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An essay donated by Contributing Editor Susan Humphreys,

Wise Words to Ponder at All Times,
About Meeting Dissent With Courage:

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Wisdom often appears in unexpected places. We have had some snowy cold weather here, perfect days for curling up with a good mystery and cups of hot tea.

At the used and discarded book sale at my local library I picked up half a dozen mysteries for winter reading. The one I just finished was "Palace Council" by Stephen L. Carter. 1 In the author’s notes at the back of the book he said something that struck a chord with me:

"The end of the [Vietnam] war in 1975 marked the beginning of the end of rule by the World War II generation, and the dawn of modern America -- the mean-spirited America of me-first, trust-nobody, sound bites; revile-anyone-who-disagrees; and devil-take-the-hindmost. All of this misbehavior is a mark of our timidity, not our confidence. Americans across the political spectrum cannot bear dissent, because we lack the courage to meet it squarely."

What does it mean to meet something "squarely"? I think it means honestly without deception; factually without resorting to lies; and civilly without name calling or attacks on another’s character.

And what does he mean by "timidity"? A plain definition is shyness. I think he is referring to more than that. I think he is talking about insecurity (lack of courage), self-doubts, brought on by not being sure of, or being able to define or explain what it is that you really believe in; what your moral values and principles really are; -- as in what you actually practice and not just what you preach! I think this is apparent in the braggadocio; the self-righteous indignation that anyone would dare to question or challenge you; the quickness to change the subject by attacking another’s character; the unwillingness to do due diligence -- to investigate the facts because you are afraid they won’t support your beliefs/position.

The end of 2018 has brought the deaths of two of the last elder statesmen of that World War II generation, Senator John McCain (R) and our 41st President George H. W. Bush (R). The eulogies at the Bush funeral kept stressing his kindness, dignity, civility -- all qualities that seem to be seriously lacking in far too many of those that are following him into public service. Neither McCain nor Bush were perfect men. They both believed that winning whatever the costs. We were reminded that it was the Bush campaign where the Willie Horton attack ad appeared. 2 But there was something different about both of them that is lacking with later generations.

Author's aside:

I don’t think that winning whatever the costs is what matters.

I think Mr. Carter’s comments quoted above are absolutely right and they left me in a contemplative and somewhat sad mood.

Then I read the first line in the next paragraph.

"And yet, within that collapse of American self-belief, individual stories of triumph are possible."

Mr. Carter is absolutely right. There are and will always be those that hold themselves to a higher standard; those that don’t believe that winning whatever it costs is all that matters; those that aren’t willing to throw away their honor or integrity in exchange for wealth and political power.  The hope for the future of this, and other nations, rests with them. I wish them the best of luck, they will need it!

I think all of us should consider Carter’s words:

"Americans across the political spectrum cannot bear dissent, because we lack the courage to meet it squarely."

We should build our New Year’s Resolution around this idea of meeting dissent squarely and with courage! 3

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. book cover   book cover Stephen L. Carter, "Palace Council," Available in Kindle and Hardcover formats, Vintage (2008). Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store
    Amazon review:

    "A gripping, nationally bestselling political thriller set against the backdrop of Watergate, Vietnam, and the Nixon White House.

    Philmont Castle is a man who has it all: wealth, respect, and connections. He's the last person you'd expect to fall prey to a murderer, but then his body is found on the grounds of a Harlem mansion by the young writer Eddie Wesley, who along with the woman he loves, Aurelia Treene, is pulled into a twenty-year search for the truth. The disappearance of Eddie's sister June makes their investigation even more troubling. As Eddie and Aurelia uncover layer upon layer of intrigue, their odyssey takes them from the wealthy drawing rooms of New York through the shady corners of radical politics all the way to the Oval Office and President Nixon himself."

  2. The "Willie Horton" ad was created by Bush's supporters and attacked his Democratic opponet Michael Dukakis for being soft on crime. Rachel Withers, writing for said:
    "The spot featured convicted murderer William “Willie” Horton, who had been able to escape while on ... [a] weekend furlough, and went on to rape a woman and stab her fiancé in a brutal 1987 home invasion. It was widely condemned for playing on racial fears by featuring a black man’s mug shot and linking blackness with depravity. See: The ad itself can be viewed at:

  3. Webmaster's apology: Susan Humphreys submitted this article in early 2019-JAN. However, it ended up in one of our computer bit buckets. We didn't discover and post her article until late February. Thus the reference to "New Year's Resolution." Sorry about that.

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Author: Contributing Editor Susan Humphreys.
Originally posted on: 2019-FEB-23
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