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Jerome Christenson: Make America Good Again

Jerome Christenson: Make America Good Again

From the COLLECTION: Recent Jerome Christenson columns in the Daily News series
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Jerome Christenson

Jerome Christenson

I’ve always been rather quietly American.

Waving the flag just hasn’t been my style. Mention patriots and I’m thinking of knee breeches, tri-corn hats and brass buckled shoes. America is where I live. American is what I am. I’ve lived with unquestioned confidence in our enduring respect for the Constitution, our small “d” democratic traditions, our respect for our institutions and for one another — for truth and reason itself.

It was a confidence that seemed justified by two centuries of turbulent, sometimes violent history, a significant portion of which I have lived as witness to. Our constitutional republic has weathered the challenges of war, depression, and dissent with majestic indifference. “It can’t happen here,” was a truism, couched in experience.

Until Wednesday afternoon.

Guns were drawn in defense of the House of Representatives. There was blood on the floor of the Capitol.

The Congress of the United States was put to flight by a mob gathered and egged on by the President of the United States. A mob acting in his name and at his behest to bring a halt to the legal, constitutionally mandated transition of executive power.

I came of age in the 1960s. Riot and civil discord on TV is no novelty to me. But the scenes flashing on screen Wednesday were different … profoundly different. These weren’t rampaging looters giving vent to an unfocused rage against long festering injustice. These weren’t impassioned protesters loudly, dramatically petitioning “the government for a redress of grievances.” This was a mob bent on overturning the basic process of Constitutional government; bent on overturning the decision of the American people in service to, in the name of one man.

They stood on no principle. They had no real cause. They had no war to end, no wrong to right. There was only an election to reverse. A putsch to carry out.

And it was all based on a lie. There was no stolen election. No fraudulent balloting carried out. There was nothing but the fantasies spun by tellers of political fairy tales subservient to the whims and will of one man.

Dolchstoss im Rucken – Stab in the Back – another fiction of stolen victory poisoned politics of the Weimar Republic a century ago. Playing on festering fears and resentments opportunistic politicians targeted scapegoats with exaggerated and imagined offenses designed to deepen divisions and weaken the common commitment to democracy and the constitutional republic. Among those politicians was an ill-mannered Austrian émigré who proved himself very good at telling and retelling the lies his followers liked to hear, so good, in fact, that from 1933 to 1945 soldiers, judges, civil servants and government officials pledged their loyalty not to the Constitution, not to the nation, but to the leader of the German reich.

It was with this fairly recent history in mind, that the fundamental principle made ever so clear in Mr. Welper’s ninth-grade civics class was that ours is a government of laws, not of men. In the United States, no one, we were taught, stands outside or above the law. It is the Constitution that all government officials – from the president on down – swear to uphold, protect and defend.

It was that Constitution the mob and their leader sought to defy; seeking to replace “We the People…” with “Trump/Pence 2020.” Mingling the banner of their cult of personality with the stars and stripes of the American republic they attempted revolution … and were defeated.

It probably wasn’t even close. Confused and unfocused, not a Lenin among them, the misguided individuals wandering the Capitol corridors in search of either Congress or a restroom were easily enough herded out and shooed away. The Republic prevailed.

This time.

It’s time for us quiet Americans to take notice. We’ve been too smug, too dismissive of the hold that lies and fantasy has taken on the hearts and minds of folks who life and circumstance has treated poorly, who are confused by and fearful of the sweeping and profound changes that have taken hold, unbidden, in nearly every aspect of their lives and relationships.

Maybe we need to quit laughing and listen … Donald Trump isn’t funny any more … to reunited the United States and do our best to make America good again.


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