The Age of Regression

Author: Gary Hart

Service, first through religion then through politics, is what gave life meaning.  It was the light which guided a young man’s journey.  But then the light of public service flickered and dimmed.  The public one believed in and wished to serve turned fickle, angry, and bitter.  It did not respond to idealism.  It rewarded naked self-interest and excused vulgarity.

Threats replace diplomacy and sharp elbows displace patience.  And of statesmanship there is none.

And if there is doubt about regression, consider public education, climate and the environment, health care, sustainability, the Paris Accord, foreign policy leadership, trade agreements, arms control.  Pick a topic.  We are turning our backs on every area of human improvement.

How is one who has sought and experienced public service to rationalize a world that seems increasingly irrational?

Did the character of Americans change overnight?  If so, then why?  Reasons, even excuses, are given for a gross deviation in public values and civic virtues: globalization; economic competition; mass migrations; re-emergence of nationalism; income disparity; wage stagnation; and government corruption, most of all.

But all these together cannot account for a massive shift in national character.  More is required to account for the departure from asking what we can do for our country to acceptance of devil take the hindmost.  The watchman was asleep when the iceberg opened a gash in the forward starboard side hull, the lifeboats are full of first class passengers and lowered, and most of the rest of us are still on board.

How has it come to this?  Were we all, especially we idealists, asleep as the ship entered this ice field?

Some comfort can be found in this search for explanation by the replication of political and social regression in much of the Western world.  Right wing, even crypto-fascist parties, have emerged in European democracies.  Anti-immigrant movements have arisen in a variety of otherwise sophisticated, enlightened nations.

So, we Americans have company in this journey backward into a different time.

That does not, however, ease the anguish of experiencing a nation losing its idealism, even if that loss is only for a time.

To add to the bewilderment about our nation’s course, there are ancillary battles now being waged over whether those whose job it is to deliver the news can be trusted and even whether science itself provides a stable factual base for analysis.  Language is uncoupled from traditional norms by political Administrations who say “We create our own reality” and “Facts are what we say they are.”

All this sense of unhingement can be dismissed with a sigh if one believes it to be an aberration gone with a single Administration.  But who is to know?  What if we are experiencing a radical and permanent departure from the world we had come to know operating on rules generally accepted by all.  What if we have disappeared down an historic rabbit hole or through a looking glass into a new, different, and frightening world where nothing means what it used to mean?

There is increasing evidence of young people now attracted to politics in all its manifestations by the promise of financial reward in the new Lobbying State.  Do not go to Washington to promote civil rights, equality, justice, and progress.  Go to Washington to serve on a staff, learn legislative intricacies, and then cash in with one of the myriad of lobbying, influence peddling, campaign fund raising, media manipulation outfits in the exploding multi-billion dollar a year “swamp” of corruption.

When the fourth branch of government is entitled Special Interests, anyone protesting on behalf of the national interest is seen as naïve and laughable.

For that idealistic young man so devoted to public service to enter this new world near the end of life’s journey is to be almost overwhelmed by disappointment.

The course of our nation is not inevitably toward progress.  Like empires before us, even noble ones, we are not insured against corruption, loss of faith, and sacrifice of principles.

Our only hope is the restoration of our principles and our Republic.

5 Responses to “The Age of Regression”

  1. LORENZO CHERIN Says:

    Senator Hart

    One of the finest and yet bleakest things you have ever written .And in it,s concluding phrase is hope.

    You are that young man still, but not stilled, and for being thus, active in mind and heart, you can and do continue to inspire , as you too must be inspired , to hope.

    There is a social rather than individual malaise, in my country and continent and yours, though yours is worse for the divisions are even greater, and in the person of your president incumbent as president, the embodiment of it expressed in one man in office.

    Yet everywhere there are individuals doing good things and trying to do them even unappreciated and unknown.

    I know . I know, as do others, as should you, and many here. We are among their number.

  2. BP Cross Says:

    The regression began a long time ago with the Reagan revolution. It’s reached this state owing to 1) our self-serving duopoly of which neither party represents the interests of the majority of Americans or the National interests and 2) religion.

    The NRA has succeeded in getting the 2nd amendment interpreted as an individual right to bear arms and the religious right is attempting to do the same thing with the 1st amendment (allowing their beliefs to dictate rights of others).

    It’s also a tad incongruous for someone tout “service, first through religion” and then decry “a world that seems increasingly irrational”.

    After all, faith (belief in absence of evidence) is itself irrational.

  3. LORENZO CHERIN Says:

    BP Cross

    You misinterpret our Senator , here, in my opinion, and misunderstand the contrasts in religion and spirituality .

    I believe Senator Hart is referring to his own journey, as in his early years right through to his University years and beyond, religion, a real conviction and the values that entailed, was a strong part of his grounding , and influenced his sense of service.

    The liberal versions of any religion are far from incompatible with liberal versions of political stance.

    President Carter, who has moved over the years increasingly from the centre, more to the centre left as times have changed and the spectrum has moved to the right, and both he and his wife in response to the increasingly highly conservative dictats of his hithero Southern Baptism, left , with their fellow Baptists, to become independent of the national church, and practice thus.

    I suggest you read God,s Politics by Jim Wallis.

  4. Eric Jacobson Says:

    Sen. Hart writes:

    “Threats replace diplomacy and sharp elbows displace patience. And of STATESMANSHIP there is none.

    “And if there is doubt about regression, consider public education, climate and the environment, health care, sustainability, the Paris Accord, foreign policy leadership, TRADE AGREEMENTS, arms control. Pick a topic. We are turning our backs on every area of human improvement.” (Emphases added.)

    JFK was on his way to deliver a luncheon speech the World Trade Mart in Dallas when he was shot to death (I firmly believe) from the grassy knoll at near-point-blank range while his car was passing through Dealey Plaza (which not incidentally bears a plaque stating that it was built during FDR’s time by the Works Progress Administration. See https://www.tripadvisor.in/LocationPhotoDirectLink-g55711-d106016-i128080130-The_Sixth_Floor_Museum_Texas_School_Book_Depository-Dallas_Texas.html (view from behind grassy knoll’s picket fence) and (I believe this is the plaque:) https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/a/ac/WPAsign.JPG/220px-WPAsign.JPG .

    But President Kennedy was also a sane respectable anti-communist. In the 1980s and 1990s I’m virtually certain JFK would have echoed Nancy Pelosi’s then “Democratic party line” on Communist China. (Why does no one call it that anymore?) Rep. Pelosi strenuously advocated for conditioning most favored nation trade relations on vast human rights improvements in China.

    Post-Tiananmen Square in 1989 the Chinese Communists wouldn’t hear of any political liberalization. And the rest is history. JFK would have abhorred Bill and Hillary Clinton’s heinous capitulation to the Chinese. The latter two tawdrily traded America’s honor for Chinese state-sponsored campaign contributions! See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1996_United_States_campaign_finance_controversy .

    And I believe President Kennedy would have likewise deplored the manner in which successor Democratic presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama appeased China by enmeshing them in a “one world economy” without extracting any commitment and deeds on China’s part to first liberalize and ultimately junk their Communist system. (And I mean liberalize in the true sense, whereby the Communist Party first releases its totalitarian grip on their nation and ultimately implements multi-party democracy, not just permits limited free enterprise ala Cuba’s “special period” writ extremely large.

    And I believe JFK would have further looked askance at the manner in which his Democratic successor presidents permitted big business to use free trade agreements to ratchet down domestic wages by literally moving American factory production to the “huts and villages of half the globe” and then importing the production there-created back to America tariff-free.

    And to the extent U.S. corporations and their shareholders prospered from free trade through (for example) the digital revolution enabled by foreign produced and imported computer chips, I believe JFK would have also abhorred the way these same successor Democratic presidents allowed the same American oligarchs to pocket the profits achieved by the productivity gains achieved by workers using such computer technology, rather than sharing those profits with their companies’ workers in the form of higher wages, benefits and bonuses.

    And speaking (with due respect) of God-less Asian Communists; and (with fondness and affection) of: JFK and of Sen. Hart who (partially correctly) deplores the current general absence of “statesmanship”: What the hell happened to Otto Warmbier?!? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Otto_Warmbier .

    My wife and I watched Bridge of Spies via our Showtime trial-subscription the other night. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bridge_of_Spies_(film) . It is the story of the famous trade of Russian Communist spy Rudolph Abel for our downed U-2 spy plane pilot Francis Gary Powers. Why wasn’t a similar trade made with respect to Mr. Warmbier soon after his January 2016 detention (whether or not young Otto was a formal or informal spy — and either idea is far-fetched) under President Obama?!? Were there no modern capable attorney counterparts of James B. Donovan who could have effected a prisoner exchange or equivalent exchange of people or things of value that would have secured the relatively prompt release of Otto Warmbier unharmed?

    Of course there were! But no such true Cold War strategy was devised much less implemented. Was it because we have sleep-walked under the dual illusions that the Cold War ended vis-a-vis China (which never dropped Communism) and continued vis-a-vis Russia (which dropped Communism in December 1991!) With its corollary (fatuous) presumption that “good Communists” in China held near-direct sway over “bad Communists” in North Korea?

    Whatever inept diplomacy President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry attempted, failed to secure Mr. Warmbier’s release. Ironically (and rather inconveniently for Sen. Hart’s thesis) President Trump and Secretary of State Tillerson succeeded in effecting Warmbier’s release although the ending was tragic due to the catastrophic medical or injurious event having occurred early in Otto’s captivity.

    Sen. Hart is no doubt correct in his latest forlorn mini-essay: Our nation and world have seriously regressed.

    Although it is probably not an example Sen. Hart would cite: Contrast the inept American statesmanship under President Obama with respect to Mr. Warmbier with presidents Eisenhower and JFK’s highly effective diplomacy relative to Francis Gary Powers. Warmbier lost his life. Powers was rescued from the God-less Russian Communists of his day. For me, it is a wince-inducing comparison. And don’t think for a minute JFK wasn’t the one micro-managing the trade at Berlin’s Glienicke Bridge (including the inclusion of young American student Frederic Pryor’s simultaneous release at Checkpoint Charlie, a part of the exchange I had either never learned or forgotten about until seeing it dramatized). The film ends with a clip of JFK’s press secretary Pierre Salinger announcing the exchange.

    (On a personal side note: The film reminded me that I’m getting “long in the tooth” as I am now among a minority of Americans with a recollection of walking through Checkpoint Charlie to visit East Berlin. I did so during a European backpacking tour in the summer of 1972 after graduating high school. The NY Times described this now long-bygone tourist experience here: http://www.nytimes.com/1982/09/05/travel/through-the-wall-to-east-berlin.html?pagewanted=all . Berlin was one stop among at least a dozen European destinations I visited that summer. In East Berlin I looked-for but I don’t think successfully found the rough location on Bismarkstrasse where my German-Jewish father and his nuclear family grew up in relative affluence. My grandfather and his brother were successful doctors whose practices included patients of all stripes including Nazis. The one tourist attraction I remember visiting during several hours in East Berlin was the Pergamon Museum with its Hellenistic temple exhibit and galleries of rather dull “socialist realism” art.)

    The issue Sen. Hart implicitly leaves hanging is whether the situation is hopeless.

    Gary’s bleak outlook reminded me of a passage in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s June 4, 1967 speech at Riverside Church in New York City, titled “Beyond Vietnam”:
    ————-
    In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked and dejected with a lost opportunity. The “tide in the affairs of men” does not remain at the flood; it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is deaf to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residue of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: “Too late.” There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect. “The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on…” http://inside.sfuhs.org/dept/history/US_History_reader/Chapter14/MLKriverside.htm
    ————-
    Another great thinker, Erich Fromm, wrote (generally similarly and apropos of Hart’s regression thesis) of “a description in Greek mythology of the ‘Iron Race’ the Greeks saw emerging. This description is – according to Hesiod’s Erga (lines 132-42) – as follows:

    ‘As generations pass, they grow worse. A time will come when they have grown so wicked that they will worship power; might will be right to them and reverence for the good will cease to be. At last, when no man is angry anymore at wrongdoing or feels shame in the presence of the miserable, Zeus will destroy them too. And yet even then something might be done. If only the common people would rise and put down the rulers who oppress them.'”
    https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/erich-fromm (7th quote from top)

    And Sen. Hart’s current pessimism also reminded me of his own words at the high tide (to date) of his own vision, leadership and influence (“the flood” in ML King’s phrase). I refer specifically to the end of Gary’s 1984 Democratic National Convention speech — a passage I’m convinced would be required reading in the nation’s grammar school classrooms today (alongside the Gettysburg Address) if history had taken its expected course in 1988:
    ————-
    BEGINNING OF EXCERPT OF HART CONVENTION SPEECH:
    See full text at http://www.nytimes.com/1984/07/19/us/excerpts-from-hart-speech-to-convention-exhorting-party-for-campaign.html?pagewanted=all .

    And now today a new generation of Americans is coming of age – a generation that has a unique bond of tragedy and triumph. Our generation wept at the deaths of John and Robert Kennedy and of Martin Luther King. We grieved at the tragedies of Vietnam and we were dismayed at the travesty of Watergate.
    But this generation also marched together in movements that altered the face of American history: the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, the environmental movement, the peace movement – and we will make history yet again.

    This generation was drawn to public service by the most inspiring President of our time. “Let the word go forth from this time and place,” that President said, “that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans.”

    Our campaign has tried to lift and light that torch – a torch of hope beyond the mundane politics of the moment, a torch of hope beyond the old arrangements and the favored alliances, a torch of hope, in this urgent hour, that parties can change, that leaders can change, that this nation can change.

    This campaign has sought to touch that unique idealism that identifies us as Americans, to keep alive the belief that each person can make a difference.
    For I see an America where greed, self-interest and division are conquered by idealism, by the common good and by the national interest.

    I see an America too young to quit, too courageous to turn back, with a passion for justice and a program for opportunity, an America with unmet dreams that will not die.

    Tonight the torch of idealism is lit in thousands of homes and tens of thousands of towns and hundreds of thousands of lives, among the young in spirit and the young in age. It cannot go out. It will not go out. It will continue to burn.

    And because of that fire of commitment and hope, we will change the world. Many who before had said, “It doesn’t matter, there’s nothing I can do,” will now say, “One person can make a difference, and every person should try.”

    So we will never give up. Beyond the greed and the selfishness of the present day and the reluctant hand of the past lies the promise and the hope of change.

    For somewhere out there, in some small town, in some young life, the torch is lit. And someday that young person – that young person, perhaps as President, will change the world. But even if not – even if not, that young person will see that the torch is passed to yet another generation.

    And, if not now, some day, we must prevail.

    If not now, some day, we will prevail.
    God bless you and goodnight.

    [Chariots of Fire theme song]

    END OF EXCERPT OF HART CONVENTION SPEECH.
    See video here: https://www.c-span.org/video/?124439-1/democratic-national-convention-day-3 (Speech begins at the 5 hr. 36 min. mark; there is a 45 second audio outage at the 6:04:05 mark; the excerpt above begins at the 6:07:15 mark and ends and Chariots of Fire song begins at the 6:14:10 mark)
    ————-
    It is impossible to watch Sen. Hart’s inspiring speech (33 years later!) and not think: It may yet be so.

  5. Paul G Says:

    OUR ONLY HOPE IS … REPUDIATION OF EMPIRE AND RESTORATION OF OUR REPUBLIC

    With great respect one may ask our visionary JFK apostle of the Rockies the yeatsian question: does too long a sacrifice make a stone of the Hart? But our honorable host answers his own blog of conscientious reflections on our seemingly regressive republic with a resounding ‘hell-no’ of Hope!

    And so it was in JFK’s hometown library “where visionaries never go out of style” that a former envoy to Ireland – as part of a tribute film to John Hume, Ireland’s modern hero for peace – addressed audience questions, including whether the first presidential candidate to propose our envoy may also be the last?

    Citing parallel war and peace negotiation lessons with Africa, Middle East and the Balkans, and the often dispiriting indifference of great powers to ordinary peoples’ needless suffering even long after overt violence has ended and too many hearts remain in stone; he too uttered a quiet ‘hell-no’ of Hope.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bz8Qm_80FUI

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