Too long ago for almost all of us to remember hearing in its time, with the Great Depression breathing hard across the country, Pres. Franklin Roosevelt told us that the “only thing we have to fear is fear itself –– nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror, which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
I believe that current fears –– fear of the political party we are not, the religion or color or gender we are not, fear for our health and health care bills, for our children’s futures, and even for our individual capacities to retire; fear of other nations tampering in our elections or opposing our will in the Middle East or sending their farm workers and computer geeks to take our jobs –– this bundle of fears permeates too much of our private and public lives.
I had a notion to scrap my column entirely for FDR’s 1933 inaugural speech:
Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort. The joy and moral stimulation of work no longer must be forgotten in the mad chase of evanescent profits. These dark days will be worth all they cost us if they teach us that our true destiny is not to be ministered unto but to minister to ourselves and to our fellow men… The measure of the restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit.
It is hard to imagine the current President or any of his Democratic challengers rising with these words in the current climate. All feel compelled to address the minutia of how anything affects growth and profit of the country or of some segment of the population, some of us as we are members of an economic, religious, or ethnic group.
The tax bill will lower or raise my income; Obamacare does or does not make my or my mother’s or my children’s health care more precarious; gun registration or assault weapons legislation restricts my freedom or endangers my children.
That said, there are legitimate fears: women fear the harassment and assaults of employers and drinking college men, the powerful men who stay in hotels where they work, the coaches and ministers they go to for help; in some communities African-Americans fear for their own teenage lives and those of their sons and grandsons; Mexican-American citizens fear harassment and “dreamers” fear deportation.
If you think we are rurally removed from these thoughts, I remember driving then-candidate and later governor Ted Kulongoski from his Enterprise motel to the rodeo in Joseph on Hurricane Creek Highway a few years ago. As always, there were extra state police on duty.
We passed a car pulled over by a pair of them and Kulongoski, Oregon’s Attorney General at the time, remarked casually that it looked like a DWM “driving while Mexican” event. He said that unconscious racial thinking was difficult to uproot.
Sometimes wounds have to fester before they heal, and my hope is that we are coming through a great festering that will put us back on FDR’s road. I believe that America is at its best when it is most egalitarian.
Tax relief was not the topic of the day in the ‘50s, when the GI Bill was sending millions of Americans to college and helping them buy homes and farms. Evangelical fervor was not aimed at political opponents when a Civil Rights Bill was in the offing.
The ‘50s and ‘60s, when I was coming of age, were far from perfect. Equality in education and the workplace did not extend to women and people of color, but as we rolled into the ‘70s there was every hope that those concerns too would be addressed. And, frankly, the reason you are watching girls’ basketball games and going to women doctors in Wallowa County is the advent of Title 9 in 1972.
I believe that we as a country and in our individual concerns lurch forward in this democratic experiment that said from the beginning that “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
“All men” did not include Indians and African-Americans at the time, nor were women part of the equation. But we have grown through hard times and good and the hope is that this troubled time too will give way to such growth.
And with “creative effort” and a concern for “social values” rather than “evanescent profits,” and a very large dose of hope rather than fear and despair, we can, together, make 2018 a better year.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Columnist Rich Wandschneider lives in Joseph.