Cheap Seats 2019
The Transporter Generation - 07/10
By Rich Trzupek
In the past couple of weeks we’ve seen two prominent opinion-makers engaged in what I think of as “transporter philosophy.” This came in the form of the fervent belief that the representation of a particular version of the American flag is a symbol of racism and in the concept that the decades-old actions of a former United States senator can and should only be judged in terms of national mores as they exist in 2019. It’s “beam me up Scotty” thinking. It’s the idea that we can move from Point A to Point B instantly without having to deal with any obstacles in between. Thus: “transporter thinking.” It’s the childish certainty that any society can get from a past, flawed there to a present, valued here without having to bother with arduous, messy and lengthy periods of transition that have, and always will, define historical change.
Colin Kaepernick somehow convinced Nike to pull the Air Max 1 USA sneaker because it features the so-called “Betsy Ross flag.” In Kaepernick’s mind, the Betsy Ross flag is a racist symbol, presumably because it’s old and slavery existed in America at the same time this particular version of the Stars and Stripes existed. By the same logic the White House, the Liberty Bell, Constitution Hall and any other American treasure created prior to the Civil War can also be considered racist symbols.
Former Vice President Joe Biden is also old, old enough to remember a time when he worked on civil rights legislation and worked with some segregationist senators in the course of getting it passed. One might suppose that the ability to engage in civil discourse with one’s opponents would be desirable quality in presidential candidate, but not any longer, at least not in the topsy-turvy world of the modern Democrat. Senator and fellow presidential candidate Kamala Harris’ used the admission to fashion a devastating take-down of Biden that has all but ended his viability as a nominee for his party.
Two incidents, same theme. To people like Kaepernick and Harris changes for the better must be instant, universal and sweeping. Anything less is complicity. How easy it is to look back through the long lens of history with a critical eye, focused on every fault to the exclusion of all the good. How simple-minded to ignore the basic truth that change is a journey, not a leap.
Slavery ended because good men and women did what they could at the time to end it. And, eventually enough good men and women did enough to make a difference. Ending slavery in America took Britain abolishing the slave trade in 1808. It took the northern states rejecting the institution. It took preachers like William Lloyd Garrison and Lyman Beecher passionate appeals to America’s conscience. It took the daughter of one of those preachers, Harriet Beecher Stowe penning the novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” that exposed millions to the painful realities of involuntary servitude. It took women like ex-slave Sojourner Truth and orator Anne Dickinson using their remarkable powers of persuasion in front of crowds across the nation.
There was nothing simple about the Civil War of course. It remains the bloodiest war – by far – in American history, a long and painful struggle that left scars on the national psyche that are still around today. But, the War Between the States was part of a much larger journey that is so much more complex and nuanced. A nation doesn’t get from the three-fifths’ clause to Fort Sumter in a single step. The Betsy Ross flag is a symbol of racism in Kaepernick’s eyes? He’s entitled to his opinion. For me and I daresay for most Americans it’s a symbol of the beginning of a remarkable journey for a wonderful nation. Yes that nation has had and continues to have its faults, all nations do, but America’s worth as a force for good far outweighs its debts.
And then there is this: Practically every nation on earth has legalized involuntary servitude at some point in its history. Some abolished the practice before America did, many well after. In some places it still exists, albeit in the shadows and if not with the open approval of rogue governments at least with their knowing connivance. Slavery is not a uniquely American sin in other words, it’s a sadly common human failing that has infected virtually all of the globe at one time or another.
Racism is another such human failing that exists and has always existed beyond America’s borders as well as within them. No law has ever changed a person’s heart and no law made America less racist. Those changes occurred and continue to occur because of giants like King and ordinary heroes like Parks. Those changes took time too, cost lives and involved more than a little civil disobedience and violence.
Yet, in a democracy, softening the hearts counts for nothing unless government changes too and Biden should be proud of the role he played in that process. In a nation of laws, laws must be crafted that reflect societies evolution if such growth is to last. Those laws cannot be effectively crafted, or at least not nearly so soon as we would like, unless one is willing and able to work with one’s opponents to move the process around. It’s slow. It’s messy and it means people who don’t like each other have to find points of compromise. It is, in other words, democracy in action.
I am no fan of Joe Biden. I think he would make a lousy president, but not because he chose to recognize the reality of the time and get the best deal he could rather than play the demagogue: alone, aloof and completely ineffective. That, apparently, is how Senator Harris believes a president ought to behave. So, while I believe Biden would indeed make a lousy president, Harris has surely demonstrated she would be even worse.