Donald Trump, master of chaos, commander in crazy, continues to spiral out of control, and yet he continues to maintain a base of support comprising 35 to 40% of the American public. It’s hard to fathom how these core supporters can remain immune to facts and vulnerable to every conspiracy theory that gurgles up from questionable sources. Some people explain this phenomenon by pointing to the advent of cable tv, access to fake news via the internet, and the elimination of basic civics education in our high schools. I’m wondering, however, whether the arc of history toward a more enlightened citizenry has some intractable obstacles?
Specifically, after reading an excerpt from the The Uncensored John Henry Faulk, published in 1985, I was struck with the notion that the DNA of some Americans may contain a baked-in suspicion of and resistance to facts. Faulk, well-known humorist in the vein of Mark Twain, hatched much of his humor from memories and observations of characters and family members from his 1920s South Austin childhood and his travels around the South. In this piece called, “Defending National Security,” he brings his mother’s cousin, Ed Snodgrass, to life in a conversation about Nixon and Watergate. [Feel free to substitute our current president and the Mueller probe of Russian collusion. And maybe Ted Cruz for Tower.]
At last I understand what national security means. That is, what it means to Cousin Ed Snodgrass and his friends. He explained it to me the other morning about daylight when he came over to have a cup of coffee with me.
“Got a letter from Senator John Tower’s office yesterday,” he remarked as he blew on his coffee. “Really was an eye-opener, too. Tower understands the whole thing!”
“What whole thing does Senator Tower understand?” I asked.
“All this plotting and conspiring against our national security,” he answered.
“Tower’s on to the whole shooting match. Them conspirators ain’t got John Tower fooled for one minute.”
“What conspirators are you talking about, Cousin Ed?”
“Sam Ervin and his committee, the New York Times, Washington Post, and them high and mighty TV commentators that’s plotting against national security. That’s what conspirators I’m talking about!”
“What kind of conspiracy are they in against national security?’
“They are conspiring to git Dick Nixon!”
“Did Senator Tower say that the Watergate investigations were a conspiracy against national security?”
“No. He just pointed out that they were all so prejudiced and one-sided that it amounted to a conspiracy to git President Nixon. I figured out the rest for myself.”
“You know, Cousin Ed, you and Senator Tower and your friends amaze me. In fact, you dumbfound me. Here we are a self-governing people, a society that boasts about the fact that we control our government and that it does not control us. Teach our children that. Then we discover that the men whom we have entrusted with power have lied to us and deceived us. And right off, you raise the howl that it’s unfair to investigate the wrongdoing! You even call it a conspiracy.”
“Now wait a minute! Me and Senator Tower ain’t defending no wrongdoing. We believe everybody that’s done wrong ought to be punished. We just say leave President Nixon’s name out of it.”
“But he’s head of the administration that’s perpetrated all the wrongdoing and deception that caused such a crisis! How do you think they can leave his name out?”
“They ain’t proved a thing on Nixon yet! He’s pure as the driven snow. That’s why it’s so unfair to go ‘round accusin’ him.”
“Hogwash, Cousin Ed. What do want them to prove? His own aides, members of his administration have publicly confessed to perjury, obstruction of justice, burglary, and God knows what other crimes. His own staff now admit that he instructed them to follow a ‘basic policy decision’ to keep secret the gross misuses of the taxpayers’ money to the tune of ten million dollars on Nixon’s private homes. That’s not speculation. That’s now admitted fact. Add to those things the fact that last week the Pentagon itself was forced to admit that it had systematically falsified records of bombing in Cambodia in order to deceive the American people. At whose instruction? Nixon’s! And you sit there and say the Senate committee and newspapers are unfair to President Nixon. What nonsense.”
“I said, and I repeat, I ain’t’ defending no wrongdoing. I’m defending our national security.”
“Then why are you claiming that the investigators are all conspiring in a plot against national security? Our national security isn’t dependent on official misconduct. To the contrary, lying and deception threaten our nation’s well-being.”
“Son, anything that threatens Dick Nixon threatens our national security. That’s just a matter of common sense.”
“What’s common sense about that?’
“If you was smart as me and Senator Tower, you’d know. Dick Nixon is national security. Anybody that goes around criticizing Dick Nixon is undermining our national security. If you don’t believe me, ask the president.”
Seems like some things never change . . . arc of history be damned!