, I suspect I would have been on the side of revolution, independence, and freedom.  I’ve tried today to reconcile that spirit with my current “I’m not in control feeling.”  It’s not easy.  But I’m hopeful.

There was some garden harvest today.  I enjoyed reading an Irish book, “The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty” recommended by Trish O’Connor.  I dealt with my medical issues.  And I thought about things. I don’t have answers but I will wait, hope and yes, prevail.  Maybe I am still independent; maybe I’m free. Maybe.  Damm it.  I am.



Fact or Fiction



I think it was in the mid 1980s, I went to my first Internet workshop.  I remember the presenter explaining how he would find information on the Internet, “Maybe we’re looking for a chart of the solar system.”  He typed “solar system” into a primitive search engine.   “Look,” he exclaimed, “thousands of hits.”  But he never opened one.  I quickly realized he might have opened dozens before he found a chart of the solar system.  I thought, get an atlas in the library, in minutes I can hand you a chart.  Of course, search engines have improved drastically and to some degree his promise has been fulfilled.  But it wasn’t then.

In back of me there was a group of twenty-something female teachers.  I could hear their excitement about e-mail.  One exploded, “It’s amazing, you can contact and communicate with …. (fill in celebrity of your choice)…  on line.”  Her friend jumped in, ” I heard somebody might pretend to be  … oh, Madonna . .. and you won’t know it’s not Madonna.”  Her friend’s response, “It really doesn’t matter if it’s not Madonna, it’s fun.”  My head  swung 180 degrees.  Talking to a Madonna impersonator is as much fun as talking to Madonna.  And of course, we don’t know which is which. Fact or fiction — it doesn’t matter.


I thought of this incident in the past few months as we’ve begun to hear about the amount of fake news on Facebook and other Internet social mediums.  We are up to our necks in fake news from foreign countries, ideological organizations and individuals. Why is it accepted as fact; what does or matter?  It’s fun.

From the New York Times:

“Not coincidentally, it was also the year of “fake news,” in which pure fiction masquerading as truth (like posts that claimed Hillary Clinton used a body double and that Pope Francis had endorsed Donald Trump) may have spread wide enough to influence the outcome of the election. Some were certainly deliberate lies spread by right-wing Clinton opponents and all-out profiteers, many in countries outside the United States (and possibly even the Russian government).” We are still waiting to see how much the Russians were involved in the election.


And now we have a President who doesn’t believe truth and reality are very important.  He claimed repeatedly that Obama wasn’t born in America — then he denies the statement.  Or he claims that he really won the popular vote since millions of illegals voted for Clinton. His electoral college win was a historic landslide.   President Obama wire tapped Trump Towers during the election.  The list goes on and on.   No support or justification for any of the claims.  Believe Trump. Listen to his speech to Congress, “believe Trump.”  Forget that it’s a Presidential twitter vent, an outright fiction.   The mainstream (read, liberal, lying) media report Trumps lack of  facts but of course his supporters don’t believe the mainstream or don’t listen to it.  Trump trumps.

I read commentaries that chastise and exhort.  We need to teach students critical thinking.  We need to teach students to distinguish between real news and fake news.  We need to teach students to critically evaluate information on the Internet.  I want to say I agree but I also thought I was doing that for the past 40 years. How many of my former students are sucked in by the conspiracy theories, fake news, and Presidential lies.


In the 1970s, I taught students about Marshall McLuhan’s concept that the “the medium is the message.” I wonder what McLuhan would think of social media like Facebook?  Is it hot or cold?  Individual or tribal?  What would he say about the President’s use of twitter?

There is no question that President Trump has exaggerated, spread false information and lied.  Constantly; consistently.  It is surreal.  How can we have media commentators, journalists, and politicians discuss his tweets, comments, and  statements as if it was real and truthful.  No surprise that George Orwell’s book, “1984” is a best seller on Amazon.


We can be Democrat or Republican.  We can be conservative or liberal.  We can and should debate public policies.  But we cannot have a chief executive, President, that has no grip on reality.  Trump probably believes his exaggerations and lies.  We can’t.  Alternative facts are not facts.

Resistance must continue, it must grow.  Republicans must recognize that Trump is a danger to the country.  Fact or fiction?  — it matters.



Need to Resist


We are one week into the Trump Presendency.  I never felt that I needed to give him a chance.  He had said enough during the campaign to earn my scorn.  At the same time, I never thought or said I was scared.  It wasn’t the end of the world, democracy or the U.S.  And I didn’t like those that went  down the lane of Hitler and  totalitarian comparisions.  It seemed too far.  Now I’m not so sure.

Trump is an assault on logic, truth and rational thought.  He cannot accept criticism; wants to control what is believed or not believed; and will use whatever authority or power to “get it his way.”  Did he play the Sinatra song “My Way” at an Inaugural Ball?

Some of Trump’s executive orders or policy announcements fall within the range of debate and discussion.  I’m not 100% sold on international trade agreements like NAFTA.  Never much liked the IMF.  Maybe NATO needs reforms.  And the Affordable Care Act needs tweaking — maybe major changes, I certainly don’t know; and Republicans haven’t explained.   Abortion; beliefs differ.   These are ideological and/or policy differences. And there can be many; sometimes strong.   They lead to debate and often compromise.   It’s part of what make democracy so great.

Trump’s threat is much different.  He attacks media when it doesn’t agree with his view.  He ignores factual evidence, attendance at his Inaugural, for instance.   If he kept his mouth shut, the low attendance issue would have gone away.  But he sends out Spicer to lie and uses Conway’s “alternative truth,” to justify the lie.    And then Trump repeats and reinforces the lie.   He doesn’t back down but wants the National Park Service to provide evidence that he had historic crowds. Photoshop, anyone.

Trump lost the popular vote.   So what?  Win the electoral college and you are President.  But now he is calling for an investigation of illegal voting.  Millions?  Millions!   Standard sources have stated, “no wide spread fraud.” But Trump claims, yes, wide spread fraud.We are suppose to listen to Trump and believe.

Trump claims he has created jobs when serveral US companies decide not to have factories leave the US.  The CEOs tell us it had nothing to do with Trump.  Whether Trump was or wasn’t responsible, the sad, sick commentary is Trump’s smiling egoism, “I am the best. . . only I can create jobs, save the country, the world.”  I think he believes it.  Some write that he is mentally disturbed.  Your call!

Trump’s wall and the suggestion of a major tax on Mexican imports.  Is he so stupid that he doesn’t realize the implications or so egoistic that he doesn’t care?  You don’t need to be an international trade expert to realize that the tax will be passed on to American consumers, in addition to the actual cost of the wall.  American taxpayer could be paying twice.  Trade war.  For what.  Trump’s ego.  Is the Trump line of clothes “made in the USA?”   I laughed when Great Britian’s Theresa May was asked what she thought about Trump and Mexico, he jumped in with, “she has other things to think about.”  Did that mean he didn’t want her to comment as she did on Russian sanctions.

John McCain says he won’t back down on Russian sanctions.  What will Trump say to Putin during their talks today.   Whatever, if necessary, Senator McCain, resist.

The EPA and other agencies have been silenced.  Trump knows more than scientists and professionals.  They are expected to be a propaganda arm for the Trump world view.  Interesting, it seems some in the National Park Service are resisting.  There is a FB page.  Only guessing it’s legit.

Trump has begun his assault on Muslims.  No entry for individuals from some Arab nations.  Is it possible those Muslim countries not on the list are places where Trump has investments?  There will be resistance in the courts.

The repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act is in disarray.  Republicans are realizing, it costs to provide health insurance for those uninsured.  Maybe some Trump voters may resist if they lose benefits.

New pipelines will probably be built.  Will there be environmental damage; injury to Native American rights?  Maybe coal miners can be hired to build the pipelines.  If they don’t get jobs maybe they will resist.

The good news is that resistance to Trump is growing.  I’ll admit I’m worried, a bit scared.  But I believe the pendulum will shift as it always does.  Maybe dramatically; maybe quickly.   In the end, I believe,  Tinkerbell say it,  everybody say it, say “I believe.”  Trump won’t win.




The Greatest Generation



“The Greatest Generation” was a tribute to the generation was born in the depression and came of age during World War II.  It was written by Tom Brokaw and published in 2001. Earlier this week I began to read “The Greatest Generation Speaks: letters and reflections.”   In it Brokaw shares responses and letters from veterans and their families to his best selling   book.

I chose it from the short pile of books I’m ready to read or re-read.  I chose it to escape the feeling of miasma I have following the recent election. Weeks before the election I wrote a blog, “Trump:  I’m Tired.” And I’ve written about the seesaw feeling of wanting to never hear Trump’s name again and recognizing that in just a week he’s making appointments that could drastically, dangerously change the United States. I cannot close my eyes.

The Greatest Generation is my parents Generation.  Their story is probably pretty typical.  This Veteran’s Day I re-posted an article about my father who served in the Navy during WWII.  Yesterday in the mail, I received several documents about his service from the Department of Veterans Affairs and a notice that have forwarded my request to another agency, National Personnel Records.   The papers, “Notice to Separation from U.S. Naval Service” confirmed his service at Newport and the Great Lakes, on the U.S.S. Nelson and the U.S.S. Rapidan.  Enjoyed reading that he listed watch making as his preference for training and job.

These small windows into Fathers life are so important now.  He is gone and the record of his service is incomplete.  It’s only recently I realized how little he said about his years in the military.  That was not unusual among servicemen.  Most, like Vincent Profy, were humble, quiet about their sacrifice and courage.  Maybe they repeated a few favorite stories but not too much.  Brokaw’s book actually awakened memories for many.  How different today when we “shout out” our accomplishments or concerns on Facebook and Twitter.

Another lesson we can learn from the Greatest Generation is unity.  After Pearl Harbor, most Americans were united in a determination to defeat Nazi Germany.  There was a draft but thousands enlisted to protect American values — acceptance, freedom, democratic rule.  You can add to the list.  The unity extended to the men in the foxhole,  cramped in a submarine or flying over enemy territory. At home, young girls and recently married helped keep the home fires burning.  Sounds corny, but it’s true.  They worked in factories, raised kids,   established canteens for those in uniform.  They were brothers and sisters for the duration.  In contrast, our rhetoric today about coming together sounds hallow.

Maybe this was when “America was Great.” I’ve been searching for that period — turn of the nineteenth century, 1840s Oregon Trail, see previous blogs.    But there were some cracks in the WWII years.   African Americans faced discrimination in the military as well as at home.  Women were sometimes viewed as just”pin ups.”  Japanese Americans were herded into concentration camps at the same time second generation  Italian immigrants invaded the homeland.  Gays were in the closet and couldn’t openly serve in the military.  When it’s said “Make America Great Again.”  Is this what is meant?

I totally enjoyed escaping into the world of “The Greatest Generation Speaks.”  Like religion, it was a haven, security, warm, cozy, things were simpler then.  But it’s history; we can’t go back.  Can we learn something.

I totally respect and appreciate the humility, hard work ethic, loyalty, patriotism, and family values that characterized the greatest generation, including my Father and Mother.  I accept that their attitudes toward diversity and openness were sometimes less than they instilled in me.  Father had Black friends but held subtle racial stereotypes.  I fondly remember a day in center city Philadelphia when he realized we were part of  a gay parade, he literally turned and ran away.  Interesting, Mother despite or because of her devout Catholicism was a more open.


Reading, hearing, thinking about the stories of my parent’s generation,  friends and neighbors, is both inspiring and questioning.  Sixty million people were killed in WW II.  Four hundred thousand were Americans.  Why?  Easy answer.  Hitler.   A leader who divided people and scapegoated —  the Jews, gypsies, homosexuals and . . .  . are responsible for your troubles.  A nationalist who proclaimed you are superior to others.  A demagogue  who institutionalize bigotry and racism.

If you are a 60s liberal like me and want to understand the Greatest Generation better, read ” Duty: a father, his son, and the man who won the war.”  Bob Greene never fully understood his father.  After his death he met Paul Tibbits, the pilot of the Enola Gay, who dropped the bomb on Hiroshima.  How could his father admire Tibbits who killed some many people with such a horrible weapon.  Greene meets and talks with Tibbits many times and slowly comes to understand his father, Tibbits and the Greatest Generation.  It’s quite a story, I remember after reading it, immediately passed it on the my father.  Maybe no gereration holds the keys to the kingdom.

I don’t think we are Nazi Germany.  At the same time I can’t smile and promote “return to normal.”  The Greatest Generation, my parents,  raised me to think, proudly,  for myself.  Whether they intended to or not, they taught me to defend American values, including diversity, immigration, religious freedom (all religions), women’s rights — we are brothers and sisters united.  Black and white, male and female, Muslim, Jewish and Christian, gay and straight.

I honestly believe in the end, my parents, the Greatest Generation,  would have supported that unity.  It’s what they taught me.




Change at the turn of the century

“This Was America” by Martin Sandler. One of the many books of historic photographs that I’ve enjoyed. This is turn-of-the century, nineteenth to twentieth America. Americans are leaving  farms for cities. Agriculture is replacing manufacturing. Inventions are transforming daily life — telephone, bicycle, automobile, electricity. The western frontier is settled. Immigrants flood into the country, women don’t have the right to vote, Jim Crow rules the South and lynchings are a time for postcards and picnics, there are no child labor laws. Kids slave in factory and mine. Urban slums are notorious. The wealth differential between rich and poor dramatically increases. The wealthy enjoy Palm Springs and Newport, sailing, sports hunting and fishing, golf, and horse racing.  Restaurants, theatre, luxury and  servants — the good life. America is a world power; some would label it imperialistic.

No question that this was an exciting time in America history. Much of who we are today began or began to change then. Read history.  It’s important to know how we got where we are.

Take a look at the photographs (a new documentary invention back then). Was this when America was great?   If not when?




Blowing in the wind !


Political news in the past few months, sparked a memory of a Holy  Ghost Prep special faculty meeting in the late 1970s or early 1980s.  The topic was discipline — or the lack of.  I was Assistant Headmaster and one of my responsibilities was discipline.  The meeting was called because many of the  senior faculty members were upset at student behavior or they didn’t like my style. Whatever, we were having a meeting.  The old guard took seats in the back of the room (on the courtyard side, across from the current main office).  A younger, more progressive group sat in the front seats (I admit I encouraged this group to both sit together and speak up).  Then there was a group in the  middle.  Amazingly, each group had about 1/3 of the faculty.

The older, traditional, more conservative, back of the room faculty spoke first.  They were angry.   Something needed  to be done about discipline.  Historical, it was pretty simple.  Misbehave and you were thrown out of the classroom; serious infraction and you were expelled from the school. The administration needed to do something about the current situation.

Eventually the younger progressives in the front of the room began to speak. Controlling student behavior was more complex.  Teachers had to take responsibility for their classrooms.  Serious discipline  cases had to be reviewed.  Students should be given  a chance to  explain their behavior.  Everyone needed to be involved in the solution, not just the administration.

Maybe it’s obvious.  But the 1/3 in the middle of he room would decide which side of the debate prevailed.   In this particularily meeting at Holy Ghost Prep, the  middle went with the younger progressives.  HGP established a discipline code and a discipline committee to review cases.  Teachers were expected to deal with classroom problems before referring them to someone in administration.

The meeting and and outcome is a footnote in HGP history.   I am pleased that the progressive philosophy  prevailed.  But I think, more importantly, I learned a valuable lesson.   The 1/3 division of the faculty provide a model for looking at political discourse in the United States. It may not always be equal thirds but there is the left, right and middle.  Liberal, Conservative and Middle.  When I taught political science classes, I would draw the political ideology continuum on the board and have students place their name on the line.


In the past two decade in American politics, those in the back of the room, the hard line conservatives have been talking loud. The middle went with them for a while.  There was some worry when Gingrich started talking some extreme policies like  dismantling the Department of Education.  Most people believe in education.  George Bush bounced back bing the compassionate President supporting education.  But Bush wasn’t totally liked by the hard line conservatives.  Clinton played to the middle.  The tag “liberal” had become a liability.

More recently Obama was able win  two elections.  His first rival, John McCain, made a major mistake in reaching to far to the right with Sarah Palin.  The middle shifted toward the left and the country was ready for a  President with some African roots.  The traditionalists on the right were horrified.  Obama was labeled a socialist.  Policies that conservatives had supported became tainted if Obama touched them. The conservatives however were well organized, some of their policies were attractive to the middle but their success (I might say arrogance, ideological purity, and unwillingness to compromise) lead to an increasing vocal far right minority who took over the conservative voice.  For years I chided moderate conservative Republican friends at Holy Ghost Prep, “The Republican Party is being destroyed by the fanatics.”  They smiled and I think agreed.


The current shift of the middle leftward shouldn’t be a surprise.  When the right gets too strident, the middle pulls leftward.  I remember James Watt, Reagan’s Secretary of the Interior, who claimed the country was made up of “liberals and Americans,” made a joke about “a black, a woman, two Jews, and a cripple,” wanted to sell off federal lands and gut environmental protection, claimed religion as a justification for his policies.  Time magazine labeled him among the worse cabinet members in history; he drove the middle toward the left; membership in environmental organizations boomed.

I saw the current shift of the middle leftward 10 years ago.  More students at HGP (traditionally Republican,  conservative) were placing themselves in the middle or slightly to the left on the political ideology continuum. Many of  those that self identified as conservatives worried about welfare recipients, too much federal government, traditional morality, but they also supported environmental protection, civil rights for all, and other more leftward policies.  In a Greater Philadelphia Partnership exercise with about eight classes from public, private, city and suburban schools, 95% said they didn’t care if gays got marriage.  Five percent said it was against their religion. Those kids are voting today.

With the election of Obama (he’s not a Americans; he’s a socialist), the right has gotten increasingly strident and self-righteous.  Look at the last Presidental election.  The far right candidates made a circus of the Republican primary.  One crazy  front runner after another, Michele Bachman, Newt Gingrich, Herman Cain,  Rick Santorum. I was a Republican committeeman in Yardley when Santorum was endorsed for his first Senate run, I was one of two in the county who voted against him.  I wonder how many of those committee people would endorse him as a Presidental candidate today.    Mitt Rommney and other moderates were pushed toward the right and the middle voters moved leftward.


The current shift leftward is seen in recent Supreme Court decisions on the Afforable Health Care Act and Gay marriage.  It’s seen in the campaign of Berrnie Saunders.  In the removal of the Confederate flag from  the South Carolina state house and othe sites.  National polls have have shown the public becoming more liberal — immigration, marijuana, attitudes toward big business, and a variety of moral issues.

But the conservatives are still being driven by the far right, a few of them are total crazies.  In the past few weeks, Donald Trump has gotten more press that any other Republican candidate, giving more moderate Republicans an apoplectic attack.  I lost  count of the Republican candidates, some of them are Rick  Santorum (my friend), Scott Walker, Rick Perry, Bobby Jindel, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, Mike Huckabee, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina,  Ben Carson, and of course, Jeb (let’s not mention the Bush name, not loved by the far right and suspected by some in the middle) — a  woman, African American, two Hispanic, I believe.  Is the Republican Party changing? It seems as in 2012, the more moderate conservatives in the group are being pushed rightward (the base it’s called) and the fringe candidates eat up media time and money and push the middle voter toward the left.

Its unfortunate.  We need a discussion between conservative and liberal ideology.  I remember in college talking about how the real far right and real far left meet.  Political ideology is a circle not a continuum.  Our democracy is founded on discussion, debate and yes, compromise.  My Republican mentor, Ed Burns, during my doctoral work in Harrisburg, said he knew he had a good bill when no one was completely satisfied. Legislation required compromise.  I believe  as with any statement that strong,  there are exceptions — sometimes no compromise — but we need to be careful.

The excitement over Pope Francis is another indicator of the shift of the middle to the left.  Wait till he talks to the United States Congress!  Just as Obama’s election fired up the far right politically; Francis’s election has conservative Catholics worried.  Witness the reaction to the firing of Mike Griffin at Holy Ghost Prep and Margie Winters at Waldron Mercy Academy. Traditional conservative Catholics are defensive; liberal Catholics are enraged.  But the middle moves left.  The firings go to far.  Alumni at HGP and Waldron have been supportive of Griffin and Winters.  Philadelphia mayoral candidate, Kenny (a Catholic) blames the men of the Archdiocese.  Might we say old, white, conservative men. 

I  am a child of the 1960s.  I grew up in the Republican middle of the road, fairly conservative Eishenhower years.  Ike read westerns and ate TV dinners.  Americans were recovering from WW II, there were many weddings, births, moves to the new car suburbs.  Consumer spending fueled a growing economy.  But the Civil Rights movement (fueled by that Supreme Court “Brown” decision outlawing segregation) and Vietnam Nam began to mobilize the left.   It was labeled the New Left, a coalition of African Americans, college students, and some old left activists.  

I remember going to meetings of SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) in Boston.  Every once in a while you’d meet an older guy who is was said was a card carrying communist.  I vividly recalled a lecture at BC given I believe by the Jesuit, John Courtney Murray.  There may be many good things in Murray’s bio but at this lecture, he was critical of student protesters claiming that they had been trained in communist camps and he pointed to a United States map with pins stuck in it.  I raised my hand.  No questions please.  “But, Father, my political views are based on reflection and readings of Viet Nam history, I have never been to a communist training camp.”  No comments.  I believe Murray was distraught about Daniel Berrigan land othe left of center Catholic peace activists who were taking protests beyond non violent discussion.

Increasingly as the 1960s progressed, disenchantment with Viet Nam spread to the mainstream.  There were peace candidates and a general cultural shift to a more progressive, liberal political philosophy.  It spread (or infected depending on your perspective)  areas of morality  — Roe v Wade in 1973, the women’s movement, the modern environmental movement, experiments in education, the war on poverty, Medicare, and the list goes on (another blog).

The bottom line is that in the 1960s, the middle moved to the left.  Even Pope John XXIII,  guided  the Catholic Chruch through the reforms, changes of  Vatican II.  And like today conservative Catholics were horrified.  No more Latin masses?  The right began to re-emerge.  Confusion during the Nixon years, Viet Nam dragging on, detente with China, and then Watergate.  It took Reagan to court and win the middle, “the silent majority.”  He was successful.  The middle shifted right.

It seems in American politics, the middle shifts back and forth, left and right, the pendulum swings.  I won’t predict how deep or long the current shift to the left will last? Although I identify as a liberal (have never abandoned the label, Bill Clinton), I don’t endorse the idea that all liberal policy is good. As previously stated for a healthy Republic (what’s a Republics?), we need both conservative and liberal views.  What we don’t need is control by the extremes.  It seems the Tea Party has faded into history (when did you last hear them mentioned in the news), but conservatives to rebound will need to abandon the “crazies”  — you know who they are.

I must admit I suspect (maybe hope is a better word) that  the move of the center to the left lasts a few years, maybe a decade or so.  Maybe the movement will even spread to my Alma Mater, Holy Ghost Prep, that I believe has leaned to far to the right in recent years.  Maybe HGP needs an open faculty discussion — one third in the back, one third in the front and the crucial middle third.  Which direction would they move?  Stay turned.


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