THURSDAY, JULY 14, 2022
...it doesn't seem to have taught us this: "If history has taught us anything," Al Pacino once famously said.
Pretending to be a mob boss, he continued his famous statement. With apologies for the ugliness of the sentiment he expressed, here is the fuller quotation, straight from The Godfather 2:
“If anything in this life is certain, if history has taught us anything, it is that you can kill anyone."
We apologize for the sentiment Pacino expressed. That said, we disagree with his assessment of the one thing we've been taught.
Has history taught us any one thing? Almost surely not. But if we were to nominate a candidate for this honor, we would nominate this:
If history has taught us anything, it is that it's very hard to hold a large continental nation (or empire) together.
Genghis Khan "united the tribes." His empire came apart.
Years later, the Soviet Union came apart too, as quite a few others had done.
Given the way our globe's many tribes disagree about cultural matters—and given the way we tend to recoil against Others—it seems to be extremely hard to hold large empires together.
It's also hard to hold a large nation together. That's especially true in a world whose technologies have helped create such communication platforms as these:
Local and national talk radio programs
Politically partisan "cable news" channels
The million sites of the Internet
And, of course, social media
A sprawling nation with those communication formats may find it hard to survive. It seems to us that, if contemporary history is teaching us anything, it may be trying to teach us that.
These thoughts have repeatedly come to mind this week. Tomorrow, we'll return to the recent hubbub about Jill Biden and the tacos—an incident which shows one of the ways our own blue tribe tends to split nations apart.
For today, we'll look at a couple of headlines from the New York Times. But history seems to be teaching us this:
In the modern context, it's very hard for large nations like ours to survive.
We start on the macro level, with headlines from a dispiriting report in the New York Times. When different tribes within a nation are exposed to vastly different statements of fact, results like these may well result—and large nations can fall apart:
As Faith Flags in U.S. Government, Many Voters Want to Upend the System
Desire for structural changes cuts across both parties, a Times/Siena College poll found, but for starkly different reasons. Even Democrats now question if the government is a force for good.
Faith in government is flagging from sea to shining sea! Reid Epstein's report starts like this:
EPSTEIN (7/14/22): A majority of American voters across nearly all demographics and ideologies believe their system of government does not work, with 58 percent of those interviewed for a New York Times/Siena College poll saying that the world’s oldest independent constitutional democracy needs major reforms or a complete overhaul.
The discontent among Republicans is driven by their widespread, unfounded doubts about the legitimacy of the nation’s elections. For Democrats, it is the realization that even though they control the White House and Congress, it is Republicans, joined with their allies in gerrymandered state legislatures and the Supreme Court, who are achieving long-sought political goals.
For Republicans, the distrust is a natural outgrowth of former President Donald J. Trump’s domination of the party and, to a large degree, American politics. After seven years in which he relentlessly attacked the country’s institutions, a broad majority of Republicans share his views on the 2020 election and its aftermath: Sixty-one percent said he was the legitimate winner...
Majorities in both major parties think the political system is failing. Troublingly, the two groups tend to have completely different ideas concerning what has gone wrong.
Republicans think the last election was rigged. No evidence to that effect has ever been presented, but Donald J. Trump just keeps making the claim, and it doesn't seem to occur to these voters that his claims are unfounded and unsupported and, for that blindingly obvious reason, should be assumed to be wrong.
Trump has never offered evidence in support of his claims! Twenty months have passed since the election occurred. No white paper has appeared.
Voters who believe in Trump don't seem to notice this fact, and our blue tribunes keep saying "lie." It's a word after which all discussion will stop, but our tribe dropped ancient warnings about the term all the way back in the Bush years.
Concerning the way large nations can come undone, consider this recent history:
As recently as the 1960s, it was remarkably hard to hear crazy accounts of major events.
Citizens had a choice. They could listen to Walter Cronkite, or they could listen to David Brinkley. If you wanted to hear crazy claims, you had to search all about.
As recently as the 1960s or even the 1980s, hearing The Crazy was hard.
We also had an external enemy—the vast and sprawling Soviet Union, which hadn't yet come undone. With an external enemy like that, it wasn't necessary to find Others on the domestic front. The Other was found Over There.
Today, recitation of bogus, even crazy claims is a giant industry. Thanks to our new information formats, different groups hear vastly different things.
Our blue tribe hears one set of Storylines. The red tribe hears quite different things.
Today's New York Times is clogged with reports which reflect this state of affairs. In such situations, things fall apart, as empires have done in the past.
Epstein's report describes the situation on the macro level. On the micro level, we hope Ray Epps is somehow able to sue Tucker Carlson for every dollar the disordered cable star has.
Epps made the unfortunate choice to attend Donald J. Trump's January 6 address. Propagandists seeking profit and fame pretty much took it from there.
As recently as a few weeks back, we saw Carlson play the Epps card all over again on his nightly "cable news" program. This morning, an informative New York Times report carries these very sad headlines:
A Trump Backer’s Downfall as the Target of a Jan. 6 Conspiracy Theory
Ray Epps became the unwitting face of an attempt by pro-Trump forces to promote the baseless idea that the F.B.I. was behind the attack on the Capitol.
According to people like Carlson, the FBI was behind the attack—and Epps was in their employ! So it goes when a fallen figure like Carlson has access to millions of viewers thanks to the technologies which have given us "cable news."
Tens of millions of American citizens believe and trust Donald J. Trump. Tens of millions believe and trust Tucker Carlson. They get exposed to one set of "facts." Our tribe gets exposed to another.
It's hard to hold giant nations together even without such problems. Meanwhile, our own blue tribe keeps coming along with events like the Jill Biden ploy.
If you seek the benefits of wisdom, please repeat after us:
The other tribe tends to be very dumb, but no one is dumber than we are.
It's hard for large nations to survive. If history has taught us bluebirds anything, it doesn't seem to have taught us this!
Tomorrow: You can't get dumber than this