Having finished The Cambridge History of Russia, I found myself relieved to think of anything besides Communist philosophy dealing with the History of Russia. I felt like it was one great big hoax, with little basis on the people or events that exist today or existed in the past of Russia. The first volume mentioned Ivan the Terrible without mentioning his cruelty. The second volume mentions the reign of Peter the Great without the Great Northern War (I think that is what the War with Sweden was called) and as amateur dentist; and the reign of Catherine the Great without her attempts of Westernizing Russia or her myriad of lovers. Naturally, the third picks up to attempt to justify the thousands (in reality 51 million) souls slaughtered by Stalin. And whereas in the tsarist period Pushkin, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and Chekov go largely unmentioned, all kinds of writers whose works are unmemorable because of the circumstances when they were produced. The reader longs to shout that though it may not be the fault of Soviet authors–they labored under a form of censorship that made genuine creativity impossible–that does not justify studying the pulp that they are displaying as though it were a genuine cultural accomplishment.
All of this seems unrelated to moderation of any kind. Yet–for all that a Cambridge History would seem to be a product of the elite on the surface–I am reminded of the far left in our increasingly polarized politics. And then I think of the far right. I hope people will accept that I think of myself as a “Centrist” and then I will explain why I am not on the left or the right, and in fact those terms have ceased–because of politics and the media–to have much positive connotation for me. I do not really like either group.
I want to believe that America has positive values from way back; that we are the oldest existing democracy in the world. (There was one in ancient Athens in Greece; however, it ceased to be thousands of years ago.) The foundation and norms of our government are based on the Declaration of Independence and our Constitution complete with the Bill of Rights and following amendments. Though changes are made in our society, to break off from these roots entirely guarantees our mutual destruction as Americans. Even the sixties–what was positive about them, like equal rights for women and black people–are really only fulfillment of a kind of prophecy inherent in these documents. The Founders intended that slavery and its aftereffects would someday end, and in making them end, we are living what they intended. Nevertheless, not every change made in the sixties even represents health, whether in terms of a free-love society or its anti-American and anti-religious strains. If Abraham Lincoln said once that every mother should teach her children to cherish our legal traditions, then I would add that children should know both such characters as Paul Bunyan, Johnny Appleseed, and John Henry, as well as our “high literature.” I might even argue for a revival of such books as Washington Irving’s and James Fennimore Cooper. Other children’s books include L. Frank Baum’s Oz books; Louisa May Alcott’s books; and Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie factions.
To keep our traditions going, kids should be encouraged to read the following in school: the autobiography of Ben Franklin; the books of the American Renaissance, including Ralph Waldo Emmerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Walt Whitman; the dark romantics, Hawthorne and Melville; women writers Willa Cather, Emily Dickinson and Helen Hunt Jackson (Ramona); and Mark Twain a great author. More: the Chicago Renaissance: Theodore Dreiser, Sherwood Anderson, and William Howell Dean (the last I have not read but know that he was the first person to recommend studying Twain as serious literature). I also have to mention the Black Chicago Renaissance, including Richard Wright. At the turn of the century, Thomas Wolfe wrote Angel, Homeward and You Can’t Go Home Again (I mention his books because of the later Thomas Wolfe who everyone knows wrote Bonfire of the Vanities). My favorite poets from the period include Edwin Arlington Robinson and (I believe he counts as American) Robert Service. Afterwards, the twenties brought in Fitzgerald, Hemmingway, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Marianne Moore. During the 1920’s was also the time of the Harlem Renaissance, whose novelists included Zora Neale Hurston and whose poets included Langston Hughes and James Weldon Johnson. I hesitate to mention T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound not because they did not write great poetry but because they no longer wrote it as Americans. The 1930’s were the heyday of William Faulkner and Katherine Anne Porter. The 1950’s were not the stagnant era people imagine: Flannery O’Connor, Ralph Ellison, Tennessee Williams, Carson McCullers, and Joyce Carol Oats all wrote during that period. There have, of course, been fine authors since this list of authors (all dead except Joyce Carroll Oats) lived. That I do not list them is perhaps a lack, except as one person once put it, “Monuments should not be put up to the living.” Nonetheless, I gave a fair number of authors I feel our children should be taught to admire and love as a part of a continuous tradition. On the other hand, I am for such newly recognized gems as Frederick Douglass’ autobiographies and Hannah Craft’s novel.
Now, because of librarians, I am sure the reader believes I am a far-right militant whose celebration of being American makes me unreasonable as an average citizen. This rather hurts my feelings, but I guess what I have to say next may be somewhat surprising if they have come to this conclusion: I deeply resented Donald Trump when he was president. I felt that he had accomplished nothing meaningful up to that point in his life, and that what he had to say was sheer hatred and greedy corruption. I was a woman and I felt for the women mentioned on that sleezy tape in which he declared if you were rich you were “a star” and “when you are one you can do what you like.” However, even before then, I resented his calling Mexicans “rapists”; bragging that he would ban Muslims from the United States; and found the proofs overwhelming (whatever the FBI put forward) that he had committed treason. Moreover, I felt his motive was greed. All of this was profoundly “un-American” to me. I know there has been prejudice in the past, but I believed that his insult to Mexicans and Muslims to ignored their value as human beings. I firmly believe that the Founders themselves valued human beings and intended for our value to be recognized as part of our very humanness in the American Revolution itself. I use the word “our” because we are all human and if we can see that trait in each other, whatever our differences, than perhaps we can get to a spot where we can find common ground and not just strategies in order to score points against each other.
And that place where we can see each other as human is the “Radical Middle” where we can see what is good and useful in each other’s ideas and when we can say “No,” firmly, politely, but guided with an attitude of respect when we disagree with each other. Well, that is all for tonight.